What Is Your Cat’s Bad Breath Telling You?

Let’s be honest here. Cats lick their own butt so you really shouldn’t expect much from their breath. That said, you shouldn’t be bowled over by your cat’s breath either.

If you’ve noticed that your furry companion’s oral odor has gone from mildly unpleasant to eye-watering, these might be some of the reasons behind the change.

Illustrated cat face

Why Does My Cat’s Breath Stink?

One of the causes of bad breath is plaque build-up or what dentists commonly call tartar. This happens when food gets stuck in between your cat’s teeth; creating a rotten area for bacteria to thrive in.

If you don’t do something about it, this can progress to the well-known dental malady known as periodontal disease or gingivitis. This disease can also less-commonly be caused by mouth and gum wounds or food allergies.

Here are some other underlying issues that can cause halitosis in cats:

  • Diabetes

The high blood sugar created by this disease causes gum disorders which lead to bad breath. The bad breath is caused by ketones which produce a foul but sweet smell.

  • Kidney Disease

Once the ability of the kidney to filter waste products falters, an ammonia-like smell can ride on your cat’s breath.

While kidney disease is typically an illness of older cats, younger cats can also develop acute kidney failure. Infections of the mouth can cause a rotten odor, but a clinical sign of kidney disease is breath that smells of ammonia or urine.

Acute renal failure is caused by poisoning, shock, trauma or infection and is typically reversible. Chronic renal failure doesn’t always have an obvious cause and usually only affects older cats.

Some contributors to chronic renal failure are periodontal disease, cancer, and thyroid disease. Along with breath that smells like ammonia or urine, signs of kidney disease include vomiting, weight loss, poor appetite, and dehydration.

Kidney disease is serious and life-threatening. But with the proper care, your cat’s quality of life is manageable. Treatments for kidney disease include special diets, fluid therapy, and medication.

  • Liver Disorder and Gastrointestinal Issues

Just like with kidney disease, if the liver can’t properly filter out the waste in your pet’s body, it causes a foul odor. In this case, one that smells like vomit.

  • Respiratory Disease

If your cat has a clogged nose and bad breath, it’s because of bacteria or a virus that is residing in its respiratory system.

  • Stomatitis

This is basically the inflammation of the mouth. If it involves not just the lips but the gums as well, it will be termed as gingivostomatitis.

This causes inflammation of gums which deteriorate over time. The deteriorating gums are the main cause of the odor.

  • Gingivitis

Usually when you’ve started to think, “My cat’s breath stinks!”, it’s due to months (or years) of plaque and tartar buildup. Food particles, bacteria, and even bits of fur can stick around kitty’s gum line.

This collection eventually forms thick, chunky, greyish-brown calculi. And they smell foul!

Gingivitis is graded from levels I-IV. In its earlier stages, gingivitis is reversible. Using a veterinary-approved enzymatic toothpaste along your cat’s gum line with your finger, a piece of gauze or for a particularly tolerant cat, a toothbrush, can help prevent plaque;  causing more severe irreversible gingivitis.

  • Periodontal Disease

When kitty’s gingivitis has become severe (grade III), the progression into periodontal disease has begun. Grade III gum disease is often more noticeable by smell than lesser stages of gingivitis and this is often when cat parents first take notice that their cat has bad breath.

Grade III gum disease is diagnosed when your veterinarian can observe red, swollen, and bloody gums. Your cat may also begin to have difficulty eating. This stage of gingivitis can quickly progress into grade IV gingivitis or periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease requires immediate attention. If left untreated, bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and cause damage to kitty’s heart, liver, and kidneys. A cat in this stage of gum disease will likely have several loose, broken or rotting teeth that will require extraction.

Abscesses and bone infections are not uncommon side effects of periodontal disease. A tooth root abscess has the potential to become so large that pus will cause swelling up to and around your cat’s eye.

  • Growths or Tumors

While most cases of feline stink-mouth are due to gum disease, there can sometimes be more problematic diagnoses. Oral masses are often benign but can be cancerous, so prompt veterinary attention is necessary if you suspect your cat has a growth or tumor.

Using a needle and a microscope slide, your kitty’s doctor can send a tissue sample to be checked by a pathologist to determine what treatment is necessary.

If your cat has an oral mass, it isn’t always accompanied by bad breath. Some masses can become infected and the infection becomes the source of the bad odor you’re detecting.

