If you want to gag every time your cat blows her hot, stinky breath in your face, she may need more than a mint. Bad breath is sometimes a sign of disease, and not just in her mouth—she could have vital organ problems.
When It's Chronic
Cats have bad breath sometimes. It's just a fact of life, because hey, they're cats. They eat weird, squishy food that comes in cans, and they use their tongues for toilet paper—every now and then, they're going to smell a little funky. However, if your cat has chronic bad breath, day after day, it could be symptomatic of something serious. Don't assume that your cat's nasty breath is just part of being a cat, because it could be one of the more glaring signs that something is physically wrong with her, and she needs you to take her to a vet.
Of course, the first place to look for trouble is ground zero: her mouth. Remember, a cat's dental hygiene is just about on par with that of a 14th century serf. Since she doesn't brush, floss or even give the occasional mouthwash swish, her mouth is susceptible to periodontal disease that can lead to infections, gingivitis and decay of the tissue and bones. Dry cat food and periodic teeth cleanings can combat the buildup of plaque that leads to this nasty disease.
Cats have kidneys just like humans, and they're a vital part of the waste production process—they help your kitty's body force toxic waste out of her body. When the kidneys don't function properly, those dangerous and foul byproducts stay trapped inside, and bad breath is one of the symptoms. If your cat's breath smells like a football stadium bathroom at halftime, she needs to see a vet immediately. Look for other symptoms like mouth ulcers, weight loss and inappropriate urination as possible signs of kidney disease.
Other types of diseases and internal malfunctions can also ruin your kitty's breath. For example, it could signal problems with her liver, her respiratory system or even her intestines. Even cats with diabetes can develop abnormal breath, because of the way their bodies improperly process sugars. If your cat's breath smells a little fruity or sweet, it could be a sign of diabetes—if she's also drinking more water than usual and going to the litter box a lot, she should definitely see a vet.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.