Bad Breath (Chronic) in Cats

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jan. 26, 2009
Bad Breath (Chronic) in Cats

Halitosis in Cats

Periodontal disease caused by plaque bacteria is the most common cause of bad breath in cats. The medical term used to describe the offensive odor that comes from the mouth is halitosis. Any number of causes may be responsible for this condition, but periodontal disease due to bacteria is the most common. Bacteria in the mouth is also associated with plaque and cavities.

Small cat breeds and brachycephalic breeds (characterized by their short-nosed, flat-faced features), such as Himalayans and Persians, are the most prone to periodontal and other mouth diseases, in part because their teeth are set close together.

Symptoms and Types

In most cases, there are no other symptoms aside from a bad odor emanating from the mouth. If the cause of the odor is a disease of the mouth, other symptoms may become apparent, including pawing at the mouth, an inability to eat (anorexia), and excessive drooling, which may or may not have traces of blood.


A variety of conditions can lead to halitosis, including metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus (commonly referred to as sugar diabetes); respiratory problems such as inflammation of the nose or nasal passages (rhinitis); inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis); and gastrointestinal problems, such as enlargement of the esophageal tube, the main channel that leads from the throat to the stomach.

Other possible causes of halitosis may be traced to a trauma, like one that is caused by an electric cord injury. Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections may cause the body to emit foul odors. Dietary problems may also play a role. For example, a cat that has been eating offensive foods, or is exhibiting a behavior called coprophagia, where it is eating feces or other inappropriate foods, will have correlating foul breath. Further possibilities are pharyngitis, an inflammation of the throat or pharynx, and tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils. The presence of cancer, or the presence of a foreign object may also result in disease of the mouth and accompanying bad breath.

The most notable cause of halitosis is a disease of the mouth, such as periodontal disease, which is an infection of the gums and supporting tissues of the teeth. Periodontal disease caused by plaque bacteria is the most common cause of halitosis in cats.


Diagnostic procedures to evaluate periodontal disease as the most likely cause of halitosis include x-rays of the inside of the mouth, and examination of the mouth for characteristics such as tooth mobility and sulfide concentrations.


Once the specific cause of halitosis is known, various therapies may be used to address the problem. In some cases, multiple causes may be to blame. For example, your cat may have periodontal disease as well as a foreign object present in the mouth. Treatment for the condition is dependent upon the cause(s).

If periodontal disease is to blame, treatment will include cleaning and polishing the teeth, or extraction of teeth that have greater than 50 percent loss of the supporting bone and gum tissues around them. Some medications may help to reduce odor, as well as to help control the bacteria that infect the gums and oral tissues.

Living and Management

You will need to continue to remain observant of your cat's symptoms. It is important to consistently provide proper professional dental care to your pet, as well as supplement this with at home tooth care. Daily tooth brushing can help prevent the plaque buildup that leads to related halitosis. You will also need to prevent your pet from eating bad-smelling foods, such as garbage. Cleaning the litter box and yard frequently will also help to avoid incidences of coprophagia.

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