Feline Halitosis: When To Worry About Your Cat’s Bad Breath

Normal cat breath does not smell like flowers, but it shouldn’t make you gag either! If your kitty’s mouth is particularly pungent, it could indicate a health problem.

According to Eric Davis, DVM, a fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry and director of the Dental Referral Service at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, there are many potential causes of bad breath in cats. Here we will break them down, from the simple to the serious, so you know when to seek veterinary attention.

feline halitosis

Periodontal Disease

Dr. Davis identifies periodontal disease as the number one cause of bad breath in cats. He compares the smell to a human who hasn’t brushed their teeth for “weeks, months, or even years.”

Up to 85 percent of cats over the age of four have some degree of periodontal disease. The condition develops when tartar and plaque buildup on teeth. The plaque hardens over time, causing painful swollen gums and eventual tooth loss.

If caught early, a professional dental cleaning can restore your cat’s mouth to a healthy state, but without a home care routine, plaque will quickly build up again.

Trapped Food or Hair

Another common cause of bad breath is “something caught in your cat’s teeth or under her gums,” says Dr. Davis. “Food or a strand of hair or string, for example, can get lodged in the little nooks and crannies between teeth and can decompose, soon infecting the surrounding tissue.”

In addition to foul breath, a foreign object in the mouth can cause severe pain and inflammation, so seek veterinary attention instead of trying to remove it yourself.


Cats love to explore, but sometimes their adventures end in injuries. From simple puncture wounds to burns caused by electrical cords, wounds in the mouth can definitely lead to cat bad breath. Due to the high bacteria content in the mouth, open injuries easily become infected, causing a foul odor.

Oral Tumors

Oral cavity cancer accounts for 15 to 20 percent of feline cancers seen at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. In addition to bad breath, symptoms include poor appetite, drooling, difficulty swallowing, facial swelling, and weight loss.

If you suspect your cat may have an oral tumor, seek veterinary care immediately, as these cancers can be very aggressive.

Kidney Disease

Untreated dental disease allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream, affecting your cat’s organs, especially the heart and kidneys. In cats with kidney disease, waste products, such as urea and ammonia, build up in the cat’s blood resulting in bad breath.


Diabetes mellitus is a common disease in which the pancreas fails to regulate the animal’s blood sugar. If your cat’s breath has a fruity odor, this is a sign of a potentially life-threatening condition called ketoacidosis. See your vet immediately.

How to Prevent Cat Bad Breath

If your cat already has dental disease and halitosis, you must visit your vet before attempting any home remedies. Her mouth needs to be healthy and pain-free before you attempt to brush her teeth. One bad experience, and your cat may never let you near her mouth again!

Once your vet signs off, begin brushing her teeth a minimum of several times a week to prevent tartar buildup. Be sure to use a pet-safe toothpaste and toothbrush made especially for cats. There are also some handy and highly-effective dental wipes you can use to wipe down your cat’s teeth and combat bad breath simultaneously. You can choose from two great options here, one which comes in a pleasant apple and mint scent—oh la la!

Learn the proper way to brush your cat’s teeth and other helpful dental care tips here.

Did you learn anything new and interesting about our feline friends? Share this article with other cat lovers that you know so that they can learn something, too.
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