Cat yawning

Key takeaway

Bad breath in cats can be caused by a number of health issues, including periodontal disease, kidney disease, diabetes, oral trauma, and even skin diseases. Keep in mind that bad breath is not a medical condition; it is often a symptom of an underlying illness.

There's no better feeling than snuggling up with your cat, especially after a long day of work. However, you may regret doing so when your cat opens their mouth to breathe or yawn. Instead of being able to enjoy how cute the moment is, you get a whiff of stinky cat breath, also known as halitosis. 

If your cat's breath stinks, you may think it's because you don't brush their teeth as often as you should. While this may be true, bad breath in cats can also indicate something wrong with your pet. Keep in mind that occasional bad breath in cats is normal, but it shouldn't last. If your cat has persistent bad breath, it can be due to several reasons, including periodontal disease, medical conditions, and more. 

In this guide, we'll discuss why your cat's breath smells bad and what you can do to treat their stinky breath. Let’s get started.

Causes of Bad Breath in Cats

Bad breath in cats can indicate that something is not right. Furthermore, it can be a symptom of gum disease, kidney problems, liver disease, diabetes, and more.1 You can typically prevent bad breath in cats by practicing good oral hygiene and taking your cat to the vet for annual checkups to ensure they are in good health. 

Here’s an overview of the potential causes of bad breath in cats.

Causes of bad breath in cats

Periodontal Diseases

There are three common periodontal diseases, including gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption in cats.Periodontal disease is the most common cause of bad breath in cats.1 This is a disease of the teeth and gums that results from plaque buildup. Plaque is made up of bacteria that can irritate gum tissue and lead to infections in the gums and bones. 

Periodontal diseases are preventable through good oral hygiene. If you want to minimize your cat's risk of periodontal diseases and bad breath, it's a good idea to take care of their teeth and gums by brushing their teeth daily. Since cats can become feisty when you try to brush their teeth, there are various ways you can make this process easier. Believe it or not, you can use rewards-based training to train your cat to allow you to brush their teeth. 

To brush your cat's teeth, use a toothbrush and toothpaste designed specifically for cats. Additionally, you can give your cat dental treats and functional toys to remove plaque from their teeth and gums. Moreover, dry kibble may be better at removing plaque and tartar from a cat's teeth because it's harder and can scrape the sides of teeth to remove plaque.1

Periodontal diseases can be painful for cats and cause tooth decay, which can make eating or drinking challenging. If your cat is drooling, this may also signify that they're experiencing oral pain. 

Kidney Problems 

Kidney problems, such as kidney disease, can cause your cat's breath to smell like bleach or ammonia.3 Kidney disease is fairly common in cats, and it can cause waste to build up in your cat's blood. These waste products can cause your cat's breath to stink like urine. Signs of kidney disease include drinking more water and urinating frequently. Kidney disease cannot be cured, but it can be managed. 

Liver Disease 

Liver disease is another medical condition that can cause your cat's breath to smell like ammonia.Your cat's liver is responsible for many bodily functions, so a cat with liver disease may experience lethargy, weight loss, weakness, and yellowing of the eyes, skin, and gums. 

Diabetes

If your cat is overweight or has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, they may have bad breath. While bad breath is not a common symptom of diabetes in cats, it can signify a metabolic problem. Because your cat's body can't properly regulate blood sugar, it may mean your cat is experiencing ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition that causes fruity-smelling breath. Since this scent can indicate ketoacidosis, it's important to take your cat to the vet immediately if you smell it. 

Cat drinking water

One of the most common signs of diabetes is increased water consumption and urination. To prevent diabetes in cats, learn how to feed your cat to ensure they won't gain weight that can contribute to diabetes. 

Oral Trauma 

Oral trauma is another common reason for bad breath in cats. Oral trauma is not the same as periodontal disease; instead, it means your cat may have something stuck in their teeth or gums, such as old food or string from a toy.3

Anything that goes into your cat's mouth can get stuck between their teeth or under their gums, which can lead to infections. In this case, the cause of their stinky breath will be the infection brewing in your pet's mouth. To prevent oral trauma, make sure your cat is only putting treats, food, and safe toys in its mouth. 

Unfortunately, pica may cause your cat to eat non-food items. Pica in cats is relatively common, so it's important to monitor your pet to ensure they're not putting dangerous, non-food items in their mouths that can cause an infection. 

Skin Disease

Pyoderma is a skin condition usually triggered by an underlying condition, including allergies, mites, or fleas.However, bad grooming habits can also trigger pyoderma, especially in warm, moist areas like your cat's mouth.4 

So, if your cat's breath smells, the inside of their mouth may not be the problem. Instead, the issue can be the folds around their lips and facial skin. This is because bacteria can get trapped in your cat’s skin folds.

A vet will diagnose a cat with pyoderma based on their symptoms. They will also identify any underlying causes, such as fleas or mites. Pyoderma can be treated with antibiotics and proper grooming. 

