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Home > Cats > Why Does My Cat Smell So Bad? 5 Vet Approved Causes

Why Does My Cat Smell So Bad? 5 Vet Approved Causes

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Dr. Maja Platisa

Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you have started dodging your cat’s attempts to cuddle because of the unpleasant and/or strong smell around them, you might wonder what’s happening. After all, cats are famous for keeping themselves clean, so why has your cat’s smell suddenly changed for the worse? In this article, you will learn five likely causes for why your cat might smell unpleasant and how to eliminate the foul odor.


The 5 Reasons Your Cat Smells So Bad

1. Bad Breath

tabby cat opening its mouth
Image Credit: Pitsch, Pixabay
Is it serious: Usually
Veterinary care required: Often

Your cat’s mouth is one of the most common sources of bad odors, and this is referred to as halitosis. Periodontal disease, tooth resorption and decay, tartar build-up, gingivitis, ulcers in the mouth and other sores, and even liver, kidney disease, and diabetes can give your kitty stinky breath. Your cat’s genetics, particularly the breed, may make them more prone to dental disease, but it can also occur from a lack of preventative care. Gingivitis is caused by a build-up of tartar and bacteria that cause inflammation of the gums, other infectious diseases (feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, calicivirus), and systemic or autoimmune disease. Therefore, removing the tartar and preventing its build-up by regular brushing is crucial. Let’s be fair; it is usually a lot harder to brush a cat’s teeth than it is a dog’s!

If your cat has bad breath, it is best to get them checked out by a vet and establish a cause for it. You can also ask your vet about the best way to brush your cat’s teeth and additional dental care alternatives, such as water additives or special diets. However, remember that brushing is still the most effective way to ensure that your kitty does not get tartar build-up and all of the problems that come with it. It is best to start getting them accustomed to tooth brushing from a young age. Depending on what’s causing your cat’s bad breath, they may need further veterinary management or specific medications.

2. Dirty or Infected Ears

Cat Dirty Ears
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock
Is it serious: Sometimes
Veterinary care required: Sometimes

Dirty, inflamed or infected ears are another common reason why your cat might smell unpleasant. Cats generally don’t get as many ear infections as dogs, but they can occur, sometimes more frequently if your cat has allergies. In addition to a strong, often yeasty odor, you may notice your cat shaking their head, scratching, tilting its head, or having a discharge from the ears.

Ear infections can be quite painful and generally require medication for treatment. Check your cat’s ears regularly and clean them with an ear cleaner recommended by your vet as needed to help prevent ear infections.

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3.  Skin Conditions

bacterial skin infection pyoderma or lichen on the skin of a red cat
Image Credit: Andrey Solovev, Shutterstock
Is it serious: Sometimes
Veterinary care required: Yes

Although cats usually keep themselves clean, they can still develop many skin conditions that may smell unpleasant. This usually happens when the skin becomes infected and discharge is present. Skin wounds and sores, scabs, rashes, spots, benign lumps, and tumors can all become infected and ulcerated, causing an unpleasant smell. Skin infections may occur anywhere on the body. Infected skin wounds or abscesses are frequent sources of odor, especially in outdoor cats who regularly get into fights.

You may notice a yeasty or rotten smell depending on what’s causing the skin odor. Some bacteria can even make your cat’s skin smell sweet! Most skin conditions will require a trip to the veterinarian. Treatment may include medications, special shampoos, or parasite control.

4. Anal Glands

cat licking itself
Image Credit: Kittisak Chysree, Shutterstock
Is it serious: Sometimes
Veterinary care required: Yes

Like dogs, cats have two glands on either side of their anus. These glands contain a stinky liquid usually expressed when the cat poops. However, if your cat is stressed or excited, it may release the fluid, causing a terrible odor. If your cat’s feces is too soft to express the glands normally, it may also cause it to smell bad.

Anal glands can also get infected or develop tumors, leading to more unpleasant smells. If your cat’s anal glands are full and not being emptied normally, your vet may need to do it manually. Anal gland impaction, infection, and tumors require veterinary care. Treatment may involve medications or surgery.

5. Lack of Hygiene

Siberian grey cat playing with paper
Image Credit: Jusvic, Shutterstock
Is it serious: Sometimes
Veterinary care required: Usually

Sometimes, your cat will smell unpleasant because they just aren’t taking care of themselves like they used to, and this is more often than not a reason for concern. Older cats may find it too painful to groom themselves completely, leading to a greasy, smelly coat. A dirty rear end is also a frequent source of bad smells. Long-haired cats often get urine and feces in the fur around their tail and hind legs. Overweight or older cats may not be able to reach their rear end well enough to keep it clean.

If your cat’s grooming habits have changed, it is best to have them checked out by your vet, especially if your cat has diarrhea or other obvious signs of illness. After the vet has given your cat a clean bill of health or has started them on appropriate medication, you may be able to deal with the smell at home by helping your cat stay clean. Consider a sanitary cut for long-haired cats, but do this carefully to avoid cutting the skin. Wipe down your older kitty every time they use the litter box.

divider-catHow to Get Rid of Bad Smells in Cats

As you can see, many sources of bad smells in cats are caused by medical conditions. Your vet will be able to diagnose and prescribe appropriate treatment for the underlying cause to get rid of the smell. Start by making an appointment with your veterinarian for a physical exam and possible tests.

Your vet will check your cat’s skin for any signs of infection or injury. Ears and teeth are frequently the culprits when it comes to a stinky cat. Follow your vet’s instructions to treat your cat’s smelly condition, whether with medication or bathing. Keep your cat’s ears clean and use preventative dental care products. Some cats may need regular dental cleaning to keep their mouth odor under control. A regular grooming routine can help eliminate or prevent some sources of bad smells.

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Unlike dogs that frequently get stinky and dirty just by spending time outside, cats aren’t usually smelly animals. If you notice a foul odor, there’s probably a valid reason and in most cases, your cat will need to see the vet. The causes we discussed are a good place to start your investigation. Bad smells sometimes indicate a serious problem, so don’t ignore the odor and hope it goes away.

Featured Image Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych, Shutterstock

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