Is cat bad breath normal?
I grew up believing that it was normal for cats to have bad breath.
Maybe this ignorance resulted from the seemingly innocuous slur “cat breath” constantly slung by the sarcastic protagonists in my favorite books. It implied that bad breath and cats went hand in hand. If bad breath was symptomatic of health issues, the insult would have taken on a darker character. “Cat kidney disease, cat gingivitis, and feline diabetes” wouldn’t have the same lighthearted feel.
And besides that, my cat’s breath stank, and no one seemed worried about it. While bad breath is incredibly common among cats, it’s not normal and it’s not healthy.
The truth is that human negligence is to blame for bad breath in cats.
We understand the importance of brushing our own teeth, but we often seem to feel that our cats somehow don’t need dental hygiene. We love our cats and would never want them to suffer from dental disease, but we don’t do anything to prevent it. We tell ourselves that it’s fine for them to have bad breath. Their teeth will be fine without brushing, even after they consume carbohydrate (sugar) – laden dry food.
This cognitive dissonance, paired with the inadequacy of the average cat food, has given us a feline dental disease epidemic. The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that a sickening 70% of cats show signs of dental disease by age 3.
Paying attention to the way our cats’ mouths look and smell is one of the best ways to prevent these painful conditions.
So let’s find out what’s normal, what is indicative of a problem, and how we can treat cat bad breath.
What’s Normal: Neutral Breath or a Light Food Odor
Life is inherently smelly, so don’t expect your cat’s mouth to smell minty fresh or fresh by almost any description. At least a touch of mouth odor is natural and doesn’t indicate any health problems. Healthy breath smells neutral, or, if your cat eats a particularly smelly food and their teeth haven’t been brushed, like a hint of their food.
What’s Not Normal: Any Strong or Unusual Odor
That said, a strong smell isn’t normal. If your cat’s mouth reeks with an unusual intensity – particularly if the odor is new – you should be worried.
What causes bad breath?
In most cases, your cat’s bad breath is caused by problems inside of their mouth.
Bacteria and food particles accumulate on your cat’s teeth, forming plaque. Left unbrushed, this matter forms a hard calculus called tartar, which spreads beyond the teeth and can cause the supporting tooth structure to deteriorate. The tissue around the teeth retracts, bleeds, and becomes incredibly painful for the cat. This condition is called periodontal disease. It’s a serious condition that can be fatal – the disease may eventually leach into your cat’s bloodstream and cause organ failure.
In addition to inflammation and potentially evident discomfort, bad breath is a clear symptom of periodontal disease.
Oral cancer and stomatitis may also cause bad breath in cats.
Sometimes bad breath is a hint that something is wrong beyond the oral cavity. For example, kidney disease, liver disease, and gastrointestinal problems can lead to bad breath. Diabetes can give your cat’s mouth a strange smell. Immune system disorders can also cause problems.
While you should consult a veterinarian to reach a final diagnosis, the odor of your cat’s bad breath can reveal clues about what’s causing it.
Sweet or Citrusy Breath
Does your cat’s breath have a strange fruity or sweet odor?
This could be a sign that your cat is diabetic. When your cat’s body isn’t utilizing sugar properly, it releases ketones, causing this sweet, citrusy smell. The sweet smell of diabetes is usually accompanied by increased thirst and increased urination.
Cat Breath Smells Like Poop
Gastrointestinal problems, rotten teeth, and infection of the oral tissues can lead to intense, foul odors. Sometimes these have a fecal odor or the smell of “death” or a combination of the two.
Cat Breath Smells Like Fish
Fishy breath is often the result of your cat consuming fish-based food, but if the smell is severe, it could point to more serious issues.
Cat Breath Smells Like Ammonia
A urine or ammonia-like smell may be an indicator of kidney disease. This is caused by an increase of toxin levels as the kidneys’ ability to filter waste products declines.
Here’s a video discussing some of the causes of bad breath and oral disease in cats:
Natural Remedies for Cat Bad Breath
Brush your cat’s teeth regularly.
I can’t emphasize this point enough. How can we say that our cats are members of the family but fail to help them out with basic dental hygiene? Brushing your cat’s teeth regularly is one of the best ways to ensure long-term health. Here’s an article explaining how to brush your cat’s teeth.
Avoid dry food.
We’re still recovering from the “dry food cleans your cat’s teeth” mythology. Numerous studies have demonstrated that dry food does nothing to clean cats’ teeth. The abrasive action cited as a dental cleanser is negated by the fact that cats barely chew their dry food and the carbohydrate content of kibble. The corn, potatoes, wheat, and other high-carbohydrate ingredients in dry food leave a heavy residue on the teeth. This buildup is one of the root causes of dental disease and bad breath.
Coconut oil can help with your cat’s bad breath.
Coconut oil isn’t the best thing to feed your cat – it’s made from plants and doesn’t fit into the diet of an obligate carnivore. I don’t recommend supplementing your cat’s diet with this oil. However, coconut oil has antibacterial properties and can help to keep your cat’s breath fresh. You can use a dab of coconut oil on a toothbrush or feed a smidge as a treat.
Give your cat raw meaty bones.
Raw meaty bones force your cat to make use of their powerful carnivore teeth. They actively engage the teeth in a way that no other food does, wiping off residue as your cat shears and gnaws and crunches.
Here’s an interesting video about the natural strength of your cat’s teeth and how raw meaty bones can help to keep your cat’s teeth clean:
Take your cat to the veterinarian to get a complete dental cleaning.
Following a diagnosis, you’ll be presented with a number of options, including professional dental cleaning and teeth pulling.
If your cat has tartar buildup, a professional cleaning is the only way to remove it.
While it’s the best way to ensure that your cat’s mouth is fresh, a professional dental cleaning isn’t for everyone. A complete dental cleaning will require general anesthesia and may be risky for some cats, especially geriatric pets.