Bad Breath In Cats: Causes & Treatments
Cat breath is not supposed to smell like fresh flowers. After all, what carnivore animal in nature has minty fresh breath? Indeed, something as mundane as a bit of chicken or tuna stuck in your cat’s teeth can produce a pretty unpleasant odor. That being said, if your feline companion’s breath consistently makes you wince, it could be a sign that something is not right. You know how they say eyes are windows into the soul? Well, a cat’s breath very well may be a hint into their health.
To help treat your kitty properly though, it’s important to first understand the cause of the issue – in this case, the reason behind halitosis. And to do that, you need to get to the root problem. Here are some common causes of bad breath in cats, as well as ways to prevent and treat this unpleasant condition.
Think only humans are prone to periodontal or gum disease? Think again. According to experts, gum disease is the most common cause of bad breath in cats. But how does this disease develop in the first place? It all starts with dental plaque buildup. First, oral bacteria starts building up on the surfaces of cat teeth, eventually turning into soft plaque that expands to the gums. If this plaque is not removed on time, it leads to serious gum irritation and even infection in the bone surrounding the teeth. If left alone, plaque mineralizes and hardens into tartar, which just makes it easier for plaque to accumulate even more. Needless to say, if nothing is done about cat periodontal disease, serious health problems can arise. This includes not only bad breath, but also bleeding gums, pain and tooth loss.
As with most things concerning the health of our pets, the best cure is prevention. If you do your best to take care of your kitty’s oral health from the beginning (since they are a kitten), periodontal disease most likely will never happen. So how do you do this? First things first – be consistent with their oral hygiene. Ideally, you’ll brush your cat’s teeth with feline-specific toothpaste every day, and you’ll also provide plenty of dental treats that help remove plaque and strengthen the gums. Sure, most cats don’t like having their teeth brushed, but if you start on time, from a very young age, they’ll get used to it with no issues.
What to do if your cat already has periodontal disease? Most likely, your kitty will receive general anesthesia so that the veterinarian can properly remove plaque and tartar from teeth and gums. If there are also diseased teeth, some, or all – depending on the condition – will have to be removed. X-rays may also be taken. If your pet has already had the treatment done, and you’re wondering what you can do to help prevent the disease from returning, you’ll be pleased to hear that there is plenty that can be done. For one, do start brushing your cat’s teeth every day. If they’re an adult or a senior and don’t want to accept the new oral hygiene practice no matter what, you can wipe their teeth with dry gauze or a washcloth. Although not as effective as brushing with feline-specific toothpaste and brush, this can greatly help in removing bacteria and some of the plaque buildup, not to mention freshen the cat’s breath. Also, make sure you’re offering dental treats regularly. These are specifically formulated and designed to reduce plaque and tartar build up and are an easy way to improve your pet’s oral health.
Lymphocytic Plasmacytic Stomatitis
Feline Lymphocytic Plasmacytic Stomatitis (LPS) is a chronic and rapidly progressive periodontal disease that is often accompanied by foul-smelling breath. Not only that, but inflamed, swollen and bleeding gums too. The condition is very frustrating to deal with, both for the owner and the vet, not to mention it’s very painful for the cat. This is because the disease often becomes unresponsive to conventional treatments, including anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics. But how does it develop in the first place? The exact cause is still unknown, but what is clear is that the cat with LPS becomes allergic to plaque around its teeth and gums. This leads to severe inflammation and pain, and as a result, difficulty to eat, weight loss, scruffy hair coat and other serious health problems. It doesn’t help that the condition is sometimes associated with feline leukemia virus, calicivirus, Bartonella and other infections.
As mentioned, LPS can be very hard to deal with because it often becomes unresponsive to conventional treatment. Thankfully, most cats can be cured or at least show good improvement with proper treatment. This includes extensive dental cleaning and sometimes removing some of the teeth, as well as the administration of antibiotics or corticosteroids. Unfortunately, if the disease has advanced, all teeth may need to be extracted. Strict home care and treatment is also a must, including maintaining excellent oral hygiene recommended by a veterinarian. Beside gingivitis and stomatitis, cats with the feline calicivirus may also suffer from upper respiratory infections. The good news is that the vaccine will protect cats from getting this disease.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, sometimes, a cat’s breath can offer a hint into her health. Although not very common, a foul odor coming from a cat’s mouth can be a sign of kidney disease. This is especially true if the breath smells somewhat like ammonia or urine. How can this be? Kidneys have various important functions, including managing blood pressure, filtering blood, making urine and removing waste from the blood. When kidneys start to fail, cats experience a buildup of toxins, waste products and other compounds in their bloodstream, which can be reflected in the smell of their breath. In cats ages 8 and older, kidney disease is not uncommon, so if your cat gets diagnosed, don’t panic – there’s a lot you can do to help your kitty be healthy and happy again.