Treating Your Cat's Bad Breath

Treatment for your cat's bad breath will depend on what's causing it. Your vet will first need to diagnose your cat before they can come up with a treatment plan. For example, if your cat has periodontal issues, your vet will clean your cat's teeth to remove plaque and tartar. In extreme cases of gum disease, your vet will remove teeth that have started to rot. 

Overall, bad breath isn't the primary condition; bad breath is a symptom of other diseases that are affecting your cat's breath. If you want to treat your cat's bad breath, you'll need to treat the underlying condition. Once the underlying condition is under control, your cat's breath will improve or go back to normal.  

Luckily, the most common cause of bad breath, which is periodontal disease, is preventable. To minimize bad breath, brush your cat's teeth regularly.1

Brush your cat’s teeth regularly to prevent bad breath

While brushing can't eliminate bad breath caused by illnesses like diabetes and kidney disease, it can prevent the most common cause of bad breath—periodontal disease. 

Additionally, it's important to schedule a yearly exam with your vet to ensure your cat is healthy. During your pet's annual physical, your vet will check your cat's teeth to ensure there are no signs of dental disease. They will also perform blood or urine and fecal tests to identify illnesses like kidney problems or diabetes.

You can also have your cat's teeth professionally cleaned once a year, during which they'll put your cat under anesthesia. Because it can be challenging to brush all of your cat's teeth at home, professional cleanings will ensure your cat's teeth are free of lingering plaque. Furthermore, your vet will be able to get rid of tartar that you can't remove on your own. Depending on your cat's dental health, your vet may also recommend an X-ray to look for broken teeth. 

The Importance of Managing Your Cat's Stinky Breath 

As we've mentioned, the most common cause of bad breath in cats is periodontal disease. When left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss, infections, and pain that can prevent your pet from enjoying life.1Additionally, severe dental disease can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream, infecting the heart, liver, and kidneys. 

Luckily, gum disease can be prevented with regular teeth cleanings at home. The early stages of periodontal disease can be reversed with a professional cleaning and daily brushing.1 Remember, plaque and tartar will return if you don't take good care of your pet's oral health at home. 

If the cause of your pet's bad breath isn't a periodontal disease, it's important to manage and treat those as soon as possible. Many of the illnesses that cause bad breath can lead to poor quality of life and, in some cases, death. 

When to See a Vet for Your Cat's Bad Breath

Occasional bad breath is normal.For example, if your cat just ate wet food, the smell will linger in their mouth. However, chronic bad breath is an indicator of a more serious health issue, which will require help from a vet. 

Consistent bad breath in cats can indicate a more serious health condition

If possible, check your cat's teeth every now and then. If you notice signs of plaque and tartar, schedule a professional cleaning with your vet. A veterinary professional can also give you tips for caring for your cat's teeth at home. 

Bad Breath in Cats: Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my cat's breath smell bad? 

Cat bad breath causes can include the following:

  • Underlying illnesses
  • Periodontal diseases
  • Oral trauma 

If bad breath is persistent, make an appointment with a vet who can diagnose your cat and find a treatment for whatever is causing their breath to smell. 

Should I be worried if my cat has bad breath?

Occasional bad breath is normal, but if your cat's breath constantly stinks, it's time to see a vet. Bad breath can indicate a serious health problem, so it's best to get your cat to the vet as soon as possible. 

How do I get rid of my cat's stinky breath?

Getting rid of your cat's stinky breath will depend on the cause. For example, cats with kidney disease will need to have their illness managed before your cat's breath returns to normal. There are ways to get rid of stinky breath, such as brushing your cat's teeth, but if the underlying cause of bad cat breath isn't treated, the smell will return. 

Final Notes

The most common cause of bad breath in cats is periodontal disease. By taking care of your cat's oral health at home, you can prevent your cat from developing stinky breath. Other medical illnesses, such as diabetes and kidney disease, can also cause bad breath. The key to treating your cat's bad breath is to have them diagnosed by a vet who can develop a treatment plan. 

Healthy cats do not have chronic bad breath, so it's important to note when something isn’t right with your cat. If your cat's bad breath doesn't resolve on its own within a few days, it can be a sign of an underlying condition. Talking to your vet as soon as possible can help you determine how to best care for your cat. 

Fortunately, Dutch provides non-emergency veterinary care 24/7, so you can support your pet no matter what time of day it is. With licensed veterinarians within arm’s reach, you can get quality pet care within the comfort of your own home to treat conditions that cause bad breath.

References

  1. “Bad Breath: Sign of Illness?” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 2 Sept. 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/bad-breath-sign-illness.

  2. “Feline Dental Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 3 May 2019, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease.

  3. “Bad Breath in Cats.” PDSA, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/pet-health-hub/symptoms/bad-breath-in-cats.

  4. Moriello, Karen A. “Pyoderma in Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Apr. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/skin-disorders-of-cats/pyoderma-in-cats.