Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to help when your cat has a lip ulcer

Maggie has a lip ulcer
Maggie the cat has dealt with lip ulcers for most of her life. She had her first outbreak when she was just 5 months old, and she had terrible outbreaks through her young adult years. A switch in food and a stress-free lifestyle made them fade away for many years, but they're coming back with a vengeance as this cat hits her 13th year.

Every 4-6 weeks, Maggie's lips look as though she's had collagen implants. Her black lips puff up to three or even four times their normal size, and her mouth as a whole just looks puffy and strange. All of that swelling should be painful, but it doesn't seem to bother Maggie. The real problem takes hold when the swelling fades.

After the swelling comes open, bleeding, crusting sores. Those wounds certainly are painful, and they can have a big impact on Maggie's quality of life. Although these sores are much harder to see. We're in that stage right now, and you can hardly see the issue on Maggie's face. A tiny kiss of red on that lower lip is all you can see.

Maggie the cat and her rodent ulcer

Maggie is on a maintenance medication for her lip ulcers, and in theory, they should keep these outbreaks from happening. But, lip ulcers blossom as part of a cat autoimmune disorder, and those problems tend to get worse with time. The older Maggie gets, the more confused her immune system becomes about what is a threat and what is benign. And since Maggie is at the upper limit of her dosing for lip ulcers, I can't kick up her medications. Instead, I have to find ways to help her stay comfortable.

For cats with lip ulcers, eating is a big problem. Cats use their lips like shovels, pushing the food into their mouths. When those lips are swollen and/or painful, the mechanics of eating is just a lot harder. And sometimes, it's frustrating for cats like this to do any eating at all, so they walk away before they're done.

Food puzzle toys (strangely enough) help a lot. I fill Maggie's food puzzle toy with some kibble and put it on a difficult setting. She has to bat the toy around to get food to come out, and she has long delays between bites as she manipulates the toy. That allows her to stay interested in eating, and away from pain, for a longer period of time. When she's in an outbreak, this is a lifesaver.

Soft food diluted with a lot of warm water can help, too. Even with swollen lips, most cats with ulcers can lap up liquids. And the warmth can sometimes be soothing for those puffy lips.

Helping a sore kitty with her grooming can be a great next step. A sore mouth makes for sore licking, and cats really do like to keep things clean. I brush Maggie more frequently when her lip is sore, and if the problem stretches on for days, I give her a quick rubdown with a washcloth. That cuts down on her need to clean and gives her sore mouth a break.

Finally, cats in pain like this need space from the other pets in the house. They just don't feel good, and they may not want to play or be bothered. Maggie has some secret sleeping spots in the house that are warm and light (and too high for Lucy and Popoki to reach). I keep those spots extra clean and inviting for her. And if she seems grumpy, I put her in those spots and draw the other cats away for play.

The good news is that rodent ulcers like this tend to resolve pretty quickly. That's especially true if you use medication. If your cat gets one of these things, visit the veterinarian and ask for help. It really is a wonderful thing to do for your cat. But if the meds don't help, I hope I've given you some other ideas you can use. Leave me a note in the comments if you agree!


  1. WOW Maggie, you're a pretty one and that was some great info you shared!

    1. Thanks! (And she is looking pretty darn good for 13. Not a grey hair in sight!)

  2. I had a cat that used to get them too.

    1. Aren't they just the worst? I think so.