If your cat’s breath consistently smells bad, similarly to ammonia, it’s important to immediately take them to the vet. The vet will not only look at the animal’s teeth, but also check their kidney levels. If your pet gets diagnosed with kidney disease, the vet will recommend a different diet and possible a different lifestyle. Dietary modifications will play a vital role in managing the symptoms – typically, this will be a specialized diet, restricted in protein, phosphorus and sodium. It will also be higher in fiber, water-soluble vitamins and antioxidants as they can greatly improve the quality of life in cats with kidney disease. Furthermore, your cat will have to drink more water than usual. Since many cats don’t actually like to drink lots of water, it may be a good idea to either completely switch to wet formulas, or to at least combine them with your kitty’s regular dry food. If the disease is caught early, there will be lots you can do to improve your cat’s health, including the smell of their breath. In case the disease has advanced, hospitalization may be required. Just remember that since most cats don’t like big changes in their diet, you’ll have to be patient and persistent. Eventually, your pet will get used to the new diet and lifestyle and should not only have better breath, but overall health too.
If your cat’s breath smells bad and kind of fruity, it could be a sign of diabetes. This is even more likely to be true if the cat is drinking more water than usual and is urinating more frequently. Diabetes is usually also followed by increased weight loss and either increased (in the beginning) or decreased (later on) appetite. But what is diabetes in cats, exactly? Diabetes is the inability to produce enough of the hormone insulin to balance blood sugar levels. Basically, whenever your cat eats, insulin rises in order to “push” the energy (sugar) into the cells; when there is no insulin, blood sugar levels are constantly elevated, leading to a host of health issues. Today, more and more cats have diabetes, mostly because our pets lead sedentary lifestyles, although bad diet is certainly to blame as well. The good news is that even with diabetes, your cat can live a long and happy life if you make certain changes in their diet and lifestyle.
There may be no cure for diabetes, but you can manage the symptoms and make your cat’s life easier with the right treatment. Typically, this metabolic disorder is managed with a combination of insulin injections and dietary modifications. While insulin injections may seem like a difficult and intimidating prospect, know that most cats get used to the treatment eventually. As for dietary modifications, some experts advise feeding low-carbohydrate diets, although this, along with insulin therapy, is something that should be discussed with your vet. It should be noted that the sooner you discover your cat has diabetes, the easier it will be to manage the symptoms. As a result, your cat will be healthier.
Some cats with foul-smelling breath may actually have liver disease. This condition is sometimes accompanied by yellowing of the whites of the eyes or of the skin on the ears or gums. A cat with liver disease may also be lethargic, have diarrhea or vomit. Typically, a cat will also have a poor appetite – so poor, she may stop eating completely. Any cat that has stopped eating for more than two days should be taken to a vet as liver disease is serious and can be fatal if discovered too late. The main issue with this disease is that the symptoms are not specific enough for the owners to notice them on time. Of course, some pet owners will notice the changes quickly – make sure you’re one of them.
Treatment of liver disease depends on the cause of the disease. The most common type of liver disease is hepatic lipidosis, more commonly known as fatty liver disease. It’s more likely to occur to middle-aged and older cats, as well as overweight felines. The cause of this type of liver disease typically has to do with a bad diet, lack of protein, stress, but also diabetes, kidney disease and other health problems. That being said, there are different types of liver disease and therefore many different causes. To get the best treatment, a vet will have to thoroughly test and check your cat. Normally, if a cat is suffering from advanced liver disease, intensive in-patient care and treatment will be required. The cat is likely to receive fluid therapy and supplements of B complex vitamins. Certain dietary changes will also have to take place, namely reducing fat, protein and sodium in your cat’s diet. Your pet should also be fed small meals several times a day to reduce stress on the system.
Finally, bad breath in cats can also be caused by oral cancers. While nobody wants their pet to have to deal with cancer of any kind, mouth cancer is unfortunately fairly common, especially in older cats, although younger ones are not immune to it either. It’s caused by the oral malignancy known as gingival squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is particularly virulent and able to metastasize quickly throughout the body, often leading to death. Besides bad breath, symptoms include drooling, loose teeth, growth in the mouth, difficulty chewing and eating, swelling under the jaw or swollen facial appearance.
The treatment will depend on how large the tumor growth in your cat’s mouth is. If it’s small and hasn’t had the chance to spread to the bone and other areas, a vet will try to remove it via cryosurgery. If it’s larger, a more invasive surgery may be required, where a part of the jaw is removed. Thankfully, most cats recover very well after the surgery, so there is little to worry about in this stage. However, if the tumor is too large, radiation therapy may be the only option, which should only help control further growth of the tumor and help your cat feel more comfortable. The bad news is, by the time oral cancer is diagnosed, the prognosis is not that good. That’s why it’s important to be diligent with your pet’s health – regularly check their entire body for unusual growth or changes and visit the vet once a year, even when everything seems fine.