Why does my cat have bad breath?

While most of the time, we don't notice the smell of our cat's breath, at other times, even our clever kitties can get a bit stinky. What causes bad cat breath, though, and how can you treat bad breath in cats?

There are many different ways in which a cat can get bad breath.
There are many different ways in which a cat can get bad breath.  © 123RF/Olgavolodina

If you have ever owned a cat, you will have noticed that, from time to time, things can get a little stinky when you're around one another. Often, your furry friend seems to be completely clean on the outside, yet reeks whenever it opens its mouth to breathe in and out. What on earth could be going on?

It's time to take a look at why your cat has bad breath. What makes your cat's breath stink so much, and what should it really smell like? How can you treat your cat's bad breath, and do home remedies work?

Why does my cat's breath stink?

If your cat's breath stinks to high heaven, then there are multiple reasons that could explain why. In many cases, these explanations will come to you naturally and obviously (if your cat's breath smells like its food, then it's likely the food that's causing the problem), but in other cases, the reason why your cat's breath smells bad could be something far more dark and sinister than you may imagine.

There are, principally, three main causes of bad breath in cats:

  • Reason 1: Food-related causes, such as when your cat is allergic or sensitive to something or the food itself is just incredibly potent.
  • Reason 2: Issues with your cat's dentistry, likely due to problems in its teeth, and only solved by a visit to the vet or cat dentist.
  • Reason 3: Illness or disease that causes bad breath for a variety of potential reasons. This is the most serious potential cause.

Bad breath in cats might seem somewhat amusing at first, but it is something that should be taken seriously. The first step in that process, though, is to identify the cause.

Important: While in many cases it may be obvious what is causing your cat's bad breath, due to the fact that stinky breathing can be the result of illness or disease, it is imperative that you always get it checked out by the veterinarian, just to be safe.

A cat's bad breath is generally caused by the food it eats, its dentistry, or an illness.
A cat's bad breath is generally caused by the food it eats, its dentistry, or an illness.  © 123RF/Markka

Reason 1: The food your cat eats

It is normal for your cat's breath to smell a bit just after it has eaten food. Your cat is not in the habit of brushing its teeth for obvious reasons, and therefore, it should come as no surprise that the stinky food you feed it will stink out your fluffy friend's mouth for quite a while after dinnertime.

Of course, the length and strength of this smell depends both on the quality and quantity of the cat food you are feeding it. Dry food has far less of a smell, for example, while wet food is more likely to be more potent and strong. Cat foods that contain sugars and carbohydrates are particularly nasty, as they can be breeding grounds for bacteria.

In the end, it's a simple equation – the stronger the smell of the food, the stronger and worse the bad breath. While food-related bad breath will dissipate in the short-term, the only way to better it in the long-term is to find a cat food that pleases your nose a bit more.

Reason 2: Bad dentistry

There are many dentistry issues that can cause a cat to have bad breath, ranging from generally innocuous and easily solved, to more serious and even life-threatening. Issues that generally occur around the teeth, the gums, or in the throat are going to cause bad smells – and this goes double when left untreated.

Some dentistry-related causes of bad breath in cats include:

  • Dental plaques / Tartar: Cats can develop pretty intense tartar on their teeth, especially when they are not provided with regular dental care. These solid deposits are generally made up of leftover food, bacteria, and saliva. As a result, they smell absolutely awful and can also lead to an increased risk of inflammation or infection. They can only be removed by a vet.
  • Inflammation or infection: If your cat suffers from some kind of inflammation or infection within its mouth, this can quickly lead to bad breath. Things like gingivitis can cause bleeding gums, painful sores, swollen mucous membranes, and nasty infections that can cause long-term illness.
  • Bad teeth or rot: Another possible reason for bad breath in cats is bad teeth. If your cat's teeth have holes in them, are misaligned or even broken, are full of food residue and bacteria, or rot, then they are not only susceptible to giving your cat bad breath but major health problems as well.
  • Dental diseases like FORL: A common and very painful dental disease in cats is FORL (feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions), a degenerative disease that causes your cat's teeth to slowly decalcify from the inside out, dissolving them. This is a very serious condition and is not the only one that can both be dangerous for your cat's health and cause bad breath.

