Cats are usually fastidious, clean creatures, taking time daily to carefully groom every inch of themselves with care and attention. So, if you’ve noticed a bit of a pong about your furry feline, there may well be something up. Bad odours can be caused by multiple factors, and narrowing down the type of smell and where it is originating from is a good start. The mouth, the ears, the skin, the back end: they can all be the source of nose-wrinkling smells. Some causes may be solvable with some help at home, some smells may indicate your cat needs to see a vet. 

Let’s delve into the reasons behind bad odours from your feline friend. 

The Mouth

A healthy cat’s mouth should have a fairly neutral odour: not pleasant, perhaps, but not unpleasant either. Bad breath (halitosis) is a sign that something isn’t right in your cat’s mouth. 

Most commonly, a smelly mouth is due to dental disease. Plaque and tartar build-up in the mouth leads to gum disease, tooth loss and infections. Dental disease is one of the most commonly seen problems in veterinary practice, and it is estimated that around 70% of cats over the age of 2 years have some degree of periodontitis. If you’ve noted your cat’s breath is on the pongy side, ask your vet for a dental check. You may also notice other signs of dental disease, such as your cat’s eating habits have changed, they’re pawing at the mouth or some blood-tinged saliva. 

Other causes of mouth odours include objects lodged in the mouth, oral tumours and ulcers or wounds in the mouth. 

Some other diseases in the body can cause your cat’s breath to smell differently. Diabetic cats may have a sweet smell to their breath, and kidney disease can cause an ammonia-like aroma. Your cat will likely be showing other signs of disease, such as changes to their thirst and urination, appetite changes or weight loss. 

The Back End

From one end to another, let’s examine smells from the anal region – delightful!

If you have noted an intermittent, fishy smell, this may be from your cat’s anal glands. These are small sacs of fluid, found just inside your cat’s anus. They secrete a foul-smelling liquid when the cat defecates, or in times of acute stress, fear or excitement. It can be perfectly normal to smell this occasionally, but if your cat is constantly smelling foul and fishy, is licking at their back end a lot or scooting their bottom along the floor, this may be a sign of impaction or infection in the glands. 

Both diarrhoea and constipation can cause a smelly and messy back end. If your cat has diarrhoea, they can find it difficult to keep on top of their cleanliness, and bits of liquid stool can get stuck to the fur around the anus. Constipated cats can sometimes pass small amounts of liquid faeces as overflow around the impaction, and this is often very malodourous. 

Cats with urinary issues, meanwhile, may leak urine and become incontinent, urinate very frequently or produce very smelly urine. If your cat has started smelling like urine, or their urine has started smelling putrid, then contact your vet. They may wish to run some tests on your cat’s urine, so a sample is always handy.

If your cat becomes mucky around the back end, is struggling to maintain their hygiene, is constantly licking and grooming at their anal region, has diarrhoea which doesn’t resolve in 24-48 hours or seems unwell, seek veterinary advice. 

Skin, Fur and Ears

If your cat’s smell appears to be generalised all over the body, it may be that their skin or coat is the source. If your cat is obviously dirty, then a bath with a cat-friendly shampoo may be the answer. However, often poor odour can be a sign of something more.

Poor hygiene can be the result of pain, mobility issues or general malaise. If your cat has stopped taking care of themselves, this may be due to an underlying problem such as illness or arthritis. Picking up on these subtle signs can help in early detection of disease. 

Skin infections can produce a bad smell, which may be apparent on the cat, or on your hands after grooming or stroking. You may notice that the skin is red in places, scaly, scabby or greasy, or have areas of baldness. Your cat may appear itchy or sensitive. Infections are usually due to bacteria or yeast overgrowth, and are often secondary to other problems such as allergies. 

Ear infections produce a similar smell, but more localised to the ears. There may be discharge, redness or soreness of the ears as well as a smell. Your cat may scratch at their ears a lot, shake their head, or rub their ears along you or on furniture. 

Wounds on the skin can become infected, and produce a foul-smelling pus. Sometimes, the wound is very small and hard to see, with infection brewing under the skin (an abscess). 

If you can smell something odd about your cat, try checking their ears, coat and skin. You may have to run your hands over their body to find hidden wounds or sore patches. 

Bad smells in cats: summing up

  • Cats are usually clean creatures, with a fairly neutral smell
  • If you notice an odd or bad smell from your kitty, this may be a sign of an underlying problem
  • Try and determine the type of smell, and where it is coming from
  • Always seek veterinary attention if your cat has a pungent smell, or seems unwell.

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