If your cat is making you think of the Smelly Cat song from Friends, don’t get upset with him, it really isn’t his fault. Cats are very fastidious by nature, so if your cat has bad breath or body odor issues, there’s an underlying reason, because cats really do like being clean. Here are the most common causes of bad odor in cats and what you can do about them.
Tooth and gum problems
Bad breath can be an indicator of tooth and gum problems. Bad breath can actually lead to overall body odor because if a cat has an infection in the mouth and licks herself, the bacteria will spread to the fur wherever she licks. Get your cat accustomed to home tooth brushing, if you’re not brushing her teeth already. A visit to the vet for a dental may be required, especially if tartar buildup has led to gum disease. Check the teeth of all the cats in a multi-cat household. One cat with mouth issues can spread the bacteria to other cats’ fur through grooming.
Dirty rear end
A cat with diarrhea or soft, loose poop can soil the fur around the rear end and back legs. This is especially common in longhaired cats, with so called “britches” or “bloomers” of long fur on the hind leg area. Check with your vet to see if you need to make a change in your cat’s diet or if your cat has an underlying health problem that’s causing loose stools. If your cat just has naturally soft poop, longhaired cats can benefit from a “sanitary cut.” Trim the fur around the rear end and on the back of the hind legs to about 1/8 of an inch in length. You can use a small electric pet hair trimmer, which is easier and safer than scissors.
Overweight cats can have body odor because a fat cat does not have the flexibility to bend and twist enough to groom all areas of the body, especially the private parts. Your overweight cat may need a change in diet and increased play and exercise to lose weight. Arthritis in older cats can also limit mobility for grooming. Bathing cats is not always fun, but baths may be necessary when a cat cannot properly groom himself. Check out the book The Natural Cat for detailed cat bathing advice. Talk to a groomer who is experienced with cats if you are uncomfortable trying it yourself at home.
Anal gland problems
Cats have two anal sacs that contain sweat glands which produce a not so sweet smelling liquid. They mark their territory by spraying this fluid. The sacs can become infected with bacteria and also become impacted so that the fluid can’t come out. In severe cases, an abscess filled with pus forms and then eventually ruptures. Your vet can express the fluid out of impacted and infected sacs. Infected sacs also require treatment with antibiotics. Abscesses and ruptures may need surgical treatment and pain medication. Talk to your vet about weight loss and increased fiber in the diet. Anal sacs can also be removed if necessary.
Kidney and urinary problems can cause bad odor in cats. Cats can experience urinary incontinence which leads to urine leakage on the fur. Older and overweight cats, as well as some large breeds, can be more prone to incontinence. Cats with serious kidney problems like renal failure will have excess urea in the body which can cause uremic breath odor (breath that smells like ammonia). Cats unable to urinate should be taken to the vet immediately, as urinary blockages cause toxins to build up in the body and can be fatal if left untreated.
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