Why Does My Cats Breath Smell Bad?

Cat Get Dental Checkup

Do you ever go for a cuddle with your cat or for a little peck on the snoot and flinch back from the stench coming out of your cat’s mouth? Not a pleasant memory, that’s for sure.

But did you know that 50-90% of cats over four years of age suffer from some kind of dental disease? This, among a few other reasons, could be the reason behind that awful smell coming out of your pet’s mouth.

Also, did you know that the smell itself can help you know the particular reason for it? For example, a stinging nail polish remover smell could be a hint for diabetes diagnosis.

In this article, we go over the various reasons why your cat’s breath may stink, from the least concerning causes to the most concerning, so you should definitely stick around.

Unconcerning Causes of Stinky Cat Breath

Cats generally have a mildly unpleasant breath smell for a host of reasons, from diet to vomiting to others. This is to be expected. An occasional extra nasty smell could also be normal. Let’s go over the unconcerning causes of stinky cat breath.   


All cats appreciate a little tuna, salmon, sardines, and even eggs. A bad smell, in this case, is nothing to worry about.

Raw Fish

That being said, vet annual visits for dental care, and daily toothbrushing are necessary for your cat’s health. Not to mention, there are dental chews, water additives, and toys that help keep your cat’s choppers pristine.

Hairballs and Vomiting

Whether it’s cat molting season or a simple five-hour grooming session, cats frequently throw up hairballs. They also throw up every now and then if they eat too fast or eat something not quite right. 

Either way, you’d better keep a distance from your kitty’s mouth after she has vomited. Otherwise, you’ll have a very unpleasant smell attacking your nostrils.

If the smell persists, you might want to look deeper into it.

Concerning Causes of Cat’s Stinky Breath

A stinky breath can be viewed as a symptom of many diseases. That’s why it’s important not to take it lightly. If your cat’s breath is unbearingly bad, it could be one of the following causes.

Teeth Tartar

When cats eat, some leftover food can stick to their teeth, forming a thin layer called plaque. When plaque accumulates, it then turns into yellow or brown teeth tartar.

Cats are highly prone to getting teeth tartar since only a few cat owners brush their cats’ teeth, and most of those who brush their cat’s teeth don’t do it daily. 

Teeth tartar destroys the outer layer of the teeth, also known as the enamel, forming cavities. More food and bacteria accumulate there, which results in the pungent smell. This bacteria can also travel down to your cat’s organs, causing kidney and heart disease.

Cat Teeth with Tartar

The tartar spread can result in periodontitis, a gum infection that, if it continues to evolve, the teeth will grow loose and eventually fall.

Common symptoms of periodontal disease are facial swelling, drooling, gum infection, discomfort, chewing on one side only, nasal discharge, and pain. If your cat starts showing any of these symptoms, make sure you pay a visit to your vet.

To prevent the development of plaque into tartar, brushing your cat's teeth is necessary. You can try to use a Q-tip to wipe off the plaque daily as well. Some people recommend dipping it in tuna water so your cat would like it, but that doesn’t help with the stinky smell.


Aside from eating smelly food, the curious nature of cats could lead to them eating random objects. They sometimes swallow broken pieces of toys, rubber bands, hair, and even bugs. These things can cause oral injury, or they can decompose in their mouth, causing an infection.

So, try to keep tabs on your cat as much as possible. Make sure she isn’t chewing on a foreign object, and that nothing is stuck between her teeth. If you detect the start of an infection, a vet checkup is a must.

Systemic Causes

If your cat's fangs are sharp and gleaming, yet she still has bad breath, she could be suffering from a systemic disease. Below are some of the most notable ones to be mindful of.

Chronic Kidney disease

Does your cat’s breath smell urine-like? If so, we could be looking at kidney disease. It’s a lot more common in older cats. About 20-50% of cats over the age of 15 are going through some degree of kidney disease.  

Since the kidney isn’t working as it should, toxins and urea seep into the bloodstream. That leads to the ammonia-smelling breath. It’ll also lead to frequent urinating, even outside of the litter box. Other symptoms you can detect are weight loss, no appetite, weakness, and vomiting.

Once your cat is diagnosed, your vet will determine the proper course of treatment. Although there’s no cure, the treatment will control the disease’s progress.

Diabetes Mellitus

Luckily, diabetes isn’t common in cats, with only 0.2-1% of cats getting diagnosed as diabetic. Nonetheless, if your cat has a sweet fruity-smelling breath or a nail polish remover smell, there could be an issue with her pancreas.

Diabetes can cause thirst and increased appetite. In extreme cases, it could also cause vomiting and back leg impairment.

