Here’s What May Be Causing Bad Breath in Your Cat

Regularly brushing your cat’s teeth could bring you closer together — literally.

Bad kitty breath could be caused by serious diseases such as diabetes and gastrointestinal problems. By: Evan Blaser

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 the 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’s food may also be a factor, or your cat could be allergic to something in the food.

Sometimes even baby teeth may get stuck in the mouth and harbor plaque and bacteria, causing a putrid odor that unfortunately keeps distance between you and your beloved pet.

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Some serious conditions could be causing the stinky breath, 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 even neurological disease.


Check for other symptoms in addition to the odor, such as:

  • 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

If your cat exhibits any of these symptoms alongside malodorous breath, visit your vet for a diagnosis of the ailment.

Once you rule out any of the above symptoms and causes, a professional cleaning should be performed. Afterward, you can start a regimen of tooth brushing for your cat. Yes, you can brush your cat’s teeth.

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Tips on Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

Never use a toothbrush or toothpaste designed for humans. Doing so could introduce new health problems in your cat. Starter kits (affiliate link) are available online or at your local pet store and include a pet-safe toothpaste, a 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 it to the outside of the teeth by pulling back the skin around the mouth. Try this once a day with the finger cover provided in the kit so the cat can get used to having her teeth cleaned.

Watch this veterinarian go over the finer points of brushing a cat’s teeth:

If  your cat is relaxed throughout the ordeal — and you still have your finger — try using the brush and working the inside of the teeth gently.

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

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, has been researching dog and cat breeds for nearly a decade and has observed the animals up close at dog shows in both the United States and the United Kingdom. She is the author of the book One Unforgettable Journey, which was nominated for a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. In addition, she was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. Kristine has researched and written about pet behaviors and care for many years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, another bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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