Phew! Symptoms and Causes of Bad Breath in Cats


"Where is my toothbrush?"

Cats are curious and friendly by nature, and if yours is anything like mine, they can get up close and personal at times. If you notice a smell coming from your cat’s mouth that makes you wince, there may be a few reasons for the offensive odor.

Bad breath in a cat is usually a sign of a health problem. There are several causes and symptoms of feline halitosis, so check the mouth, diet and recent behavior for an indication of what might be ailing your pet.


The cause of your kitty’s bad breath could be as simple as plaque buildup, a stuck piece of food or a recent injury to the mouth area. Ingredients in the cat food you use can also be a factor, or your cat could be allergic to something in the food.

There have also been reports by cat owners that baby teeth were stuck in the cat’s mouth and harboring plaque and bacteria; the new teeth formed with the baby teeth still in place.

Some serious conditions could be causing Mr. Jingles to be a stinky kitty too. Periodontal disease or gingivitis could be plaguing the mouth area, or your cat may have recently bitten a live electrical wire.

Other possibilities, such as internal conditions, might include diabetes, kidney disease, liver disorder, respiratory disease, skin disease, gastrointestinal problems or neurological disease.


Your cat may be showing one or multiple symptoms in addition to the odor, and the symptoms could point to several causes.

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Sweet or citrus-smelling breath
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Weight loss
  • Ammonia-like smell
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Yellowing eyes or gums
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Loss of mouth control, difficulty opening or closing
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea

The first plan of action includes a trip to see your veterinarian. Once you are able to rule out any of the above symptoms and causes, a cleaning should be performed. Afterward you can start a regime of tooth brushing for your cat. Yes, you can brush your cat’s teeth!

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

Never use a toothbrush or toothpaste designed for humans. Starter kits (aff) are available online or at your local pet store and include a pet-safe toothpaste, training cover for finger brushing and a brush to use once your cat gets accustomed to the process.

Cats don’t normally like their mouths forced open, so start with a little paste on your finger and apply to the outside of the teeth by pulling back the skin around the mouth. Try this once a day with your finger or the finger cover in the kit to get the cat accustomed to the process. If you still have your finger and your cat seems not to mind, try using the brush and working the inside of the teeth.

Keep up this routine, and you will improve your cat’s health and reduce vet costs in the process. If your dog has the same problem, we recommend a similar solution.

Additional Resources

Photo: ErnestDuffoo/Flickr

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