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If you suddenly notice your cat drooling, it can be an alarming sight. Your cat may be drooling for a perfectly innocent reason, or it may be a sign of something more sinister. So, if your cat starts drooling, is it anything to worry about?
If you notice your cat drooling, it is important to investigate it further. Drooling is a common symptom of several health problems, but in many cases, it can also be completely normal. Sudden-onset or excessive drooling is a particular concern and may require urgent veterinary attention.
Is it normal for a cat to drool?
Happy and contented cats
Some cats drool regularly, and this can be completely normal. The most common reason is that your cat is feeling happy and relaxed. If you have a cat that drools whenever you pet or cuddle them, you’ll be familiar with this rather soggy concept!
Happy drooling is often accompanied by kneading and purring. This is a throwback to when kittens nurse from their mothers and is a sign of utter contentment.
Anxiety or stress related drooling
At the other end of the spectrum, some cats will drool when they are feeling scared or anxious. Anxiety inducing events which are stressful for cats may include:
- visits to the vet clinic
- car rides and travelling in a cat carrier (which may also cause motion sickness)
- a disruption to their normal home life.
A one-off drooling episode caused by stress is not a major cause for concern, but it is a good idea to look at ways to reduce your cat’s stress levels in the future. Pheromone sprays and diffusers can be particularly beneficial when your cat needs a trip to the vet. If you are anticipating a period of disruption at home such as a noisy party, building work, or house guests, make sure your cat has a safe place to hide away from the drama.
Hunger triggers cat drooling
Some cats will also drool when they are hungry or in anticipation of a meal. This is a natural response trigged by the sight or smell of food which can stimulate the production of saliva in the mouth. In our house, the smell of a roast chicken coming out of the oven, has our cats drooling every time.
Flat faced cat breeds
Some breeds of cats are more likely to drool than others including the Persian and Exotic Shorthair breeds which are known for their flat faces and short noses. The facial strucutre of these brachycephalic breeds can make it difficult for them to swallow and regulate the amount of sailva in their mouth, which may cause them to drool more than other breeds when they eat or drink.
Reasons your cat may be drooling
If your notice abnormal or excessive drooling, it may be an indication that your cat is suffering from an undiagnosed health problem. Here are some of the most common health issues that cause drooling in cats:
Any condition that causes pain or inflammation in the mouth can cause excessive drooling. While cats do not commonly suffer from dental cavities, gum disease is very common and can be painful. Mouth ulcers and traumatic injuries to the inside of the mouth can also lead to increased saliva production.
Many viruses will also cause chronic inflammation in the mouth, such as feline leukaemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. Other signs of dental disease and mouth problems include pain when eating, swelling to the face, and a reduced appetite.
Upper respiratory infections
Upper respiratory tract infections such as feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus frequently cause mouth ulcers in cats, leading to excessive drooling. This will commonly be accompanied by symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge, and in some cases difficulty breathing.
Neurological conditions such as seizures, vestibular disease or brain tumours can cause nerve dysfunction in the muscles of the mouth, tongue, and gastrointestinal tract, leading to excessive drooling. Other signs of neurological conditions that affect the mouth include a head tilt, unsteadiness or loss of balance, and difficulty picking up food.
Foreign body in mouth
One common cause of excessive drooling in cats is a foreign body lodged in a cat’s mouth or throat. This is often a piece of string they’ve chewed off a toy, elastic lodged around their tongue or food bones they’ve swallowed. Make sure you check your cat’s mouth for signs of any foreign objects as these can cause serious problems if left untreated including damage to their mouth and digestive system.
Prevention is key, so we always recommend keeping small or potentially hazardous items out of reach and supervising playtime to avoid accidental ingestion of toy strings.
Some cats will also drool when they feel nauseous or have an upset tummy as a way of coping with the discomfort. Cats with gastrointestinal problems such as gastritisis or inflammatory bowel disease may also display other symtoms such as a decreased appetitite, vomitting, diarrhoea or appear lethargic. The loaf position is a common posture in cats who are feeling nauseous.
If you live in a hot climate, and notice your cat start drooling this could be a sign of heatstroke. When a cat’s body temperature rises to dangerous levels, they usually pant excessively in an attempt to regulate their body temperature. This can cause excessive saliva production, and drooling.
Trauma or injury
Any painful area in your cat’s mouth can result in excessive drooling. This could occur as a result of trauma to their mouth or throat as a result of:
- being hit by a car
- falling from a height
- suffering a fractured jaw
- bite wounds if they’re involved in a cat fight
- burns from chewing electrical cords
- exposure to chemicals e.g in household cleaning products.
The site of trauma may not be immediately obvious. Your veterinarian may need to sedate your cat to carry out a full oral examination.
Unfortunately, cats are susceptible to oral tumours or cancers, and this can cause excessive saliva production either due to a physical obstruction or chronic pain. This will normally be accompanied by lethargy, weight loss, and a reduced appetite.
Exposure to toxic substances
Drooling is a natural response to the ingestion of any toxic substances. Many cats will drool if they accidentally eat or lick something that is toxic including certain household plants, household cleaning products or human foods.
If your cat starts to suddenly drool for no apparent reason, and you notice other symptoms such as vomitting, diarrohea, lethargy, seizures or difficulty breathing then ingestion of a poisonous substance may well be the cause. One particular issue to be very vigilant for is excessive drooling after applying spot-on flea or tick treatments. If this occurs, contact your veterinary clinic for advice immediately.
It is not uncommon for cats to drool after they are given oral medications such as dewormers or as a side effect of medicines that treat pain, anxiety or nausea. It is important to note that drooling can also be a sign of an allergic or adverse reaction to a medication so if your cat is drooling excessively after taking a prescribed medication consult with your vet for further advice. Drooling is also seen in cats after anaesthesia for surgery or other procedures. This is because anaesthetic can temporarily affect the normal function of the salivary glands and swallowing reflex.
Underlying cat health problems
Several health conditions in cats are not linked to the mouth but can still cause excessive drooling. These include liver disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis, diabetic ketoacidosis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
If your cat is under treatment for any of these conditions and starts drooling abnormally, it is worth mentioning this to your veterinarian. Any development of new symptoms can indicate the progression of the disease in question, and your cat may require a change in medication or treatment.
When to be concerned about cat drooling
If your cat’s drooling is accompanied by other signs of happiness, such as purring or kneading, you can relax in the knowledge that you have a healthy and happy cat. But how do you know when drooling may be a sign of something more serious?
The causes of drooling in cats can be a sudden onset or may be a sign of a more progressive disease. You may be able to immediately identify an obvious cause, such as difficulty eating or excessive sneezing, which warrants a trip to your local veterinary clinic. If not, look for more subtle signs of underlying problems, which may include bad breath, vomiting, reduced appetite, weight loss, or lethargy.
As with any new or unusual symptom in cats, sudden onset drooling should not be ignored. So, if your cat starts to drool excessively, a call to your veterinary clinic is definitely justified.
If your veterinarian cannot find an obvious cause for the drooling, they may recommend some basic health tests to check for underlying health problems. For a one-off episode of drooling, it may just be a case of monitoring your cat carefully to see if the issue recurs.
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