Why Does Your Cat Have Bad Breath?

Updated: July 19, 2023


As a doting pet owner, you adore your feline companion’s soft fur, playful antics, and affectionate purrs. However, one aspect that can be a real turn-off is their bad breath. Just like humans, cats can suffer from foul-smelling breath, which can be a cause of concern for many reasons.

While the occasional case of bad breath might be linked to something minor, such as the consumption of pungent food or a temporary oral issue, persistent halitosis in cats often signals an underlying health problem that requires attention. Dental hygiene plays a significant role in your cat’s overall well-being, and neglecting it can lead to various complications.

In this article, we will delve into the primary reasons behind your feline friend’s unpleasant breath, shedding light on common dental issues like periodontal disease, dental tartar, and gingivitis. Moreover, we will explore potential systemic causes of bad breath, including gastrointestinal issues or metabolic disorders, which may necessitate a visit to the veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

What Are the Causes of Bad Breath?

Absolutely, you are correct! Bad breath in cats can indeed be an indicator of various health issues, and it’s essential for pet owners to be vigilant about its potential causes. Tartar and plaque buildup, as well as periodontal conditions, are common culprits behind foul-smelling breath in cats, and they often result from poor dental hygiene.

However, bad breath can also be a symptom of more serious underlying health problems, such as respiratory issues, diabetes, kidney dysfunction, skin infections, or even oral trauma. These conditions require thorough evaluation and treatment by a veterinarian to ensure the cat’s well-being.

On the other hand, sometimes bad breath might be caused by something as simple as a piece of food or foreign object stuck between the cat’s teeth. In such cases, careful inspection and, if necessary, gentle cleaning can resolve the issue.

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

Establishing a daily teeth brushing routine for your kitten can help prevent potential issues as she ages. However, when it comes to older cats, introducing teeth brushing may require some training to help them accept the process.

One effective approach to familiarize your cat with teeth brushing is by using treats as positive reinforcement during the grooming session. Reward your cat with oral hygiene chews right after brushing her teeth, creating a positive association. Over time, your feline friend should understand that cooperating during teeth brushing leads to a well-deserved reward.

Opting for dental chews offers several advantages over regular treats. These chews last longer, promoting better oral hygiene by encouraging your cat to chew, which helps keep her teeth healthy. Additionally, their extended enjoyment provides a more extended reward experience for your kitty. Beyond using them after brushing, you can also offer oral health chews as treats any time, supporting your cat’s dental health between regular brushing sessions. By incorporating these strategies, you can ensure your cat’s dental care remains on point, leading to fresher breath and healthier teeth throughout her life.

Periodontal Disease in Cats

Maintaining proper dental hygiene in cats is of paramount importance, just as it is in humans. Neglecting their oral health can lead to painful consequences, including periodontal disease, which may result in the spread of infection to other organs, causing further health complications.

Certain cat breeds, such as Persians and Himalayans, are particularly susceptible to periodontal diseases due to their flat-faced and short-nosed features. These breeds often have teeth set closer together, increasing their vulnerability to dental issues.

Gum swelling in cats can be indicative of gingivitis, a condition that, if left untreated, can lead to bone and tissue loss, mirroring the consequences seen in humans. Recognizing the signs of potential dental problems in your cat and seeking early treatment is vital to prevent plaque buildup and avert any subsequent health complications.

By proactively addressing your cat’s dental care, you can ensure her overall well-being and minimize the risk of oral health-related problems. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian, adopting a daily teeth brushing routine, and being vigilant for any signs of dental issues will promote a healthy mouth and a happy, pain-free life for your beloved feline companion.

Does wet cat food cause bad breath?

You are absolutely right! Wet cat food does have a distinct odor, and it’s natural for the smell of the food to linger on your cat’s breath after eating. If your cat regularly consumes wet food two or three times a day, it’s common for their breath to have a meaty or fishy smell associated with the food.

In such cases, if the odor is consistent with your cat’s regular diet and there are no other concerning symptoms, there is likely nothing to worry about. However, it’s essential for pet owners to be familiar with their cat’s normal breath smell, so any sudden changes or unusually strong or foul odors should be noted.

If you notice a different or more unpleasant smell than usual, or if there are additional symptoms like excessive drooling, difficulty eating, or behavioral changes, it’s essential to consult your veterinarian. An unusual or worsening breath odor can sometimes be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs prompt attention and proper diagnosis.

