Help! My cat has 'death breath'!

Dear Sinéad and Siouxsie,
My cat needs your help. His name is Plato but he really likes Kitty better, he has relatively short hair that is the softest fur I have ever felt. He is very affectionate, sometimes a little too much. He is probably about 8-9 years old (I got him from a dairy farm where he lived outside and survived by hunting birds and rodents -- but he was so clean and friendly I knew he must have been someone's pet and was abandoned. The farmers had also named him Princess as they thought he was a girl).

Anyway he has atrocious breath and his other end smells bad too if you have the misfortune of being near it. He eats too much too fast and ends up throwing up. He doesn't do this as much now as he used to but it is still common. No hairballs come up anymore; that ended 3-4 years ago. Also he rarely tries to hack up a hairball. I have tried several things like special foods for sensitive digestion, feeding him at specific times, feeding him tiny amounts several times of the day, leaving the food out all day, elevating the food so he wouldn't have to bend down much to eat, spreading the food around a tray so he had to eat slowly, feeding him canned food and canned food mixed with water, giving him goopy stuff to help food slide through system, and putting large inedible obstacles in the food bowl so he had to eat slowly (someone suggested they do this with horses so they don't eat too fast, and it worked for their cats too). Each method seemed to work for a while but then the problem relapsed.

I am in grad school and am away for 3-4 days a week and my husband said that Kitty seems to not have a problem while I am away. Do you have any suggestions? I almost forgot...He has also had teeth problems at times where he did not want to chew the food and his teeth were yucky -- I have taken him to the vets. His teeth seem better now. I had fed him dental diet for a while which seemed to help his teeth but he still threw up a lot. Kitty needs your help!


Sinéad: There are several reasons why a cat would have bad breath, Delia. The first of these, as you found out from your vet, is dental disease. Gingivitis (gum disease) and plaque buildup can cause harmful bacteria to develop in the mouth and cause nasty breath. Other reasons can include diabetes (particularly if the cat's breath smells sickly-sweet or like nail polish) or kidney disease.

Siouxsie: As with humans, chronic low-grade sinus or upper respiratory infections can also cause bad breath, as can eating low-quality food or having poor digestion due to weak stomach acid or chemical imbalances in the body.

Sinéad: In cats, dental disease can also cause a bad smell on the fur or infection of the anal glands (because we lick ourselves all over to keep ourselves clean, and the bacteria can travel from our mouths to our anal glands when we clean our butts).

Siouxsie: However, because Kitty's problems seems to include an eating disorder (eating too fast and then throwing up), that won't go away with conventional treatments and home-help tips, we think that his problem may be due to a constitutional imbalance.

Sinéad: In order to help Kitty with his physical and psychological issues, we recommend that you seek out a holistic veterinary practitioner. Holistic veterinary practitioners include regular D.V.M. veterinarians who have undertaken additional training in herbalism, homeopathy, nutrition or other holistic health methodologies, as well as individuals who are trained primarily in the holistic discipline of their choice.

Siouxsie: We have had very good experiences using homeopathy to treat behavior issues, both our own and other animals', and we know it works.

Sinéad: What homeopathy does is approach the problem on a systemic level, taking the whole animal into account rather than just the part that's not working properly. A variety of different symptoms--say, bad breath, skin problems, a "personality" issue such as extreme shyness, and preferences for certain tastes, textures and temperatures can combine to create a "profile" to an experienced homeopath. This profile, usually created after a long interview with the pet owner and an examination of the pet, leads the homeopath to select a "constitutional" remedy which will help the animal's body get back into balance. When the animal's physical, emotional and energy body are back in balance, many of these disparate symptoms will clear up and the animal will be restored to full health.

Siouxsie: Given a similar picture of symptoms, a conventional veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics for the mouth infection, cortisone cream for the skin problems, and perhaps a medication for the personality issue. These medicines would treat the symptoms while they are being taken, but the problems would reappear once the medication is stopped.

Sinéad: This is not to say that you shouldn't go to a regular veterinarian! It's vital for any cat's health to get regular veterinary care and checkups. We encourage conventional veterinarians to be willing to work with holistic veterinary practitioners in order to achieve maximum health for their patients. Many human doctors are beginning to realize that holistic health care is helping patients they couldn't successfully treat through the tools they have, and likewise, veterinarians are also learning to welcome holistic healers onto their "teams."

Siouxsie: Our vet, Doctor Sarah, knows that Mama has treated us with homeopathic remedies before, and she doesn't have a problem with it. She's been very open to the idea of holistic care for us, and that's just one of the many reasons why we love Doctor Sarah!

Sinéad: So, Delia, our best advice to you is to seek out a holistic veterinary practitioner in your area. We'd recommend a homeopath or a DVM with homeopathy and nutrition training, because we really believe that with a change in nutrition and some help from the right homeopathic remedies, you'll find a big change for the better in Kitty's health.

Siouxsie: If you live in Maine, you can e-mail us and we'll tell you about the holistic vets we know of in our state.

Sinéad: If you live elsewhere in the US or Canada, you may find the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association a good resource for referrals in your area.

Siouxsie: Of course, references from friends and professionals you trust would also be good. Holistic practitioners for humans may know of holistic practitioners who treat animals, too. Your vet may know of holistic practitioners in your area.

Sinéad: If your vet pooh-poohs you when you start talking about holistic medicine, it's time to find a new vet. It works, and thousands of pets' lives have been saved by holistic care when conventional medicine had nothing to offer.

Siouxsie: Since Kitty is now a senior citizen (cats generally reach "senior citizen" status around age 8), he'll need extra support to keep his body at optimum health. We think Kitty will spend many more happy years as your friend and companion, especially with some help from a holistic vet.

Sinéad: We hope this helps, Delia. Good luck to you, and please let us know how things turn out.

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail Sinéad and Siouxsie at None of the advice in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.