Oral tumors can look like a swollen lump, an extra flap of skin or even a bleeding ulcer that won’t heal. Tumors don’t always grow out and away from the gum; they can also grow inward and involve bone, head or neck tissue or other local structures. It’s best to let your vet check and monitor any suspicious sores or growths.

woman with handkerchief and cat

Other Symptoms to Look Out For

If you think that the issue might be more serious than just tartar getting stuck in its teeth, you should be on the lookout for the following symptoms, indicating that something worse might be going on:

  • Swollen gums
  • Excessive thirst
  • Constant urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of mouth control
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Yellowish eyes or gums
  • Excessive drooling

Before you try to resolve the bad breath problem, consult your vet and have them administer tests to ensure that there are no underlying issues or serious illnesses which could be causing the halitosis.

If you and your furball are lucky, the test results will come out negative. Now you simply have to find a suitable remedy to the bad-breath issue.

Different Remedies for Feline Halitosis

Here are some of the ways on how to fix cats’ bad breath:

  • Use Breath Freshener

If your furry friend seems to be in good overall health except for some halitosis, you can try using a breath freshener for cats. There are many cat treats on the market like Greenies that have breath-freshening ingredients.

Harder treats like these also require some extra chewing that helps to act as a natural brush – removing some plaque and tartar. Your veterinarian may also sell prescription foods and treats for oral health.

  • Brush Its Teeth

Brushing your cat’s teeth is the best preventative of halitosis. You don’t need to brush the insides of kitty’s teeth or gums, so gently inserting your finger under their top lip and sweeping the pouchy area by their molars is enough. You can also cover your finger with a piece of gauze or a rubber finger brush for more friction.

Your veterinarian can recommend a toothpaste like C.E.T by Virbac. Many cats won’t allow you to use an actual brush, so start out using a pea-sized amount on your finger. Pastes like these are made specifically for animals and contain enzymes that help break down plaque buildup even without much brushing.

You can also educate yourself on how to brush a cat’s teeth online. There are plenty of techniques on how to effectively do so while trying not to lose a finger.

Acclimate your cat to teeth brushing while it’s still young and make it a habit to brush your pet’s teeth daily. This will keep your fur baby’s breath fresh and strengthen its teeth all around.

  • Use A Water Additive

This is similar in efficacy to the mouth wash that humans use. Consult your vet before trying this as this may contain chemicals that your cat is allergic to.

The water additive helps fight off bacteria and rinses the mouth clean. This prevents any further plaque build-up and reaches the areas that a normal toothbrush can’t. It also washes away any tartar that gets lodged in between the teeth.

Always remember that this is a supplement to the brushing process and does not replace it. Brushing your pet’s teeth should never be neglected.

  • Give Your Cat A Dental Chew

This is a treat that cats adore. Different brands provide different flavors, so your cat may prefer one to the other. Give them big ones to avoid choking and, as always, consult with your vet first.

Not only will this help your cat get rid of tartar by fighting mouth bacteria. It’s also a balanced and healthy treat.

It’s a way for your cat to clean and snack at the same time! Dental chews abrasively rub off tartar and bacteria build-ups.

Some dental treats contain enzymes or other ingredients that protect, prevent or reduce plaque build-up. The best have gone through testing by veterinary dentists and are able to include on the label endorsements from the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

  • Diet Changes

Some vets might also recommend that you change your cat’s diet. Soft food diets don’t provide any stimulation to the enamel of the teeth and therefore plaque build-up happens quickly.

Dry kibble food or more specific dental diets will help reduce plaque as the cat crunches through the harder food.

  • Visit the Vet Regularly

If your furbaby’s mouth is still smelly, your veterinarian will need to run some diagnostics. Blood work, X-rays, and a thorough oral exam will be necessary.

Veterinarians perform dental procedures regularly and can clean and repair feline teeth. This is a procedure done under general anesthesia.

A normal dental procedure is a scale and polish. However, if your cat’s teeth are particularly bad, extractions may be in order.

Extractions are usually a day-long procedure at the vet. Bring your cat with an empty stomach in the morning and they’ll be ready to go home after lunch.

Afterward, they might need antibiotics and pain relief. But don’t worry; recovery is usually very quick.

Procedures that require anesthesia can quickly become costly, so prevention is always your least expensive and best option for keeping your pet’s breath smelling fresh.

Dietary Indiscretion

If you’ve noticed that your cat’s breath smells like fish, don’t jump to conclusions. Fishy breath isn’t always a sign of underlying disease especially if you’ve recently fed your cat fish. Take note of what your cat is eating and see if the foods themselves are causing your cat’s halitosis.

When your cat has breath that smells like poop, keep an eye on it around the litter box. This could be a gross case of “You are what you eat.” Coprophagia, or the act of eating feces, is not always a sign of disease.

Coprophagia can be behavioral or it can be caused by vitamin or mineral deficiencies that can be cured by a change of food. It can also be a sign of diabetes, thyroid disease, parasitic infections or neurological issues, so a call to your veterinarian is in order if your cat has started snacking in the litter box.

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