Bad breath in cats

Bad Breath (Halitosis) in Cats


Causes     Symptoms      Diagnosis      Treatment      Prevention

The medical name for bad breath is halitosis and cat’s breath can paint a picture of his overall health. Overly strong or offensive breath is not normal and there is almost always an underlying reason why which should always be checked by a veterinarian.

Unhealthy teeth and gums can have a serious impact on many organ systems. Thee gums have a rich blood supply, bacteria are bacteria can enter the bloodstream through lesions in the gums and travel to other organs including the liver, heart, and kidneys, causing damage and even organ failure.


There are a number of causes of bad breath in cats, many relate to the oral cavity, however, some systemic diseases can also lead to bad breath in cats. Gingivitis and gum disease are the most common causes of bad breath in cats.

Oral causes of bad breath in cats:

Systemic diseases:


This is hard to answer because as stated above, as each disease has its own symptoms. Obviously, the main symptom is an unpleasant odour from the mouth.  If the problem is dental, your cat may also have the following symptoms:

  • Redness along the gum lines and bleeding (gingivitis or gum disease)
  • Unwillingness to eat due to pain.
  • Drooling
  • Poor coat condition, pain and discomfort can result in a reluctance to groom
  • Tartar (calculus) deposits on the teeth
  • Pawing at the mouth (foreign body)
  • Loss of weight

Non-dental causes may produce the following symptoms:


Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat, including a careful examination of the oral cavity. 

Diagnostic workup:

  • Baseline tests Biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis to check organ function and for infection.
  • X-ray – To check the condition of the dental roots and bones and look for abscess or tumours.
  • Ultrasound  To evaluate the size of the liver and kidneys, look for foreign bodies in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Endoscopy – A thin tube with a camera on the end is used to evaluate the digestive tract for signs of damage due to reflux or look for foreign bodies, tumours.
  • FeLV and/or FIV tests.


Treatment depends on the underlying cause of bad breath, dental problems such as gum disease and gingivitis are generally treated as follows:

  • Remove calculus from the teeth and polish. This will be performed under general anesthetic.
  • Extract any diseased teeth.

Other treatments may include:

  • Tumours and polyps: Surgery to remove polyps or tumours, chemotherapy as a follow up to cancer. Sadly the prognosis for oral tumours is poor.
  • Liver disease: Treatment depends on the cause. Surgery for some cases of portosystemic shunt. Dietary modification and supportive care.
  • Kidney disease: Low protein diet and supportive care such as fluids to manage dehydration, anti-nausea medication and phosphorous binders.
  • Stomatitis: Corticosteroids and long-term antibiotics for stomatitis. Removal of the teeth may be necessary for severe cases.
  • Dental abscess: Lance, flush and remove dead tissue. Antibiotics as a follow-up.
  • Reflux: Low protein, low-fat diets, along with more frequent, small meals. Medications to protect the esophagus.


Prevention is the key when it comes to your cat’s health, follow these steps to better oral health for your cat.

Home checkup:

Make a habit of checking your cat’s teeth once a month and you notice any redness, bleeding, lumps, bumps, bad breath see your veterinarian immediately. If your cat doesn’t like it, don’t force the issue. Try again the next day, just a few seconds at a time to get him used to have his mouth and teeth handled. Give him a reward afterwards.

Dental care:

Brush your cat’s teeth once a day and/or feed raw chicken necks/chunks of raw beef.  Start when your cat is young, so he gets used to having his teeth cleaned. Plaque is a sticky film which builds up on the cat’s teeth, if it is not removed, by brushing and/or diet, it forms tartar, which is a hardened, calcified deposit which requires removal by a veterinarian.

Limit canned food:

Avoid an exclusive diet of canned food. Cut up chunks of human grade beef, cheap cuts such as chuck steak are perfect. This gives your cat the opportunity to really chew the food, keeping his jaw and bones strong.

Raw chicken necks or wings:

These are a great way to reduce plaque and tartar formation.  Most people recommend one or two chicken necks or wings twice a week. Never feed your cat cooked bones of any kind as they are more brittle which can cause them to splinter.

Schedule an annual check up:

Make sure your cat sees a veterinarian once a year for a check-up to stay on top of any possible health and dental problems.