Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: July 21, 2023 by Crystal Uys

Ginger cat covers nose with paw because of smell

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.

What Bad Cat Body Odors Are Trying to Tell You:

1. 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.

Veterinarian examining teeth of Persian Cat
Image Credit: dididesign021, Shutterstock

2. 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.

3. 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.

Featured Image Credit: Andrei Metelev, Shutterstock

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