Dogs are known for their bad breath, but the same is not true for cats. The breath of a healthy adult feline shouldn't smell bad. Dental problems and other health issues can sour your cat's breath, so take a look at your kitty's mouth if his exhalation makes you gag.
Most cats don't brush their teeth every day. In fact, many of them don't get a good cleaning once in their life. They still eat and drink, though, so they accumulate layers of plaque on their teeth just as people do. Periodontal disease caused by plaque buildup is the leading cause of bad breath in cats, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Gum and tooth loss are commonplace in cats with this disease, so you may notice some of your cat's choppers coming loose. Plaque also leads to gingivitis, which further harms teeth by exposing their sensitive roots and depriving them of structural support.
Other Mouth Issues
Roughly half of the domestic cat population suffers from a condition called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL), according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. This problem is also related to plaque buildup, but the symptoms and damage are different from those caused by periodontal disease. Lesions develop right behind the enamel layer of your cat's teeth, causing this layer to slowly decay. Teeth may become very loose as they rot and there's a good chance the decay will make your cat's breath unpleasant. Pieces of food trapped in your cat's teeth could also be responsible for the odor. Rarely, a cat with bad breath may suffer from a painful condition called feline gingivitis/stomatitis syndrome (FGS), which generally occurs in cats with feline leukemia, FIV or some other overarching health condition. A cat with this condition may need to have some or all of her teeth extracted—that might sound gruesome to you, but cats adjust well if fed soft food and are generally delighted to be relieved of mouth pain.
Dental Care and Treatment
If your cat's bad breath doesn't go away after a couple of days, schedule a visit with your vet. Sometimes it's better to pull severely damaged teeth and clean the rest so your kitty can recovery from a bad case of dental disease. Your vet may recommend a diet that reduces the amount of tartar buildup, according to Manhattan Cat Specialists. There are toys, treats and toothbrushes you can use as well. Cover the basics of your kitty's dental care by taking her in for a checkup and tooth cleaning once or twice a year. There will still be plaque buildup, but regular cleanings keep periodontal disease from getting too serious.
Internal Health Concerns
Even if your cat's teeth aren't in the best shape, her bad breath might not be related to a loose or damaged tooth. Your pet's breath will probably be a little strong after he polishes off a can of wet food, but lingering odor could mean his kidneys or liver isn't working right. Digestive disorders, diabetes and even some cancers can change the way your cat's breath smells. You might feel silly taking your cat to the vet just because his breath is a little pungent, but it could end up saving him a lot of discomfort.
If your cat is only a few months old, the bad breath and loose teeth may not be a problem at all—you may just have a kitten who's losing her deciduous or baby teeth so her adult teeth can come in. Once the baby teeth are out and the adult teeth are in, the odor should disappear on its own. If it doesn't, or if the adult teeth seem to be coming in without the baby teeth falling out, a visit to the vet may be in order.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.