Cats are notorious for hiding, whether their favorite toy or from visitors, or their pain and illness. Their expert hiding skills make detection of a serious dental issue that commonly affects cats—resorptive lesions—challenging for their owners. These dental abnormalities can affect cats of any age, and understanding is crucial for maintaining your cat’s comfort and overall well-being. Let’s dive into feline resorptive lesions to discover their causes, signs, treatment, and prevention options to help you better care for your furry friend.

What are resorptive lesions in cats?

Resorptive lesions, also known as feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs) or cervical line lesions, are a dental condition characterized by the gradual erosion of tooth enamel and dentin. These lesions typically manifest at or near the gum line, compromising the affected tooth’s structural integrity. Resorptive lesions can affect any tooth, and they progress over time, causing significant pain as the entire tooth erodes. To make matters worse, once one resorptive lesion develops, more will follow.

Causes of resorptive lesions in cats

Resorptive disease is a common condition in cats, affecting an estimated 30% to 60% of all cats and close to 75% of cats 5 years of age and older. While genetics may play a role, the exact etiology of resorptive lesions remains complex and not entirely understood. Other factors that may contribute to lesion development include:

  • Nutrition — Poor diet or lack of certain nutrients may play a role in the development of dental issues in cats.
  • Oral health — Cats with a history of dental problems, such as periodontal disease, are more susceptible to resorptive lesions.
  • Infectious disease — Certain infectious diseases, such as feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, and feline calicivirus, are associated with periodontal disease, gingivitis, and stomatitis, and can increase a cat’s chances of developing resorptive lesions.
  • Immune response — An inappropriate immune response to the teeth may lead to enamel destruction and lesion development.

Resorptive lesion signs in cats

Detecting resorptive lesions early is crucial for prompt intervention and minimizing the discomfort of these painful erosions. However, cats are typically stoic and do not show many outward signs unless they are extremely uncomfortable. To catch dental issues in their early stages, keep a close eye on your cat for the following disease indicators:

  • Bad breath — Persistent bad breath can signal dental problems, including resorptive lesions.
  • Excessive drooling — Excessive salivation can indicate oral discomfort.
  • Pawing at the mouth — Cats in pain may paw at their mouth or be more sensitive around the face.
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth — Your cat may tilt their head to one side while eating to avoid a diseased tooth by ensuring the food falls to that side. They may also drop food while eating.
  • Soft food preference — Chewing hard kibble or crunchy treats may cause your cat too much discomfort, so they will opt for canned food instead.
  • Visible lesions — A close exam of your cat’s mouth may reveal resorptive lesions, which are generally first noticed during a routine wellness visit. The lesions, which appear as small pink spots on the tooth at or above the gum line, are composed of inflamed gingival tissue filling in the enamel defect. When probed, the pain will elicit a chatter response (i.e., your cat chatters their teeth together). 

Resorptive lesion diagnosis in cats

While some resorptive lesions can be spotted at or above the gingival margin, others lurk below the gum line. Full-mouth dental X-rays are required to accurately diagnose the full extent of resorptive disease and to reveal whether the tooth root and periodontal ligament are still intact, or in various resorptive stages. Staging the lesion and assessing the surrounding tissue is important for developing an appropriate treatment plan, whose goal is to remove as much of the affected tooth as possible without causing undue trauma to the jawbone.

Resorptive lesion treatment for cats

Since resorptive disease is a progressive condition, extraction of the affected tooth is often the most ideal treatment. However, if dental X-rays reveal no identifiable root canal system, or that the periodontal ligament space has been filled in by bone, a crown amputation is acceptable. An amputation involves cutting off the tooth at the gingival margin, smoothing the remaining tooth and bone, and suturing the gingiva closed over the tooth root.

Resorptive lesion prevention for cats

Although the exact cause of resorptive disease is unknown, periodontal disease and lesion formation seem to be linked. Minimize your cat’s risk of developing resorptive lesions by maintaining good oral hygiene through daily at-home care and regular professional dental exams and cleanings.

Understanding resorptive lesions in cats empowers pet owners to take proactive steps in maintaining their feline friend’s oral health. Stay vigilant for any indication that your cat is experiencing dental pain and schedule regular oral exams with our Town & Country Animal Hospital team to detect resorptive disease early.