Bad breath in cats can, as we just revealed, be caused by some pretty serious dental health issues. In such cases, it should be treated seriously and professionally.

Reason 3: Disease or illness

If your cat has bad breath on account of disease or illness, you must go to the veterinarian.
If your cat has bad breath on account of disease or illness, you must go to the veterinarian.  © 123rf/serezniy

While dentistry is a more common cause, bad breath in cats can also be caused by health issues that do not relate to a cat's immediate dental hygiene. In many cases, issues that stem from the gut or elsewhere in a cat's body can be identified via other symptoms, as well as more specific smells and scents that come along with these afflictions.

Here are the non-dental diseases and illnesses that can cause bad cat breath:

  • Diabetes: Identified via a sweet mouth odor reminiscent of fruit vinegar, bad breath can indicate a cat that might have diabetes. Other symptoms to monitor for include but are not limited to, frequent urination, excessive drinking, and obvious, sudden weight loss.
  • Kidney issues: If your cat smells like urine or ammonia when it breathes, it could be a kidney problem. This is an extremely dangerous issue for cats and should be treated immediately.
  • Liver disease: A sour or fishy mouth odor in cats can serve as a warning of liver disease or some kind of gastrointestinal infection. The most common symptom of liver disease is a sudden decrease in appetite.
  • Tumors or cancers: While they manifest in many different ways, throat tumors and cancers in your cat's respiratory or digestive systems can cause bad breath.

Serious diseases are a serious matter. If your cat has persistently putrid breath, and it is clearly not food-related, be prepared to potentially receive some bad health news.

What should my cat's breath smell like?

While it is perfectly normal for your kitty to have a subtle but distinctive musk about it, a healthy cat that is being fed the right food should have a breath that smells minimally or not at all. This extends to the rest of its body as well because a healthy and fit cat should not smell bad and should, instead, be thoroughly grooming itself for several hours every single day.

As a result, if your cat is stinky in any way, whether that be its breath, its bum, its ears, or its paws, it's off to the vet you go. There is simply no other option – as a cat owner, it is your responsibility to keep your kitty happy and healthy in every way possible, even if it is inconvenient or expensive.

Your cat will have its own unique smell, but nothing too potent or nasty. As soon as its smell changes dramatically or becomes more intense, it's time to go to the vet.

Bad breath in cats have many different causes, each with a different treatment.
Bad breath in cats have many different causes, each with a different treatment.  © 123RF/Golf609

How to treat bad breath in cats

If you have noticed that your cat's bad breath has continued for a long time after eating or isn't going away at all, the only recommendation we have is to go to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Once you have explained the situation and shown the vet the bad smell, they will be able to conduct tests into what is causing the potent breath and how it can be resolved.

While there are a few things you can do to prevent bad breath, it is never a good idea to focus entirely on home remedies, as such decisions can prolong a cat's suffering and worsen the problems themselves. Veterinarians will dive into the root cause, dig it out, and try to find a quick, easy, painless, and effective solution that you wouldn't have worked out by yourself.

Videos and articles on the internet or other tips and tricks can be great for all sorts of things, but when it comes to a cat's health, relying on them can be irresponsible. Stick to medical professionals instead.

Cat bad breath home remedies

Changing your cat's food is a quick way to potentially fix its bad breath.
Changing your cat's food is a quick way to potentially fix its bad breath.  © 123RF/Hofmeester

The only thing you can do to help improve a cat's breath is to change its food and provide it with cat grass once you have established that diet is the cause. Of course, make sure your house is safe and food that your cat shouldn't eat is kept out of the way, but ultimately, there isn't much that you can responsibly do yourself to solve bad breath once it has happened.

Be cautious about cats with bad breath

While in most cases, a cat's bad breath will come down to something that's not worth worrying about and easily resolved, such as its food, in other cases, it can be a worrying sign. As cats get old and their teeth deteriorate, their dentistry will get worse, and with it, the smell of their breath. In such a situation, your cat's bad breath should be monitored, and they should have regular check-ups.

As with anything medical-related, a cat owner should be very cautious. Get everything checked by your vet, even if it is as seemingly innocuous as bad breath. Such things can be caused by health issues, and it's best to be careful.

Cover photo: 123RF/Olgavolodina

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