Cats are fastidious about keeping themselves clean and it’s rare that a healthy cat emits a bad odor. A healthy cat has no distinguishable smell. If your cat demonstrates a bad odor, this may be an indicator of an illness, and should be cause for concern.

Bad breath

Bad breath in cats is almost always an indicator of a health problem. While some odor, as a reflection of a cat’s normal diet, is to be expected, bad or unusual breath will require a visit to the veterinarian.

A foul odor coming from the cat’s mouth is most likely an indicator of dental disease. It is caused by a build-up of bacteria on the cat’s teeth and gums, which leads to periodontal disease or gingivitis. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3.

By the time a cat owner notices bad breath, dental disease may already be quite advanced. The inflammation and infection associated with periodontal disease can lead to damage to other organs such as the heart, kidney and liver, and lead to other serious health problems. Dental disease can also be an indicator of immune system disorders.

If your cat’s breath has a fruity odor or smells like nail polish, it may be an indicator of diabetes. Usually, cats with this type of breath will also show increased thirst and urination.

An ammonia-like odor can be an indicator of kidney disease. Also known as uremic breath, this foul smelling breath is the result of an increase in toxin levels as the kidneys become unable to filter waste products.

Foul mouth odor can also be a sign of gastro-intestinal or liver disease.

Bad body odor

While rare in cats and more common in dogs, bad body odor may indicate a skin disease. Even though cats get bacterial yeast infections of the skin and ears, they don’t tend to be as malodorous as they are in dogs. Cats with autoimmune disease may also present with a strange odor, but this, too, is rarer in cats than in dogs.

Bad smell “every now and then”

Some cat guardians may notice an occasional musky or fishy odor. Most likely this is caused by the cat’s anal glands. These two sac-like glands just inside the anus can become full, and a cat may empty the contents in her environment, especially if she becomes excited or fearful.

This article was previously published on and is republished with permission.

18 Comments on What Is Your Cat’s Odor Trying to Tell You?

  1. Hello,

    I was hoping to find some information on your website about anal glands. I did see the information mentioned at the bottom of this article, so I thought I’d post my question here. My cat is a 9 years old, spayed, and very healthy female. I don’t notice an odor, but she has developed an issue with blocked anal glands. It first happened about 5 months ago, and they were infected. The vet cleared them and treated the infection. 3 months after that I brought her to the vet to have them checked again. They were blocked but not infected. Now, it’s been only 1 month and I’m seeing signs in her that indicate to me that they’re blocked again. We have another appointment with the vet, but I was hoping you might be able to shed some light for me. What’s causing this? Is there anything I can do to prevent/slow the issue? Thank you for the wonderful information you provide! Misty and I thank you!

    • There’s not much information about why this is a problem for some cats, but generally, it is tied to digestive issues such as inflammatory bowel disease. It can also be associated with megacolon. A good quality diet that keeps your cat’s digestion regular can help, since diarrhea or constipation can be contributing factors. You may want to take a look at Glandex and discuss with your vet:

  2. I have a question I have a 2 weeks old kitten and I started to notice a awful fishy smell while she sleep she also doesn’t want to poop any advice or any one knows why she is smelling like this pls help

    • If you haven’t already done so, please take your kitten to a vet immediately. Kittens that young are fragile, and being unable to poop may be an indicator of a serious problem.

  3. I have a 1 1/2 month old male kitten! These bast 2 days I have smelt this awful fish like old garbage (I don’t even know how to explain this smell) I could slightly smell it on the couch after he has napped here. And can smell it on him after he has napped. anytime he is ASLEEP near me I can smell it. I don’t smell it from him when he’s playing or sitting on me while I pet him. It seems like it’s only while he is sleeping. But the smell sticks where he was sleeping. He is on a well diet (I believe) caned kitten food, and the purina one advanced kitten food. He is on nothing cheap. But nothing crazy expensive. This just started happening the other day.

    • I’m having the same problem with a 5 month old Siamese. Also on purina one the teal blue kitten bag. I just changed food hoping it’s the problem.

  4. Hello – any suggestions for helping a kitten during teething? Brushing makes the gums bleed so I’ve tried dental wipes but not sure how effective they are.

  5. I had a cat with renal failure, and she developed a slight pungent/musky odor coming from her fur. I found out that this was due to uremic poisoning in her system. She was in an advanced stage of renal failure.

    • Hi, unfortunately I️ going through the same renal problem with my cat. Her coat has a very bad odor and I️ would like to know if there is any product that I️ am able to use

      • Not sure about a product but my 17 yr old Vera is going through renal failure. I have to give her i.v. fluids every other day n sometimes everyday depending on if she seems dehydrated. If u lift the fur above her shoulder n it goes back slowly then kitty needs some fluids to help her. U can get the fluids at your vet. The odor is less noticeable when she seems hydrated.

  6. Our cat is just over 2 years old and has bad breath. He actually has had it for a while (he was a sickly kitten) and at his last visit the vet said his gums and teeth were starting to show signs of dental disease. I was surprised that this would start at such a young age. I was going to start brushing his teeth (would that help?). He also does have anal gland issues which I have noticed seem to resolve on their own. He’s had 3 bouts now – the most recent was after picking him up from being boarded (which he tolerates but hates). I haven’t noticed a distinct pattern in his anal gland ‘cycle’ but maybe this most recent one was from the stress of being boarded?

    • Brushing your cat’s teeth is the best way to try and prevent dental issues. Unfortunately, some cats seem to be genetically predisposed to dental problems. It’s possible that the stress from boarding caused him to empty his anal glands.

  7. I didn’t know that about bad body odour or bad smells now and then! Thank you for the information and I will be sure to watch out for the source of any bad smells. So far we’re lucky and haven’t had anything of the sort.

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