Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.
Most Common Causes of Excessive Drooling in Cats
Although some cats produce droplets of saliva under their mouths when they are content and being petted, in many cases there is a serious health problem going on that needs to be addressed immediately.
If your cat starts drooling look at this list of common causes and try to find out what might be going on:
- Stomatitis: This just means an inflamed mouth, so it is red and swollen along the gum lines, in the back of the throat, and sometimes it even effects the lips. Some of the cats that suffer from stomatitis have an infection or a dental disease, but some others do not and we are still not sure why they are affected. It may be an autoimmune disease.
- Dental disease: Cats with gingivitis are in pain and also salivate excessively because of the infection. The gums are red, swollen, there may be pus around the teeth, and some teeth may be loose or missing.
- Something stuck in the mouth or throat: Small toys like rubber balls are most common, but also check for rubber bands, thread, and even small bones.
- Eating something that tastes bad: Cats that roam are most likely to have problems, but house pets that eat some plants or table scraps can also have this reaction. There will not be anything different when you examine the cat´s mouth.
- Stress and fear: Anxious and nervous cats drool, but usally will stop as soon as the stressor is removed. The examination will be normal except for the drooling.
- Nausea and pain: Sometimes just being put in the crate and taking a car ride is enough to make your cat salivate excessively. If it is not just stress and fear, it is because the cat is actually carsick. Many contagious diseases and oral inflammation (stomatitis) also cause cats to become nauseous from pain.
- Poison: There are many ways that a cat can be poisoned and drooling is only one of the symptoms. Besides the drooling, your cat may be acting wobbly, breathing fast or unsteady, or smell oddly if he or she has gotten a poison on the skin.
- Cancer in the mouth: The most common location for a tumor is a cat´s mouth is the tongue so any abnormal swellings there need to be checked. Be sure to check there and also the gums when looking in your cat´s mouth.
- Contagious disease (think rabies first!): Although cats with rabies do not salivate more, they are unable to swallow so they drool instead. Other diseases, like calicivirus, feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, can cause stomatitis and the infected mouth is painful so cats do salivate more.
- Heat stroke: Drooling is only one of the symptoms of a cat suffering from heat stroke, but it is sometimes the first thing to be noticed. Your cat may also be breathing abnormally, be weak or dizzy, have bright red gums, and if you can take the temperature it will be very high.
This video, like most others of cats in dryers, just shows a cute cat climbing into a warm area for a nap. Unfortunately not everyone is always aware of their cat's whereabouts; if the dryer is turned on, the cat will suffer from heat stroke. Excessive drooling is only one of the symptoms of this terrible problem.
Treating Drooling at Home
Even before considering a visit to the vet, put your cat on your lap and open his or her mouth. Try to determine what is causing your cat to drool excessively.
- Stomatitis: If you cannot take your cat for an exam the only thing you can do at home to reduce the pain is keep the mouth clean and relatively free of infection. Cats are in pain but if they allow you to work in the mouth there are chlorhexidine products that kill bacteria and relatively safe. There are some new reports that piroxicam, a NSAID that can be used in cats, may be effective, and other anti-inflammatories like meloxicam might help. This disease usually needs to be diagnosed by a veterinarian before treatment starts, as giving an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory will sometimes kill your cat.
- Dental disease: By the time your cat is drooling from dental disease he or she will need veterinary assistance (cleaning, antibiotics, and maybe extractions). If you have not been taking care of the teeth, and want to try to control the spread of the disease but your cat will not allow you to brush, the chlorhexiderm product listed above is most likely to help.
- Something stuck in the mouth or throat: If something is stuck in your cats throat I want you to take care of it at home, immediately, and only take the cat in for a vet visit if you are not able to help. (Strings swallowed but caught under the tongue may be impossible to remove and will need surgery.) Larger objects can usually be grabbed by hand but be careful as nervous cats in pain are much more likely to bite.
- Eating something that tastes bad: This problem is going to go away by itself but if you want to speed up the process a little you can give your cat a little tuna or something he or she really likes. DO NOT give the regular food as there is a possibility that the cat will refuse it and stop eating his or her normal diet.
