Kitty Halitosis: Why Does My Cat Have Bad Breath?


Bad breath in cats is almost always an indicator of a health problem. While some odor, as a reflection of a cat’s normal diet, is to be expected, bad breath and unusual odors are a cause for concern, and require a visit to the veterinarian. The most common cause for bad breath is dental disease, but bad breath can also be an indicator of kidney disease, liver disease, gastrointestinal disease or diabetes.

Dental disease

The most common cause of bad breath is caused by a build-up of bacteria on the cat’s teeth and gums, also known as periodontal disease or gingivitis. Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for cats. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, an astounding 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3.

By the time a cat owner notices bad breath, dental disease may already be quite advanced. The inflammation and infection associated with periodontal disease can lead to damage to other organs such as the heart, kidney and liver, and lead to other serious health problems. Dental disease can also be an indicator of immune system disorders.

Bad breath can also be an early indicator of oral cancer.

Kidney disease

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.

Liver and gastrointestinal disease

A foul odor, often associated with vomiting, may be an indicator of liver or gastrointestinal disease. This may be caused if the liver cannot filter waste products, by an enlargement of the esophageal tube, which leads from the throat to the stomach, as well as a number of other conditions.


An unusually fruity or sweet smell may be a sign of diabetes. This is caused when the body is releasing ketones, which happens when it is unable to properly utilize sugar. Usually, cat owners will also notice increased thrist and urination in cats who have fruity smelling breath.


Diagnostic procedures may involve a full dental check up, x-rays and blood work such as a full blood chemistry and blood count.


Treatment will depend on what is causing the problem. If dental disease is present, treatment will include a professional cleaning under anesthesia, and possibly extraction of diseased teeth. Depending on the severity of the dental disease, antibiotics or other medications may be used to help control the bacteria that infect the gums and oral tissues. If the problem is another underlying disease, treatment appropriate for the condition will be required.

Not all cases of bad breath indicate a health problem, but consistent halitosis requires a visit to the veterinarian.

This article was previously published on and is republished with permission.

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