Even the most loving parent doesn’t expect their cat’s breath to smell like roses—but if your cat’s breath is noticeably bad, it’s worth investigating. Fortunately there are several simple practices and home remedies that can treat bad breath in cats, so you can get back to enjoying their sweet company up close!
Causes of Bad Breath in Cats
There are several different things that can cause your cat’s breath to stink, and some of them might require a diagnosis from a vet.
Gum disease is the most common cause of bad breath in cats, whether it’s gingivitis (early gum disease) or periodontitis (advanced gum disease).
Gum disease develops over time as odor-producing bacteria from plaque and tartar buildup causes inflammation in the gum tissue.
Plaque & Tartar Buildup
Plaque is a sticky bacterial biofilm on cats’ teeth that hardens into tartar over time. Both plaque and tartar can cause bad breath, erode tooth enamel and cause cavities.
Stomatitis is inflammation of the soft tissues in your cat’s mouth. Stomatitis is also caused by oral bacteria, and is very painful. Fungal stomatitis is caused by the Candida albicans fungus, and is less common.
Rotting Food or Foreign Objects
Small food particles stuck in spaces between the teeth and gumline can decompose, leading to bad breath and infection. Likewise, if your cat chewed on some hair, bone, leaves or similar, those types of items can also get stuck and start to rot.
Tooth or Gum Decay
When a cat’s teeth or gum tissues become infected by bacteria it can lead to cavities and dead gum tissue, both of which produce a foul odor. Broken teeth are especially vulnerable to infection and decay
Canker sores are mouth ulcers that can form on gum tissue, the tongue or on the insides of cheeks and lips—just like with people. Infected canker sores can cause bad breath and decreased food intake.
Bad breath is a common symptom of an upper respiratory tract infection in cats. An infected tooth or an abscess in the root can also cause bad breath. An oral infection can also lead to glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), another source of bad breath in cats.
Kittens that are teething usually have bad breath. It will probably clear up in a few weeks, but keep an eye on things because some kittens can get gingivitis when their adult teeth grow in.
Wet cat food has a noticeable smell, and sometimes an odor lingers after mealtime. The same thing happens to us after we eat a particularly pungent meal!
Eating Strange Things
Cats don’t have the same reputation as dogs when it comes to scavenging and eating gross things, but cats with pica (a condition causing a compulsion to eat non-food items) or coprophagia (eating feces) can develop bad breath as a result.
Poor oral hygiene is the primary cause of most cases of halitosis in cats. When a cat’s natural oral bacteria crosses the tipping point from good to bad it causes decay and creates sulfurous compounds which can smell like fish, rotten eggs, or “death breath.”
Other factors including malnutrition, immune deficiencies and wounds or burns inside the mouth (which can result from chewing on electrical cords) can also play a part. Toxic plant poisoning can cause oral irritation (including ulcers) and lead to bad breath.
Home Remedies for Stinky Cat Breath
For most cats, the solution to bad breath is as simple as removing or reducing plaque buildup. Tips you can try at home include:
Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
Ideally brush your cat’s teeth once a day, but start where you can. Be sure to use a toothbrush designed for cats, and a toothpaste recommended by vets. Introduce this new practice slowly. If your cat won’t tolerate brushing, there are oral gels that can be applied with a cotton swab along the gumline.
Enhance Their Water
Only use a water additive formulated for cats, never a product made for humans or other animals. These flavorless water additives can help remove plaque from your cat’s teeth. Never put lemon juice in your cat’s water, as citrus fruits are one of the human foods toxic for cats.
Hydrate Your Cat
Dehydration can cause dry mouth in cats. When there’s not enough saliva in the mouth to rinse away bacteria, bad breath can develop. Check out these tips for keeping your cat hydrated.
Try Dental Chews
There are several dental chews and treats for cats designed to remove plaque buildup through chewing, including toys, sticks and treats. Look for cat dental chews or treats accepted by the VOHC.
Cat Proof Your Home
Remove potential hazards in your home. Make sure any houseplants are safe for cats, keep toxic household items where your cat can’t get them, and keep human foods that are toxic to cats out of reach. You should also cat-proof your Christmas tree during the holidays if you have one.
Try a Temporary Fix
Use flavored treats or parsley for a quick fix. Some cat bad breath treats are meant to temporarily freshen breath, rather than remove plaque – but make sure to check the label for sugar and preservatives. Parsley is an all-natural breath freshener that’s safe for cats, so you can try putting a small amount in their water or food
Feed a Raw Diet
Raw cat food is nutrient-rich and can act as a “natural toothbrush” because it contains ground bone and natural enzymes that help with plaque removal. Raw diets for cats are rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins to help support good oral hygiene.
When to Seek Professional Help
It’s important to keep up with your cat’s wellness checks so your veterinarian can regularly evaluate their oral and dental health.
Most of the time, bad cat breath is a minor inconvenience. But chronic halitosis or sudden changes in your cat’s breath (with no change in food or lifestyle to explain it) could signal an underlying health issue such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Gastrointestinal problems (including bowel obstruction) can cause foul breath that smells like poop, and are usually accompanied by frequent vomiting.
If home remedies aren’t working, or if your cat’s bad breath is accompanied by other symptoms (difficulty eating, vomiting, or inflamed gums), get it checked out by your vet. They may recommend professional dental cleaning, antibiotics, or other treatments.
Learn more about introducing your cat to a raw food diet to promote fresher breath, a healthy weight, and many other benefits!
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