How To Improve Your Cat's Bad Breath

Written by Shula Berg BVSc CertAVP(GSAS) GPAdvCert(SASTS) MRCVS
Clinically reviewed by Elizabeth McLennan-Green BVM&S CertAVP(SAM) MRCVS

Is bad breath in cats normal?

While it's a frequent issue, bad breath in cats should not be considered normal. Often, it's a sign of underlying health problems that need attention. In contrast, kittens generally have sweet-smelling breath, as they haven't yet developed the bacteria that cause bad breath. If you're used to your cat cuddling close to your face, you'll likely notice quickly if their breath becomes unpleasant!

What are the causes of bad breath in cats?

Let's explore the factors that can lead to bad breath in cats and what actions you can take to address them.

The primary issue in cats (and this applies to dogs and even humans) is inadequate oral hygiene. Essentially, this means bacteria accumulate on the teeth, mixing with food particles and saliva to form a foul-smelling substance known as plaque. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar, trapping more bacteria around the teeth and gums especially as the cat ages. Regular cleaning is essential either through consistent brushing at home or professional scaling and polishing by a veterinarian. Interestingly, cats that frequently hunt might have cleaner mouths because consuming their prey somewhat mimics the action of a toothbrush and helps keep their teeth cleaner.

There are some other things that can cause bad breath in your cat; our advice would always be to get them checked out at the vets as soon as possible, especially if the smell comes on suddenly, because this could indicate something more serious.

Other factors causing bad breath include:

  • Gingivostomatitis: This severe inflammation of the gums and mouth can make a cat's breath smell unpleasant, especially if a secondary infection is present. It's often extremely painful for them to eat, so you may also see a reduced appetite or weight loss.
  • Kidney disease: Renal disease is prevalent among elderly cats and is usually associated with increased drinking and urination. As the kidneys are less able to filter waste products out of the blood, these can build-up and cause bad breath, and sometimes ulcers of the gums.
  • Fish-based diets: As with dogs, a diet based on fish protein might give the cat fishy breath - uncomfortable for cuddling!
  • Mouth tumours: Unfortunately, these can be common in older cats, but often go unnoticed until they are progressed. A nasty smell accompanied by blood-stained saliva or difficulty eating can suggest a more concerning problem. This requires an urgent trip to see your vet.
  • Items stuck in the mouth – If something gets stuck in your cat’s mouth, such as bone from hunting or scavenging, it will cause a smell as it starts to rot and can cause infection. You may also see your cat pawing at their mouth, salivating more than usual, or bleeding.
  • Upper respiratory tract infections: Cats are vulnerable to viruses that cause colds and snuffly noses, often accompanied by smelly breath with or without mouth ulcers.
  • Vomiting and regurgitation: These can cause bad breath due to stomach acid in the mouth. Some cats will vomit periodically, however, if it is daily or a new problem it is worth having them checked by a vet.
  • Kitten teething: When kittens start losing their baby teeth at around four months+ of age and adult ones come through, they might have very smelly breath. But there's no need to worry; this will pass within a few weeks.

How can we reduce bad breath in cats?

To improve your cat’s bad breath, you will need to focus on oral health, which impacts their overall wellness. Dr. Shula Berg recommends the following actions:

  • Dental check-ups: Vet visits for dental check-ups are essential for catching any dental issues before they become serious problems.
  • Daily brushing: Regular tooth brushing with a cat-specific toothbrush and toothpaste is the best way to remove plaque and bacteria that cause bad breath. Ideally, start when your cat is still a kitten so they become used to this.
  • Dental diet & treats: Dry cat food can help to abrade plaque from the teeth during chewing, so is better for oral hygiene than wet cat food. You can also feed your cat a diet designed specifically for dental health. Dental chews, especially those containing catnip, are enjoyable and beneficial.
  • Natural cleaning: If your feline is an outdoor hunter, allow them to follow their natural inclinations as this behaviour may help keep their teeth clean. If your cat hunts, however, it is essential to make sure they are regularly wormed
  • Professional dental cleaning: On the vet's recommendation, professional dental cleanings help maintain good oral hygiene, especially if home brushing is challenging. Once dental disease is present, this is the only way to resolve it.

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Find out more about The Healthy Pet Club

How do I brush my cat’s teeth?

Having your teeth brushed is a strange experience, and many cats will panic if it is not introduced slowly and gently. It may take a month or two to reach a point of “proper brushing” – this is normal and nothing to worry about. You can use a regular brush or finger brush, but always make sure to use pet toothpaste as it tastes better and doesn’t contain fluoride, which is toxic to pets.

  • Initially, simply introduce your pet to the toothpaste, offering it on your finger to be licked
  • Once your pet accepts it, try running your finger over the outside of their teeth, still with plenty of toothpaste and praise
  • After a few days of this, they should be ok with the idea of something in their mouth. Now is a good time to introduce your brush. Initially use plenty of toothpaste and go slow, just accepting the brush in their mouth is enough.
  • Over the next few weeks practice regularly. Once the brush in their mouth isn’t scary, start moving it along the teeth. Eventually build up to gentle brushing in circular motions.

The younger your pet is when you start brushing, the more likely they will be to accept the idea. Ideally, aim for daily brushing for the most effective dental care, however anything is better than nothing. If you are unsure about brushing and would like some help, your practice will be happy to arrange an appointment with one of our veterinary nurses.


Bad breath is not only unpleasant for us as cat owners, but often signifies the presence of dental disease. This is painful, often making cats less able to eat or groom normally. Maintaining proactive dental care enhances your cat’s overall health, contributing to better life quality. Occasionally, bad breath can be a sign of something more serious underlying. Any concerning smells, sudden changes, or bad smells accompanied by other symptoms should prompt you to arrange a check with your vet.


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