Managing Your Cat's Bad Breath: Treatments That Work

Managing Your Cat's Bad Breath: Treatments That Work

Cat breath stinks? Rather than hold your breath or (gasp!) cut back on cuddles, read about the causes of cat bad breath and the EASIEST way to fix it.
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When your cat saunters onto your lap, purring and wanting a cuddle, nothing can ruin the moment like a big blast of fishy cat breath. This no doubt leaves you wondering: How can I fix my cat’s bad breath, fast?

Well, your question is meowsic to our ears ... because not only do we love a good cat pun, but we also love educating cat parents on how to best take care of their cat’s oral health.

cute cat smiling on the couch

Cat Bad Breath Causes

Dental disease, also known as halitosis, is by far the most common cause of cat bad breath. But please don’t let the word "disease" scare you. It’s actually quite common in cats, with an estimated 7 in 10 cats having oral health problems by age 3. The good news is that dental disease is 100% reversible in its early stages.

Dental disease starts when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, forms on the cat’s teeth. As the bacteria multiplies and makes the acquaintance of certain minerals in saliva, the plaque will harden into a yellow-brown substance called tartar.

person exposing teeth of cat to show yellow-brown buildup on teeth

Here's the truth about tartar buildup on your cat’s teeth: without intervention, the tartar will force the cat’s teeth to pull away from the gums, exposing the roots of the teeth (painful!) and leading to tooth loss. Eventually, all that bacteria from their infected gums can go on a joyride through the body, causing heart and kidney problems. Definitely not cats living their best (nine) lives.

Other oral health-related cat bad breath causes:

  • Teething in kittens & young cats
  • Trauma (e.g. a burn from chewing on an electrical cord)
  • Feline stomatitis
  • Mouth ulcers/sores
  • Tooth abscesses or infection

Note: it's important for your cat to get yearly dental checkups at the veterinarian's office to ensure that everything looks good, and if it doesn't, that you get a proper diagnosis and action plan for your cat.

Cat Breath Stinks? Don't Ignore the Smell-Tale Signs.

Many of us have been in a similar situation. We joke about our pet’s bad breath or give them (ANOTHER) new nickname, like Mr. Stinky Face. However, a sobering fact is that cat bad breath is usually the first sign of dental disease. Unless your cat just gobbled up a bowl of tuna fish and burped unceremoniously in your face, their breath really shouldn’t have more than a mild smell. So don’t ignore that ongoing fishy cat breath ... it’s your cat’s way of saying, "Hey, my teeth and gums need a little love over here!"

cat laying down hiding its face

Additional symptoms of dental disease in cats:

  • Redness, bleeding or swelling of the gums
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Tartar buildup
  • Change in eating habits (chewing on one side of the mouth, reluctance to eat, dropping food)

Could Cat Bad Breath Mean My Pet Is Sick?

While bad cat breath is usually caused by poor oral care, there are some systemic causes of cat bad breath. (If you were prone to taking cat naps during science class, systemic simply means the bad breath cause is related to the whole body and not just the mouth.)

kitty looking sick under covers

  • Kidney disease: When a cat’s kidneys are not working properly and waste builds up in the blood, the cat's breath may smell like urine or ammonia.
  • Diabetes: If your cat has feline diabetes, their breath can take on an obnoxious fruity odor due to ketones building up in the blood. This warrants an ASAP call to the vet.
  • Liver problems: If you notice yellowing of your cat’s gums, ear skin or whites of their eyes, this is a sign of liver disease, which can also produce foul-smelling cat breath.

Cat breath stinks like poop?

As gross as it sounds, some cats do eat feces. Sometimes this is because of vitamin deficiencies or parasites OR they’ve simply got a taste for the stuff! (Hey, to each their own.) But if your cat has poopy breath AND is vomiting or has no appetite, this could be a true medical emergency due to an intestinal blockage, which can often be caused by cats eating foreign objects like string, dental floss or rubber bands.

Can Dental Treats Get Rid of Cat Bad Breath?

High-quality treats are a tasty way to help remove some plaque while freshening your cat's breath. However, they shouldn’t be the ONLY dental care your cat gets.

grey cat eating a dental chew

Some treats are poor quality and will actually increase plaque in the mouth from all the carbs. Others may cause your cat to pack on the pounds, which comes with a whole different set of problems. Also, if your cat’s teeth are already in pretty rough shape, the treats can actually be too hard to chew and cause damage or tooth loss for your cat.

Bottom line: when appropriate, supplement with treats if you’d like, but don’t let it be your only course of action for cat home dental care.

Can raw bones act as a cat breath freshener?

raw poultry neck

Just like with certain treats, raw bones are a great supplement to a regular cat home dental routine – in fact, they’re probably better than any treat you can buy. Raw bones contain natural plaque-fighting enzymes and act as a "floss" to help stimulate the gums and clean their teeth. Raw poultry necks are the best choice for cats. Also, the key word here is "raw." NEVER give your cat cooked bones, as they can splinter and cause your cat to choke. The downside to using a raw bone as a cat breath freshener is, of course, the mess!

Do I Have to Brush My Cat's Teeth to Fix Bad Breath?

person preparing to brush their cats teeth with a finger brush

If you’d rather sit in rush-hour traffic for hours than attempt to brush your cat’s teeth, we get it. Some cats don’t take kindly to having a finger or toothbrush stuffed into their mouths, especially older cats who are more set in their ways.

While brushing is the gold standard to remove plaque from cats’ teeth, there is another strategy that’s WAY more hands-off while still being super effective: using a cat breath freshener water additive.

woman using pet water additive in her cats drinking bowl

What's a cat breath freshener water additive?

For cat parents who don’t want to fuss with brushing, a cat breath freshener water additive is like the best invention ever. You just add a bit of solution to your cat’s water bowl or fountain and they’ll get fresher breath with every sip of water. No brush, no fuss. Just consistently fresh cat breath. Make sure you choose wisely, though ... like all products vying for consumers' attention, cat breath freshener water additives vary in quality.

Best Cat Breath Freshener, Paws Down

For cat parents looking for the best of both worlds – a cat breath freshener that's ultra-effective AND easy to use, Oxyfresh Pet Dental Water Additive is just what the veterinarian ordered. (Seriously, this is our top-seller to vets!)

Oxyfresh Water Additive for cats and dogs is unique because, unlike other pet water additives, it's 100% free of fussy flavors and scents, so your cat won’t give you the side-eye look of "What on earth did you do to my water?!"


Only Oxyfresh is made with the non-toxic purifier Oxygene®, our proprietary ingredient that neutralizes the bacteria that lead to plaque, bad cat breath and dental disease. Best of all, it does all this WITHOUT the need for a toothbrush and all the fur-flying drama!

Why you'll love Oxyfresh Cat Water Additive

  • Fights plaque & tartar every time your cat drinks
  • All the benefits of brushing with none of the hassle
  • Freshens cat’s breath all day (hello, cuddles!)
  • Picky-cat approved with no flavors or scents
  • Safe, non-toxic, made in USA & veterinarian approved

oxyfresh pet water additive for fresh pet breath

melissa gulbranson oxyfresh cmo

Meet the Author

Melissa Gulbranson is the Co-Chief Operating Officer & Chief Marketing Officer for Oxyfresh. A recipient of the Pet Age's "Women of Influence" Award, she’s passionate about educating pet parents in ways that really resonate with them. Melissa loves days on the lake and hiking with her fur kid, Parker, and husband, Doug. Parker (a total ham) can be spotted running laps through the office each morning, greeting every team member. You can find Parker near the treats, and Melissa on Linkedin.