Ask Dr Fiona
Why does my cat have bad breath?
The take home message for all pet owners is that bad breath is not normal. Bad breath is most commonly a sign that your pet has dental disease but it can also be an indication of other health issues.
When plaque and tartar accumulate on the teeth they start to cause breakdown of the structures that hold the teeth in place. Bacteria turn up and lead to infection and pain. The ‘bad’ smell can be caused by this tartar and bacteria and/or the presence of pus if infection is present. If you lift up your pet’s lip you might be able to see the yellow tartar on the teeth and even increased redness of the gums (gingivitis).
Occasionally, the presence of a foreign body such as a piece of bone that becomes jammed in between the teeth can also cause a bad smell. This can sometimes be hard to see without a veterinary examination but dogs may drool excessively and be off their food. Cats can also swallow string that can become stuck to the tongue and cause all sort of problems in the mouth.
Oral growths and tumours can also let off a bad smell, particularly if they become infected or ulcerated.
In additional to oral and dental problems, systemic diseases can cause a change to the breath. One example of this is when a pet with diabetes goes in to a ‘crisis’ and ends up in ketoacidosis. The excess ketones can be smelt on the breath and while it is more of a ‘fruity’ smell. This smell is definitely not normal and ketoacidosis can be a life – threatening condition and requires veterinary attention asap.
If you notice your pet has bad breath, or there is a change in smell of their breath, a physical examination with a veterinarian is essential to look for underlying diseases.
If you’d like to chat in person, you can get a vet within minutes on a live video call or start a text chat to discuss in more detail.
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