Does your cat’s breath sometimes make your nose wince? In cats, bad breath is so common that many cat parents get used to it. However, bad breath can be caused by a variety of diseases and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Just as in humans, normal cat breath should smell neutral. Sure, there are cases when bad breath in cats is considered normal. For example, cats can have a slightly different breath after eating that might seem unpleasant. Also, a kitten’s breath might change during teething. But the breath of a healthy cat isn’t supposed to stink constantly.
Chronic bad breath (halitosis) can be a sign that something is wrong with the cat’s health. It may be a result of poor oral hygiene or a symptom of more serious medical condition, such as dental or systemic disease. In this article, we are going to take a look at several possible causes of bad breath in cats.
1. Kitten Teething
In kittens and young cats, bad breath can be one of the signs of teething.
Kittens lose their deciduous teeth between 3 to 9 months of age. This process is associated with soreness and irritation of gums which result in mild inflammation in the mouth. The inflammation can be accompanied by bad breath.
Other signs of teething are mild bleeding of the gums, excessive chewing, eating less and more slowly. Typically, bad breath during this period is considered normal and will go away with time.
However, in rare cases teething kittens might need medical help so it’s important to keep an eye on the kitten as it goes through this stage.
If bad breath is accompanied by symptoms of serious infection, such as extremely inflamed gums with discharge, excessive bleeding in the gums, significant weight loss, or if there is overcrowding in the kitten’s mouth, its necessary to contact the veterinarian.
2. Poor Oral Hygiene
Many cats develop bad breath as a result of poor oral hygiene. Without cleaning, bacteria accumulate in the mouth and cause bad breath. Over time, bacterial growth cause dental diseases and halitosis worsens.
In the wild, cats remove these bacteria and food debris mechanically by chewing feathers or bones of their prey and nibbling grass. Since indoor cats don’t hunt and chew their prey, it’s important to help them maintain a healthy mouth.
Dental care include regular (at least twice a year) complete dental veterinary examinations and daily plaque control. There’s a variety of products available that help keep a cat’s teeth clean and healthy, such as quality dental diets and treats, topical gels and barrier products. If the cat eats a diet of exclusively or mostly wet food, it might be necessary to also brush its teeth daily.
3. Oral Health Issues
The most common causes of bad breath in cats are dental diseases, such as periodontal disease and gingivitis.
Periodontal disease is a result of bacterial activity. As mentioned above, all the time bacteria create plaque – a sticky film over the teeth. Plaque quickly hardens into tartar and damages the surface of teeth. As plaque accumulate and age, the immune system in oral cavity weakens which leads to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis).
Over time, bacteria break down the tissues that anchor teeth which leads to severe gum infection, abscesses and teeth destruction and loss. Bad odor comes from bacterial breakdown products, food debris and dead tissues accumulated in the cat’s mouth. Other signs of dental disease in cats include redness, swelling, bleeding, recession of the gums, loss of appetite.
Dental diseases are uncommon in young cats but such factors as wrong diet, poor oral hygiene, malocclusion and infectious or systemic diseases can contribute to plaque and tartar build-up at an early age.
Aside from dental diseases, there are other oral health issues that can cause halitosis, such as oral inflammation (feline stomatitis), tumors and salivary gland disorders (excessive drooling or dry mouth).
Excessive drooling causes irritation and inflammation of the lips and face which leads bacterial growth and bad smell. On the other hand, when saliva production is decreased, soft tissues of the mouth constantly get irritated by food which leads to inflammation that also result in halitosis.
Oral diseases in cats often remain hidden. Bad breath is a serious symptom that helps to spot them which is extremely important as oral diseases are most effectively treated at early stages.
4. Systemic Diseases
Although usually halitosis in cats stems from different types of oral diseases, sometimes it can have systemic causes. Systemic diseases that can cause strange or foul breath include:
- Diabetes mellitus. In this case the cat’s breath has a fruity scent.
- Kidney disease can cause ammonia-like smell
- Liver disease can cause the cat’s breath smell like vomit
- Gastrointestinal disorders or bowel obstruction can cause foul breath
- Autoimmune diseases
These conditions are serious, some of them can be life-threatening. It’s important to remember that a healthy cat’s breath smells like nothing in particular, and it’s best to call the veterinarian if you cat’s breath concerns you.