Early Treatment Requires Professional Teeth Cleaning

If you find it challenging to maintain regular teeth brushing for your cat, seeking professional teeth cleaning from a veterinarian is a viable alternative. During this procedure, the vet can effectively remove any foreign materials lodged between the teeth or under the gums, as well as eliminate plaque buildup.

In cases where your cat has loose or severely damaged teeth beyond repair, the vet can perform extractions while your cat is under anesthesia. Additionally, the veterinarian can assess if your cat requires any medications to treat potential infections, preventing them from escalating and negatively impacting her health.

Your vet will offer valuable advice on proper at-home dental care to prevent future issues. If traditional teeth brushing is not feasible, wiping your cat’s teeth with dry gauze pads or a washcloth can help remove some plaque and hinder further buildup.

Moreover, like dental dog bones for dogs, there are treats specifically designed for cats to aid in removing plaque, keeping their teeth clean, and maintaining fresh breath. Consult with your veterinarian to find suitable options tailored to your cat’s specific needs and age.

By combining professional veterinary dental care with appropriate at-home maintenance, you can safeguard your cat’s oral health and promote a happy and healthy life for your feline companion.

Kidney Disease: Yes, Cats Get It Too!

Indeed, kidney disease is a prevalent concern in older cats, especially those aged eight years or more. If you observe that your senior cat’s breath carries a strong urine or ammonia odor, it might be an early indicator of kidney disease.

Accompanying the foul-smelling breath, you may notice other signs of kidney disease, such as increased water intake, more frequent urination, weight loss, and lethargy.

Fortunately, while kidney disease is not curable, it can be managed effectively with the right approach. Adjusting your cat’s diet is a key component of managing the condition. Transitioning from dry food to wet food can help increase her water intake, ensuring she stays well-hydrated. Adequate hydration is crucial in supporting kidney function and overall health.

Consulting your veterinarian is essential to devise a personalized diet plan and treatment strategy for your cat’s specific needs. With proper care, attention, and early detection, you can help improve the quality of life for your senior feline friend and extend her comfort and well-being for as long as possible.

Feline Leukemia and Other Viruses

You are absolutely right. Bad breath in cats can also be a symptom of a severe inflammatory condition called lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, which is associated with various viruses, including feline leukemia, calicivirus, Bartonella, feline immunodeficiency virus, and others.

Lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis can cause excruciating pain for cats and results in bad breath. If you notice foul-smelling breath in your cat, it’s essential to check her gums for swelling, as well as other signs like difficulty opening her mouth or bleeding gums.

Treating this condition typically involves professional teeth cleaning, tooth extractions when necessary, and the administration of feline antibiotics to combat the underlying viral infection.

In addition to bad breath, other symptoms such as trouble breathing, sneezing, or the presence of ulcers on the tongue may indicate feline calicivirus, another viral condition that can affect cats. Vaccination against feline calicivirus during your cat’s early age is crucial, particularly if she is frequently boarded or was in a rescue shelter with other cats before adoption. The virus is highly contagious among felines, and vaccinations play a vital role in preventing its transmission and protecting your cat’s health.

By being vigilant about your cat’s dental health, staying up-to-date with vaccinations, and seeking prompt veterinary attention when necessary, you can safeguard your feline companion’s well-being and ensure a happy, healthy life for her.

Bad Breath and Oral Cancers

Absolutely, seeking prompt veterinary attention is crucial if your cat continues to have bad breath despite practicing good oral hygiene. Bad breath can indeed be a sign of various oral health issues, including the possibility of tumors in the mouth.

Oral tumors, such as squamous cell carcinoma, can lead to infections and cause foul-smelling breath in cats. Early detection and diagnosis are critical for a better prognosis and effective treatment. When oral cancers are diagnosed in the later stages, treatment options may become limited, and the cat’s life expectancy decreases significantly.

Diabetes in Felines

Fruity Breath and Other Signs If you detect a fruity odor in your cat’s breath, it could be a symptom of feline diabetes. Additionally, increased thirst and urination are common indications of this condition. If your kitty seems constantly hungry, eats more but still loses weight, diabetes might be a concern.

