Bad breath in cats

Bad or smelly breath, also called ‘halitosis’, is a common and unpleasant problem. It can affect cats of any age or breed. And it can spoil everyone’s quality of life, especially your cat’s. 

Bacterial infection and decay are the most common causes of your cat’s bad breath. And bad breath can also be a warning signal for a painful mouth problem or illness elsewhere in their body.


What to do

What to do if your cat has bad breath

The cause won’t always be clear, but there are a few simple checks you can do at home to investigate bad or smelly breath:

Check your cat’s teeth and gums:

  • Healthy teeth are white. Signs of tooth decay include brown discolouration at the base of the tooth (by the gum) and accumulation of a hard material called ‘scale’ or ‘tartar’ around the teeth, It may even bury them completely!
  • Healthy teeth are not wobbly or loose.
  • Healthy gum is pink. Inflamed and infected gums will be red and may even be ulcerated.
  • Over 80% of cats in the UK have some level of dental disease

Read on for tips and suggestions on how best to care for your cat’s mouth at home and prevent the common causes of bad breath.



Common causes of bad breath

Bacterial infection and decay are the most common causes of your cat’s smelly breath.

These can result from one or more of the following problems:

  • Tooth and gum disease
  • Illnesses such as kidney disease, liver disease or sugar diabetes
  • Lots of fish oils in your cat’s diet or in supplements
  • Mouth tumours


When to worry

When to worry

Bad breath can be a warning that something is wrong with your cat’s mouth or general health.

Seek help from a vet if your cat is:

  • Rubbing or pawing their face
  • Gagging or retching
  • Eating on one side of their mouth
  • Drooling saliva
  • Preferring wet food or stopping eating altogether
  • Eating or drinking more or less than usual
  • Losing weight
  • Looking as if their face may be swollen on one side

Joii can help with tips on:

  • How to check your cat’s mouth and teeth
  • Cleaning your cat’s teeth – what to use and how best to do it
  • The best diets for dental health
  • Recognising the causes of bad breath



 How to prevent bad breath

  • Brush your cat’s teeth daily, using a feline toothpaste designed to remove scale and bacteria from teeth and gums.
  • Use a mouthwash or gel if brushing is not an option.
  • Feed a balanced diet and avoid sugary human treats and biscuits
  • Dental diets like ‘Hills Science Plan Oral Care’ are ideal
  • Regularly check your pet’s weight and health for early signs of change
  • Offer your cat special dental chews and treats.



Things to look out for

How to tell if your cat is developing bad breath and where the smell is coming from

Chances are, you’ll be the first to know if your cat develops bad breath when those daily cuddles become a challenge of how long you can hold your breath for. And if you don’t notice, your visitors certainly will!

If your pet has a problem with their teeth or gums, you may notice them:

  • Rubbing or pawing at their face
  • Eating slowly or on one side of their mouth
  • Preferring wet food or stopping eating altogether
  • Becoming grumpy or withdrawn
  • Swelling on one or both sides of the face

If your pet’s bad breath is part of an illness elsewhere in their body, you may notice they have been:

  • Changing eating or drinking habits
  • Eating less and losing weight
  • Becoming more quiet and less playful
  • Having sickness or diarrhoea


Home treatment

How to treat the causes of bad breath at home

There are simple steps you can take at home to treat the causes of your feline friend’s bad breath and to stop it coming back.

  • Brush their teeth daily using a toothpaste for cats, designed to remove scale and bacteria from teeth and gums. Microfibre tooth-cleaning cloths are a good alternative to brushes for cats
  • Use a mouthwash or dental gel for cats if brushing or wiping is impossible!
  • Feed a balanced diet and consider using a special (prescription) dental care diet
  • Regularly check your cat’s weight and health for early signs of change

It’s never too late to start cleaning your cat’s teeth. Start dental care as soon as possible to prevent the common causes of expensive dental treatments in future!


Vet treatment

Vet treatment for bad breath

The best treatment depends on finding the cause of the problem.

Apart from a physical check, vets can carry out the following tests to investigate the cause:

  • Dental X-rays: to check if a tooth root has an abscess or if the bone surrounding the tooth looks diseased
  • Blood tests and urine tests if your vet suspects another illness is causing your cat’s bad breath
  • Biopsy and laboratory investigation of lumps and swellings
  • CT scan or MRI to check the bones and structure of your cat’s mouth


  • Dental surgery – an operation to remove or clean up diseased or decayed teeth while your cat is asleep under general anaesthetic
  • Antibiotics – for deep infections caused by bacteria
  • Treatment for an illness elsewhere in the body that is causing bad breath

Other steps vets may advise to ensure the best outcome for your cat:

  • Referral to a dental specialist
  • Referral to a general surgeon or cancer specialist


Cats at higher risk of developing bad breath

  • Older cats and cats who have had a poorer start in life
  • Cats with short faces, like Persians, have less space in their mouths for the same number of teeth. Pieces of food get trapped between teeth. And teeth become loose because of overcrowding
  • Cats who only eat poor quality food

Other causes of bad breath in cats

  • Eating a toxic substance: certain plants can make your cat’s breath rank or foul-smelling
  • ‘Pica’: a medical term to describe when animals compulsively eat things which are not food, like poo.  This may happen if your cat is suffering from certain vitamin and mineral imbalances
  • Infections in your cat’s nose or throat
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