- Stress: Nervous or anxious cats will drool. Try to ask yourself why your cat is so nervous? Is there a dog or another cat bothering him or her when they want to sleep? How about someone in the household that is making them very nervous? The drooling problem goes away when the stressor is gone but if your cat is stressed again the drooling will start up.
- Nausea: In order to decrease nausea you have to figure out what caused it. Carsick? It is a fairly easy solution. Before you try nausea medication, the best thing you can do is withold food just like for a cat that is vomiting. If the cat is still sick and vomits, there is probably something more serious going on. If still a little nauseous but not vomiting, you can try giving 5 mg or less of famotidine to soothe the stomach. Do not give this more than once a day.
- Poison: If your cat has been poisoned, besides drooling he or she may have vomiting, breathing problems, and act lethargic. (Seizures are also possible later.) All of the websites that most of you commonly search for will just tell you to take your cat to an emergency veterinarian but in many parts of the world transportation is not available and in all parts of the world money is not always available to pay an emergency vet. Do what you can immediately for your cat. Some poisons can be removed from a cat´s body through vomiting and others can be diluted and will be less toxic so that your cat is less likely to die. Some things, however, like antifreeze, will only respond to ethanol and fluids.
- Cancer: If your cat has a tumor under the tongue or elsewhere in the mouth there are some alternative treatments that might help but there is no proof that anything will be effective. Even with traditional therapy, most tumors of the mouth in cats are malignant. The best thing you can do for your cat is to have the tumor examined and maybe biopsied to find out if it can be treated by your vet.
- Heat Stroke: Not letting your cat wander outside is the best way to prevent most cases of heat stroke, but as the video shows some cats will seek out warm and dangerous places like the dryer. If your cat does suffer from heat stroke he or she will need veterinary care but emergency treatment immediately at home can be very important. You can use a cotton ball to pass rubbing alcohol on the pads so that your cat can cool down quickly, and it is also a good idea to rub his or her belly and any other hairless areas with cool water.
Although rabies is now uncommon in many parts of the world, it is still a threat almost everywhere (including the United States) and the best way to prevent it is to keep your cat from ever going outside. The cats with the greatest threat of catching this problem are unvaccinated cats that are allowed to roam.
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Preventing Excessive Drooling
- Stop letting your cat outside. This is an important first step. Cats that roam outside will eat all sorts of things that cause vomiting, pick up more infections, might slobber more because of eating strange things and poisons, and are usually a lot more stressed than a housecat.
- Dental disease, including gingivitis and abscesses that cause the teeth to be sore, is preventable if the teeth are cleaned at home. Check out the Amazon ad for a good tooth cleaning system, but if your cat is older and does not allow you to mess with the mouth there are oral rinses that may or may not be effective. The chlorhexidine product listed under the stomatitis section above has proven to be the most effective in cats I have taken care of.
- Make sure your cat is current on vaccinations to avoid diseases like calicivirus, that can cause stomatitis. Keeping your cat inside is the best way to prevent infections like feline leukemia.
- Just like you would with a child, keep all of your cleaning products out of reach of your pets and keep your cat out of your garage. Poisonous houseplants can be removed, of course, or better yet, don't buy a new one without being sure it is safe for your cat.
- Always look in your dryer before turning it on. (It sounds like an unnecessary and obvious suggestion but many of us who have worked in emergency care have seen cats die from this.)
When Your Cat Needs Veterinary Assistance
If your cat has any of these symptoms in addittion to the drooling, more help is needed
- Vomiting frequently
- Weight loss
If you can take your cat to the vet, do so right away. The veterinarian might need to examine your cat under anesthesia, do bloodwork to check for organ damage or infection, and may even need to do x-rays or an abdominal ultrasound. None of these tests can be done at home.
When your cat has something stuck in his or her mouth, a broken tooth, or is just salivating a lot because of something they ate, if you have a veterinarian available you should schedule a visit now and help them feel better. This excessive drooling problem might clear up right away or in a few days and your lives can return to normal.
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Cudney SE, Wayne A, Rozanski EA. Clothes dryer-induced heat stroke in three cats. J Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio). 2021 Nov;31(6):800-805 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34499793
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.