Treatment and Management Similar to humans and canines, insulin therapy is the most common treatment for feline diabetes. Regular checkups with the veterinarian are essential to monitor her condition and ensure proper management.

Liver Disease in Cats

Yellowish Tint and Other Clues If you observe a yellowish tint in the whites of your cat’s eyes, skin, gums, or ears, it could be an indication of potential liver disease. Other signs to look out for include increased drinking, frequent urination, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Prompt Veterinary Attention If you notice any of these symptoms, take your cat to her doctor immediately for evaluation. Early diagnosis of liver disease improves the chances of successful treatment and a positive outcome. The specific treatments will depend on the underlying cause of the liver disease. Regular checkups and close monitoring are crucial in managing this condition effectively.

Prevention and Early Treatment of Bad Breath

You are absolutely right! Occasional bad breath in cats may not always indicate a severe underlying health issue. As you mentioned, sometimes it’s merely due to something they ate that smells bad and lingers until it’s flushed out of their system or addressed through proper dental care.

Maintaining a regular teeth brushing routine, using dental health treats, and swabbing to remove plaque buildup are excellent ways to keep your cat’s breath fresh and prevent the development of more serious issues. These preventive measures play a significant role in promoting good oral hygiene for your furry companion.

However, if the bad breath persists despite your efforts, it’s essential not to ignore it. A visit to the veterinarian for a professional dental cleaning and oral checkup is necessary in such cases. Identifying and treating any underlying conditions at an early stage is crucial for the cat’s health and well-being.

Infections or dental problems, when diagnosed early, can often be effectively treated with antibiotics and dental cleaning. This helps prevent the condition from progressing into a more serious and potentially life-threatening issue.

Frequently Asked Question

Why does my cat have bad breath?

Bad breath in cats can be caused by various factors. The most common reason is poor dental hygiene, leading to the accumulation of plaque and tartar, which can result in gum disease and foul-smelling breath. Other potential causes include oral infections, mouth ulcers, or even underlying health issues affecting the digestive system or kidneys.

How can I improve my cat’s dental hygiene?

Regular dental care is essential for your cat’s oral health. You can start by brushing their teeth regularly using a cat-specific toothbrush and toothpaste. Providing dental treats or toys designed to promote oral hygiene can also be helpful. It’s essential to consult your veterinarian to create a dental care routine tailored to your cat’s needs.

What are the signs of dental problems in cats?

Watch out for signs such as persistent bad breath, inflamed or bleeding gums, difficulty eating, pawing at the mouth, or excessive drooling. Changes in behavior, such as becoming more irritable or avoiding touch around the face, may also indicate dental issues.

Can bad breath be a symptom of a serious health problem in cats?

Yes, bad breath in cats can sometimes be a sign of an underlying health issue. It’s crucial to rule out any systemic conditions, like diabetes, kidney disease, or gastrointestinal problems, which may manifest as foul-smelling breath.

How often should I take my cat to the veterinarian for dental check-ups?

Routine dental check-ups are vital for your cat’s oral health. It is recommended to have a dental examination by a veterinarian at least once a year. Regular check-ups can help identify any dental problems early on and prevent them from worsening.

Are there cat foods that can help with bad breath?

Certain cat foods are formulated to promote dental health by reducing plaque and tartar buildup. Look for dental-specific formulas or dental treats designed to help keep your cat’s teeth clean and breath fresh.

Can I use human toothpaste on my cat’s teeth?

No, you should never use human toothpaste on your cat. Human toothpaste contains ingredients that are toxic to cats if swallowed. Instead, use toothpaste specifically formulated for cats, which is safe for them to ingest.


Bad breath in cats is a common issue that can have various underlying causes, but it is not something to be ignored. Maintaining good dental hygiene is crucial for your feline companion’s overall well-being. Neglecting their oral health can lead to more severe dental problems and even indicate potential systemic health issues that require immediate attention.

By following a proper dental care routine, which includes regular brushing, using cat-specific toothpaste, providing dental treats or toys, and scheduling routine check-ups with the veterinarian, you can significantly improve your cat’s oral health and combat bad breath.

Remember that bad breath in cats can sometimes be a symptom of more severe health problems. If your efforts to address the issue at home do not improve the situation or if you notice any other concerning symptoms, seek veterinary help promptly. Early detection and treatment can make a significant difference in your cat’s quality of life and longevity.

Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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