However, once your vet confirms that your cat has diabetes, the treatment shouldn’t be an issue. It only takes a change in their diet, a few insulin shots, and they’re good to go!

Liver disease

Unfortunately, liver disease’s symptoms are hard to notice as they’re very general. Among them are tiredness, lack of appetite, weight loss, and, of course, a foul mouth smell. 

Treatment usually includes nutritional support and medicine. It’s worth noting that liver failure is pretty uncommon; it only occurs if the liver reaches a severe state of damage.

Gastrointestinal trouble

If there’s trouble with your cat's digestive tract, she will show signs of physical weakness, along with vomiting and diarrhea. The continued vomiting can make their breath smell like feces.

Cutting out food could also lead to liver damage, so any suspicions of gastrointestinal trouble shouldn’t be ignored.

Different Measures to Help With Your Cat’s Breath

You can keep plaque at bay by replacing normal treats with dental chews. They come in different sizes and flavors to suit the pickiest of cats.

The idea is that the large size and hard texture of dental chews force cats to chew more, which helps prevent the formation of tartar. Dental chews are also coated in sodium polyphosphate, which decreases tartar by 50%.

Another thing you can opt for is chew toys. If your cat doesn’t like dental treats or eats them up too fast, a chew toy can be a great alternative.

Dental Chews for Cats

They are catnip-infused, so your cat won’t let them get out of sight. Chewing on them will keep your cat’s teeth healthy and will fend off bad breath. They’ll probably save your furniture, too!

If your cat suffers a medical condition that causes bad breath, you can try a dental spray. It kills the germs and bacteria that result in the bad smell, and it helps with the plaque.

A dental rinse is similar to a dental spray, but it’s used immediately after eating to avoid any food sticking to your cats’ teeth.

If all else fails, you can try water additives, they usually go undetected by your cat. However, if your cat stops drinking because of the unfamiliar taste, your only option would be to seek professional help.

In general, an annual visit to a dental professional is a must. A veterinarian cleanup is done under anesthesia where your pet gets the plaque removed and teeth polished, as well as a complete examination even under the gums.

You should also consider scheduling a regular visit to your vet to prevent periodontitis.

Tips for Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

You’ve better luck making teeth brushing a part of your cat’s routine the younger your cat is. Understandably, cats hate it when someone forcefully opens their mouth. So, you can link the process to a treat to make it more tolerable.

Start off by acquainting your cat with the taste of a pet’s toothpaste. Let them lick it off your finger. Then, start rubbing it on their front teeth with your finger. Don’t forget to give your cat her favorite treat after. Do so daily for a few days, then start rubbing the toothpaste on the rest of the teeth.

Brush Cats Teeth

Once your cat is used to having her mouth opened for the toothpaste, you can introduce a toothbrush. A baby’s toothbrush will work fine, or you can get a cat’s toothbrush if you need it.

If you have more than one cat, make sure each one has their own, and wash the toothbrush after every use.

As for toothpaste, you need to get a pet-specific one. The fluoride level in ours could really hurt your cat if ingested. There’s also brushless toothpaste gel, which will save you the trouble of brushing by letting the cat’s saliva do all the work.

Lastly, you should ideally brush your cat’s teeth once a day. But if it’s too stressful for your cat, once every three days will keep her teeth plaque-free.

How Do Cats in the Wild Manage without Teeth Brushing?

Although both wild and domestic cats have the same teeth structure, teeth care differs.

Surprisingly, you’ll find that wild cats are less prone to dental issues since their meals usually require being torn apart and broken through, which prevents the buildup of tartar. Their teeth get polished up in the process, unlike domestic cats who get ready-made meals, so they don’t use their teeth for chewing as much.

How to Know If Your Cat Has Healthy Teeth?

Cat’s healthy teeth should be white and free from clippings and cavities. The gums shouldn’t be infected, swollen, or bleeding. The back of your cat’s mouth shouldn’t have any ulcers, bumps, or cuts. There should be nothing stuck between their teeth, and most importantly their breath should smell okay.

Otherwise, that could be an indicator of a health issue.

Final Thoughts

You can tell a lot from the look of feline teeth and the way their breath smells. Before tackling the issue of a stinky breath, you must first know its source.

If it’s intolerable and permanent, watch your cat closely. Accompanying signs such as weight loss, change of appetite, and low energy levels should indicate that your cat is troubled.

These are all common symptoms for many diseases such as diabetes, liver and kidney diseases, which require immediate care.

If the smell is barely noticeable, you probably have nothing to worry about.

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