Cats Rule, Dogs Drool…Right?

So, why is your cat drooling? A vet explains.

by Alycia Washington, DVM
July 4, 2021
Cat sticking its tongue out in motion
Alexander Oganezov / Adobe Stock

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While we expect some degree of drooling from dogs, especially the jowly ones, a cat with ropes of saliva dangling from their face can cause some surprise and concern. After all, drooling does not fit with the sophisticated aesthetic cats have worked so hard to develop. Though drooling has some benign causes, it may also indicate a more serious health issue. Here are seven reasons why your cat may be drooling (most of which warrant a trip to the vet).

1. Oral Irritation

Curious cats will often investigate their environment with their mouths. This exploration can lead to tasting different house plants, insects, liquids, and household items. Some common toxic indoor plants like elephant ear, fiddleleaf fig, and Diffenbachia contain oxalates, which are small crystals that cause oral irritation on contact. Licking caustic substances like household cleaners and chemicals can produce painful ulcers on a cat’s gums and tongue. And chewing on electrical cords can cause electrical shock, but drooling due to burns in the mouth may be the only sign that something is amiss.

2. Periodontal Disease or Stomatitis

Your cat’s mouth is teeming with bacteria. When bacteria get under the gumline, they can cause mild to severe gingivitis. As dental disease progresses, those bacteria travel deeper and closer to the tooth root, causing periodontitis, a condition that affects the health and stability of the structures that support and surround the teeth. Some cats, especially those exposed to viral diseases like herpesvirus and calicivirus, can develop stomatitis. Cats with stomatitis experience inflammation and ulceration of the gums, tongue, and cheeks. As you can imagine, kitties with periodontal disease and/or stomatitis experience oral pain that can lead to drooling and difficulty eating.

3. Esophagitis

Esophagitis can develop when material gets stuck in a cat’s esophagus or causes irritation on the way down to the stomach. This esophageal irritation can also occur with acid reflux or after repeated vomiting. Inflammation of the esophagus can make swallowing painful and can cause cats to stop eating to avoid this pain. Even with normal saliva production, cats may opt to let the saliva fall out of their mouths rather than deal with the discomfort of swallowing.

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4. Medication

Medicating cats can involve a lot of drama — chasing them around the house, pulling them from under the bed, avoiding claws and teeth. It’s no fun for you or your cat. For some medications, no amount of tuna flavoring will cover the bitter taste completely, and your cat will be more than happy to show their displeasure by foaming, drooling, and trying to spit it out in the most dramatic way possible. Certain eyedrops may cause drooling as well since tear ducts drain to the back of the throat.

5. Nausea

Signs of nausea in both dogs and cats include poor appetite, lip smacking, drooling, and vocalization. Cats can become nauseated from eating something they shouldn’t have, intestinal obstruction, organ dysfunction, hairballs, car rides to the vet… Kitties experiencing motion sickness may start to hypersalivate before losing their lunch.

6. Salivary Gland Disease

Though more commonly diagnosed in dogs, salivary gland disease can lead to hypersalivation in cats too. Cats have multiple salivary glands located near the jawline, in the cheeks, and under the tongue. Salivary gland disease can cause swelling, painful swallowing, difficulty eating, retching, gagging, or wheezing. These kitties can hypersalivate either from discomfort or an inability to swallow properly.

7. Pleasure

Cats may drool when they are in total bliss, like when they “make biscuits” with their paws. Kitties that are really enjoying cuddle time, sunbathing, or catnip euphoria may purr, drool, and relish how sweet it is to be a cat.

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alycia washington, dvm

Alycia Washington, DVM

Alycia Washington, DVM, is a small animal emergency veterinarian based in North Carolina. She works as a relief veterinarian and provides services to numerous emergency and specialty hospitals. Dr. Washington is also a children’s book author and freelance writer with a focus on veterinary medicine. She has a special fondness for turtles, honey bees, and penguins — none of which she treats. In her free time, Dr. Washington enjoys travel, good food, and good enough coffee.