Why Do Cats Have Bad Breath?

yawning tabby cat

Believe or not, cats aren’t supposed to have such bad breath. While you wouldn’t expect their breath to be minty fresh, really unpleasant smells usually indicate a problem. Up to 90% of cats will have dental health issues throughout the course of their life that can cause pain, infections, and loss of teeth, among other things. For this reason, we recommend that all cats have their mouth regularly examined by a veterinarian. (At CCP, all of our exams also include an oral exam.) Whether it’s a minor problem or a serious problem, you’ll save time and money by catching it early and improve your cat’s quality of life. Likely, your vet will discover a minor problem that can be fixed with a dental procedure. Then, you can start or continue an at-home routine to help prevent future problems. Just like humans, taking good care of your cat’s teeth is an important part of maintaining their overall health.

“What causes bad breath in cats?”

Causes of bad breath in cats include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Something stuck in their teeth or under their gums
  • Build-up of plaque and tartar
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontal disease (most common)
  • Infections
  • Abscess
  • Sores
  • Mouth injury
  • Tooth resorption
  • Mouth cancer

Other Causes

  • Can also be a sign of other issues such as kidney disease, liver disease, problems in the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. a blockage), diabetes, respiratory problems, or skin issues

“When should I see my vet?”

Between routine visits, check for the following warning signs:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Sweet odor on cat’s bad breath
  • Urine/ammonia odor on cat’s breath
  • Red and/or swollen gums
  • Ulcers on the gums
  • Discolored teeth
  • Teeth covered in tartar
  • Loose teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Dropping food from the mouth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Shaking their head
  • Decrease in appetite or reluctance to eat kibble

Unfortunately, the warning signs are not always obvious. Most cats don’t seem to show any signs at all, even when they’re in pain. For this reason, cats should have an oral exam at least once per year.

“How can I prevent my cat from having bad breath?”

  • Don’t skip routine exams
    • Ensuring that your cat receives regular veterinary care helps to maintain their overall health and allows you to catch and treat problems early.
  • Start an at-home dental care routine
    • Brushing your cat’s teeth every day is one of the most effective ways to prevent future problems. 
    • It’s easier to start brushing their teeth when they’re young, but many cats can be started on it as adults too. Just go slow and never force it. It’s not worth putting yourself in a dangerous situation and getting bit.
    • Note: If your cat has any existing problems, this might be painful for them so make sure your cat has a check-up with their vet before you start brushing their teeth.
    • Once your vet has examined your cat and said it’s safe to brush their teeth, start by keeping the sessions short and always stay positive.
    • It’s also important that your cat associates brushing their teeth with something they enjoy, like getting their favorite treat.
    • To get started, check out this short video series by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. It’s an excellent resource for learning how to brush your cat’s teeth.
    • Remember: Only use products that are made specifically for cats. Toothbrushes designed for cats are smaller and have softer bristles or are made to wear over your finger, and always use a toothpaste made specifically for cats because products for humans can be toxic.
    • Lastly, we recommend using a water additive, such as Healthy Mouth, to help reduce plaque.

“My vet said my cat needs to have dental work. What does that mean?”

While it’s important to take good care of your cat’s teeth at home, they may still need to see their vet for a cleaning from time to time, just like humans. At CCP, we offer dental procedures that include:

  • Pre-anesthetic bloodwork
  • Anesthesia with a dedicated nurse monitor
  • IV fluids under anesthesia
  • Oral evaluation by a veterinarian
  • Dental x-rays
  • Cleaning with ultrasonic scaling and polishing
  • Fluoride treatment
  • Antibiotic injection
  • Pain medication injection
  • Anal sac expression
  • Toenail trim
  • Any other necessary treatments such as extractions

If you have further questions or concerns about your cat’s teeth, we welcome you to contact us at our Portland area veterinary clinic and boarding facility at (503) 968-6000 or schedule an appointment online. We look forward to hearing from you!

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