Vet Speak correspondent says dental pain in cats needs to be checked out to save discomfort

Alison Laurie.

Dion was a beautiful Blue Burmese cat who had been constantly worrying and clawing at his face and mouth, and this had been happening for some time.

After a thorough examination, it was noted that Dion did have some dental disease, so he was booked in for treatment. After this his previous symptoms did persist though, and Dion was still displaying some symptoms of FOPS.

FOPS: Feline Orofacial Pain Syndrome in cats is a disease characterised by face and tongue mutilation and other behavioural signs suggesting oral and facial discomfort with patients showing exaggerated licking and chewing movements and pawing at the head and face. The apparent discomfort and self-mutilation symptoms are often disproportionate to any possible causes for the pain, for example dental pain. The disease is most likely caused by a neuropathic pain disorder, like trigeminal neuralgia in humans.

FOPS is characterised by symptoms of face and oral discomfort, and severe cases can result in severe self-mutilating wounds. The discomfort tends to be worse on one side. The symptoms of pain are often episodic, and bouts can be triggered by touch or by tongue movement for example during grooming, eating, or drinking. Bouts can last between several minutes to several hours and are often preceded by a short period of vocalisation and anxiety.

FOPS is more common in some breeds than others but affects a range of them and may be an inherited condition. Any age of cat can be affected, however, many affected cats will first show clinical signs when erupting their permanent teeth. Also, any concurrent dental disease, and environmental stress can precipitate the condition.

FOPS has similarities to trigeminal neuralgia in humans and is a neuropathic pain disorder i.e., pain due to an abnormal nervous system processing of pain messages.

Conditions of neuropathic pain can also be greatly influenced by environmental factors.m, such as stress.


In managing this disease, it is important that any other causes of facial and oral pain are ruled out. A medical examination is advised. Also, with this condition it is important to identify and rule out any other environmental stress triggers. It is important to look for possible contributory factors such as social stress. Reducing stress and providing a secure core territory for the affected cat is very important. For example, providing its own litter tray, feeding area and private space, easy free access in an out of the home etc.

The use of diffusers or sprays containing feline facial pheromone F3, can also be useful.

The main aim of treating FOPS is to reduce the discomfort, limit self-mutilation and identify and treat, or prevent, any underlying triggers.

Until the symptoms can be controlled, mutilation should be prevented by using an Elizabethan collar. However, this is a painful disorder and merely preventing mutilation without attempting to prevent the discomfort is inappropriate.

Affected cats are often prescribed drugs to reduce pain.

Dion had some dental disease which required necessary treatment. His ongoing FOPS was then managed with a long-term medication regime and he was much happier, comfortable, and content.

If you’re concerned about any symptoms of oral or facial pain in your cat call your vet.

• Alison Laurie-Chalmers, is a senior consultant at Crown Vets.

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