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Cat Bad Breath: How to Combat It
Cats Care

Cat Bad Breath: How to Combat It

Is it getting difficult to stay close to your cat because they have bad breath? You are not alone! Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is more common in cats than you may know. However, sometimes, halitosis in cats signifies a more serious medical condition. Some common causes of bad breath in cats include periodontal disease, diabetes, or kidney disease. 

Here is a breakdown of what causes bad breath in cats, the symptoms, and the usual treatment plan depending on the problem. 

Symptoms of Bad Breath in Cats

The first step in identifying the underlying issue is to look out for symptoms. The signs of bad breath in cats may include:

  • Excessive drooling

  • Smelly saliva 

  • Red, sore gums

  • Yellow, brown, or green substance on the teeth’s surface

  • Reduced appetite or having problems chewing

Why Does My Cat Have Bad Breath?

Bad breath in cats can be caused by various health issues that may be oral or systemic. You may have to consult your veterinarian to get it checked and identify the cause. 

Oral Causes

One of the most common causes of cat bad breath is periodontal disease or gum disease. It often occurs due to the accumulation of bacteria on the surface of the teeth. But how do bacteria get there? 

When saliva gets mixed with leftover food particles, it forms a sticky film called plaque that sticks to the surface of the teeth and provides the perfect spot for bacterial growth. Over some time, the natural minerals in your feline's saliva turn the plaque into tartar, which can lead to red-swollen gums — gingivitis. 

The surrounding tissues, like the gums and inner surfaces of the cheeks, lips, and roof of the mouth, may also get inflamed by the tartar formation on the teeth, causing mouth pain, which is known as stomatitis. Also, the growth of bacteria in your cat’s mouth that have not been removed releases a smelly sulfuric odor that causes bad breath and eventually tissue and bone loss. 

Another cause of a cat’s bad breath is when a food particle or a hair strand gets stuck in the teeth or under the gums, which decomposes and infects the surrounding tissues. 

Oral ulcers, from an underlying virus, such as feline calicivirus or uremic ulcers from kidney disease, may contribute to bad breath in cats. Moreover, mouth cancer can also be the cause if the cat breath smells like death. It can result in decaying or dead tissue. 

Systemic Causes

Oral diseases are not only causes of bad breath in cats, other systemic factors causing halitosis are severe medical conditions you must look into for rapid treatment. 

Chronic kidney disease is a common systemic cause of cat terrible breath, where kidney function declines. It causes waste products, such as ammonia and urine, to accumulate in the cat’s blood, which may result in the cat's breath smelling like ammonia or urine. 

Also, diabetes mellitus is among the systemic causes of bad breath, in which specific pancreatic cells fail to regulate blood sugar. Your cat's breath may have a fruity or sweet odor, indicating ketoacidosis, which occurs in diabetes. This condition is likely life-threatening.

If your cat's breath stinks like feces, it is because of persistent vomiting, which indicates bowel obstruction or liver disease. And this is a medical emergency.  

Treatment of Bad Breath in Cats

The basis of treating bad breath in cats is addressing the underlying issues. If halitosis is caused by periodontal disease, the cat’s teeth will need professional cleaning under anesthesia to remove tartar and to clean around and underneath the gums. The cleaning is typically done with the help of a tool called an ultrasonic scaler. 

Although plaque and tartar will still build up, polishing the teeth to remove tiny scratches on the surface may delay the process hereafter. The veterinarian may also recommend X-rays to scan any cracked or broken teeth to further treat them. They may also prescribe antibiotics or pain medicines. 

If systemic diseases, such as kidney disease or diabetes, are the causes of bad breath in the cat, your veterinarian will probably perform diagnostics to identify the disease. Once the disease is determined and managed, the dental care routine for your cat must be defined. 


According to an article by VCA Animal Hospitals, once the causes of bad breath are determined and eradicated, regular plaque control is crucial to prevent halitosis from reappearing. You can do that by brushing your cat's teeth regularly and getting their checkups with your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my cat's breath smell?

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the most common cause of a cat's bad breath is tartar buildup and periodontal disease. Other causes may include kidney disease, diabetes, or mouth cancer.

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