Managing Cat Bad Breath: Causes and Remediess

Published by Dr. Laci Schaible
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Bad breath — it happens to the best of us, including our beloved feline companions. Although many cases of our morning breath can be solved with a morning brush routine, cat bad breath often indicates a more serious medical problem, with both oral causes or systemic ones.

Why Does My Cat’s Breath Stink?

Oral Causes

According to International Cat Care, 85% of cats have some form of dental disease, and it's no wonder why. A cat's teeth and gums (aka gingival tissue) have naturally occurring bacteria. As these germs multiply and aren't removed via brushing, they can develop a bacteria plaque film on the teeth; this film hardens through natural minerals in your cat's saliva and becomes tartar and can be a reason as to why your cat’s breath stinks.

The bacteria in your cat's mouth that are not removed release smelly compounds after they breakdown leftover food particles. Not only does this cause cat bad breath, but mouth bacteria can travel via the blood to various organs, where they can cause infections throughout the body, often resulting in heart and kidney disease. The accumulation of tartar also forces the gums down, causing them to recede, which loosens the roots of the teeth. Eventually, those loose teeth fall out. This all makes for one stinky and painful kitty mouth.

Cats also can expose their teeth and gums to foreign objects — from bugs they catch and eat to non-food objects that can cause injury or oral trauma. In addition to these sources, cats are known for their frequent hairballs and vomiting. Imagine how foul your breath would become if you couldn't clean your mouth after being sick and you begin to understand why cat bad breath develops.

Further oral causes of halitosis (the scientific name for bad breath) in cats include oral tumours, abscesses from dead teeth and inflammatory gum conditions. If you are feeling worried that your cat has bad breath you should always seek advice from your vet.

Systemic Causes

The source of cat bad breath can't always be traced to the mouth. Some of the more common systemic causes of bad breath in cats are serious medical conditions that necessitate prompt medical treatment.

  1. Chronic kidney disease: Kidney disease (or renal disease) affects approximately one out of every three cats and is one of the most common diseases that Vetwest Animal Hospital see affecting cats. Kidney disease is very serious, and kidneys are essential for the health of your cat. As kidney function decreases, waste products, such as urea and ammonia, build up in the cat's blood. This may cause the cat's breath to smell like urine or ammonia.
  2. Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas and is a failure of certain pancreatic cells to regulate blood sugar. If your cat's breath stinks like a fruity odour, this is a sign of ketoacidosis, which may occur in diabetes. It's a potentially life-threatening condition and you must seek veterinarian advice if you suspect this condition.
  3. Gastrointestinal trouble: Breath that smells like faeces can occur with continued vomiting, especially when there is a bowel obstruction. Bowel obstructions are a medical emergency for your cat.

As you can see, there are many potential causes of bad breath in cats and it is anything but a frivolous and smelly inconvenience. While bad breath in people can be related to nonserious causes, such as eating garlicky food, bad breath in cats is more often a longstanding and serious condition which needs to be checked out. Luckily, there is often a solution.

Getting Rid of Cat Bad Breath: Home Remedies & Professional Tips

There are a few treatment options that you can try at home in order to get rid of your cat’s smelly breath. The goal of treatment is simple enough: establish cat breath that is free from offensive odours. If you are starting with a kitten with a healthy mouth, implementing a plan of good oral hygiene will be fairly simple, provided you are consistent and committed. Brushing your cat's teeth is another effective way to prevent the build-up of tartar. You should use toothpaste made especially for cats, which is available at pet supply stores or your vet's office. You should also purchase a special cat toothbrush to make this task easier for your cat — and you. Brushing should be done several times weekly at a minimum, and ideally, daily. This can be a challenge, especially in the learning phase. Stick with it and most cats will learn to tolerate it as part of their daily routine and may even enjoy the attention from you. This is something that you should try and implement at a young age so that your kitten will get used to having their teeth cleaned regularly and they will learn in time that this is a safe and important practice.

You should also schedule a professional cat teeth cleaning with your vet at least once a year. This procedure will require them to put your cat under anaesthesia — this isn't just to make it easier for the vet to more easily navigate your cat's teeth while they are asleep, but teeth cleanings for pets often requires more extensive cleaning that a regular toothbrush just can't reach. This often includes removal of hard to reach plaque and tartar that may form underneath the gum line. Your vet may also recommend X-rays to look for broken or cracked teeth, which can be common among cats.

Yawing cat has bad beath.
If your cat has periodontal, or gum disease, your first goal is to treat the oral cause of the bad breath. A complete oral exam under anaesthesia is necessary to diagnose the cause and the extent, as well as correct it.

If systemic disease is the cause of halitosis, your veterinarian will likely need to perform diagnostics to determine the cause. Once the cause is diagnosed and controlled, a home dental care routine should be established, and this will remain very important in order to maintain good oral hygiene for your cat.

There are oral care products and even foods to fight your cat's bad breath and dental disease. Feeding your cat, a vet-approved dental care cat food with scientifically proven tartar-reducing ingredients is a simple and effective option. Special additives and uniquely shaped kibble have been shown to greatly reduce plaque formation and tartar build-up, helping to maintain fresh breath for your cat.

Remember, a neutral-smelling breath is a sign of a healthy mouth and a healthy cat and anything other than this is an issue that you must get checked out immediately with your local vet. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association reported that dental and oral diseases are by far the most common problem facing our pets today. It is clear if you work to maintain your cat's oral health then this will also help maintain their overall health too.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible, is a small-animal veterinarian and veterinary writer. She has won numerous awards for her commitment to pet owner education and is considered a leading veterinary telehealth expert.

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