Why Does My Cat’s Breath Stink?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Why does my cat’s breath smell like bad fish?

~ Amanda

Siouxsie: Well, Amanda, we don’t know whether you’re joking or not, but this is definitely a legitimate question. The answer is, your cat’s breath should not smell like bad fish!

Thomas: Honestly, we know you humans don’t appreciate the delightful aroma of our breath even under the best of circumstances.

Bella: But your breath doesn’t smell like roses, either! Think about it: Coffee, wine, garlic, that dirty-sock-smelling spice in Indian food, and even cigarettes? Yuck! And you kiss us with that mouth!

Siouxsie: Bella, you know humans just eat weird things. You just have to put up with it and let them love you. They don’t know any better.

Bella: But … eewww! I have to lick my fur just thinking about it.

Thomas: Bella, be nice. The point here is that even if a cat’s breath doesn’t smell lovely to a human, it should never smell like rotting anything.

Siouxsie: If your cat’s mouth smells like bad fish or rotting meat, that means there’s an infection somewhere.

Thomas: Did you know that according to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 70 percent of cats show signs of dental disease by age 3?

Bella: What? Does that mean I have dental disease? I’m only 2!

Siouxsie: Oh, don’t be silly! You know Mama takes you to the vet every year and the vet always checks your teeth. If Doctor Sarah said you needed your teeth cleaned, Mama would do it. She did it for Thomas and me, after all.

Bella: And you’re missing six teeth now! I don’t want to lose any teeth!

Siouxsie: Bella, you’re lucky. When I was a kitten, vets didn’t think much about the importance of regular dental cleanings for cats, and even though the vet checked my teeth regularly, I didn’t have my first cleaning until I was almost 16. Not that Mama didn’t mention it to our vet, but our old vet said, “Nah, she’s fine.”

Thomas: But Siouxsie wasn’t fine. She didn’t have any broken teeth or obvious evidence of dental disease, but when the vet cleaned her teeth, it was clear that she had lesions under her gums and that they were causing her a lot of pain.

Siouxsie: Mama felt so guilty — like she should have pushed the issue more with her old vet — but I knew she was trying to do the right thing. Besides, my mouth feels so much better now that I don’t mind missing some teeth.

Bella: But back to the subject of your cat’s breath: If left untreated, dental disease can lead to horrible things like bone infections, sinus infections, and even heart and kidney damage!

Siouxsie: If you’ve ever had a toothache or a broken tooth, you know how much it hurts! If your cat’s breath stinks, get that cat to the vet for a checkup!

Thomas: Mama works for a pet insurance company, and she says she’s seen lots of claims for tooth extractions due to dental disease. “Trust me,” she told us, “it costs a lot less to prevent dental disease with regular cleanings than it does to treat it!”

Bella: And those are words our Mama lives by.

Siouxsie: Dental cleanings are done under anesthesia because, well, we cats can’t tell the vet when it hurts so without anesthesia, we might fight and hurt ourselves or the vet.

Thomas: Some people, including groomers and other non-veterinary professionals, offer so-called anesthetic-free dentistry, but many vets frown on this because the most important part of dental cleaning is getting rid of the plaque and tartar under the gums. We frown on it too, because even though anesthesia has risks, the risks associated with not having your cat’s teeth cleaned properly are much higher! There’s no way an un-anesthetized pet is going to let the vet get an ultrasonic scaler under her gums!

Bella: Check out this video about periodontal disease and the importance of regular dental cleanings. We know it features a dog, so we hope you’ll forgive us. We’re sure they just made it that way because dogs have big mouths and it’s easier to see the dental procedure because of that.

Siouxsie: There are lots of ways to keep your cat’s teeth clean and fresh in between vet visits and dentistry procedures. These range from brushing your cat’s teeth (we’re mewing out loud about this one!) to rinses to letting your cats chew on raw bones or toys made for dental cleaning.

Thomas: Whatever is going on, Amanda, you need to get your cat to the vet to check that your kitty doesn’t have dental disease or other problems in the mouth, nose or digestive tract. If you ever smell rotting anything in your cat’s mouth, that’s grounds for a trip to the vet ASAP!

Bella: The vet’s not going to yank all my teeth out, is she?

Thomas: Oh, Bella, don’t be silly. You have beautiful teeth: Doctor Sarah said so at your last checkup, and Mama’s been feeding us yummy raw chicken necks to chew on.

Siouxsie: Good luck, Amanda, and please let us know how things turn out with your cat!

  • AnitaB

    My rescued cat , Pumpkin, has had gum problems the last two years. My old vet who I love keeps giving her antibiotic shots and a steroid injection to help because he said other vets recommend pulling all the teeth. He doesn’t equate bad gums with bad teeth. Finally, I brought Pumpkin to another vet and he said her mollars were terrible and should have been pulled. My procrastination has always been that Pumpkin only likes hard food and the only soft food I give her is baby meat out of a jar. Now she bulks at the hard food due to the obvious pain so it’s really time for that dental. I just hope she can eat well afterward. Get your kitty to a vet for a dental asap. Pumpkin will be in surgery on Wednesday.

  • Phyllis

    I had a cat that had terrible teeth and she couldn’t get her teeth cleaned because of heart problems and her kidneys were bad. She had never had any care for her teeth(or anything else) before she came to live with me. I had to have her put to sleep because of cancer in her kidneys. Just maybe, if anyone had taken her to the vet that would’t have happened. All three of mine have their teeth and everything looked after by the vet. So check your cats(and dogs) teeth to maintain good health.

  • Multi-Facets

    Sometimes, there is no bad breath to warn you your cat’s having dental problems. I never noticed a change to my Kravitz’s breath, but combined with his age, the fact it’s damn near impossible to clean a cat’s teeth on your own, and being unable to afford a proper dental treatment for a while, he had to have all his teeth pulled eventually. The best thing to do is have your vet check your cat’s teeth daily, and if needed, work out a payment plan. CareCredit is a good way to do that.