Cats can normally have slightly fishy breath that smells like cat food, but it’s usually not strong or offensive. Foul-smelling breath or a sudden worsening of normal breath can be an early sign of a problem, and it is really important to take your cat to your veterinarian if you notice these changes.
Dental Disease: This is one of the most common causes of halitosis in cats. The build-up of food and saliva can result in dental plaque and tartar, similar to that seen in human dentistry. This plaque and tartar can lead to periodontal disease and gum inflammation (gingivitis). Along with halitosis, you might notice that your cat is reluctant to chew and is reluctant to have his mouth touched or manipulated. It’s important to ask your veterinarian about a routine preventative dental health program that includes brushing teeth (with special pet toothpaste, not human toothpaste), dental treats, and possibly a dental diet to get those teeth sparkling clean and freshen that breath. Untreated dental disease can also lead to other medical issues, including oral pain, difficulty chewing food, abscesses of the teeth and salivary glands, tooth loss, and potentially, infection of other organs or systems in the body, including the heart and kidneys.
Diet: Smelly diets, such as fish or liver-based foods, may contribute to halitosis.
Foreign Body in the Mouth: Cat oral foreign bodies can include strings, rubber bands, bones, and other small objects. If they are not removed quickly they can contribute to halitosis. Foreign bodies can also be swallowed and lead to dangerous obstructions in the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.
Excess Salivation (Hypersalivation or Ptyalism): This usually occurs secondary to dental, neurologic, or metabolic disease and can result in significant halitosis. Dried and matted fur can collect around the mouth after excessive drooling, which can contribute to the foul smell. Lip fold pyodermas (infections around the lips) can form and contribute to the halitosis.
Neurological Disease: The cranial nerves control movements of the mouth and tongue. Any cranial nerve problem can affect the ability to open and close the mouth and tongue, resulting in hypersalivation (see above) and halitosis. In addition, food and debris can collect in the mouth since the cat can’t properly swallow or remove the excess food, contributing to some potent and terrible breath.
Gingivitis/Stomatitis/Inflammatory Oral Disease: Cats are uniquely susceptible to inflammation and inflammatory diseases of the oral cavity. Gingivitis is gum inflammation, and stomatitis is inflammation of the mucous linings of the mouth tissues. Gingivitis and stomatitis in cats are most commonly caused by bacteria, viruses, immune processes, or allergies.
Abscesses, Tumors, or Ulcers: Abscesses of the tooth roots, mouth structures, nasal cavity, or areas behind the eyes can cause halitosis, as can tumors in the same location. Ulcers secondary to trauma, infection, tumors, or metabolic disease can also cause foul breath.
Conformational abnormalities: Tooth misalignment, cleft palates (split palate), or oronasal fistulas (hole between the oral and nasal cavity) can all cause bad breath.
Metabolic Disease: Diseases of the kidney and liver can cause halitosis due to toxins in the blood. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause halitosis due to abnormal accumulated molecules. Diseases of the stomach and intestines can cause halitosis as well due to inflammation and bacterial overgrowth.
This will help you understand some of the causes of halitosis in cats. It is very important to see your veterinarian to identify the cause and facilitate treatment. Some of these conditions can be very serious, and early diagnosis and treatment can fix both the halitosis and its underlying cause.