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If your cat is making you think of the Smelly Cat song from Friends, don't get upset with him; it isn't his fault. Cats are very fastidious by nature, so if your cats smell bad or have bad breath, foul odor, or body odor issues, there's an underlying reason because cats do like being clean.
Here are the most common causes of foul odor in cats and what you can do about them.
Tooth and gum issues can cause foul feline smells. Bad breath can be an indicator of tooth and gum problems. It can lead to overall body odor because if a cat's mouth has an infection and licks herself, the bacteria will spread to the fur wherever she licks.
If your cat stinks, try getting it accustomed to home tooth brushing if you're not brushing her teeth already—dental disease is the most common cause of foul breath in our kitty companions. A visit to the vet for a dental may be required, especially if tartar or plaque 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.
A cat with diarrhea or soft, loose poop can soil the fur around the rear end and back legs, causing a bad smell. 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 change your kitty's diet or if your cat has an underlying health problem causing loose stools. If your cat 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.
Make it a habit to clean the litter box as soon as it's soiled. A clean litter box ensures your cat won't accidentally step on earlier urine or feces and guarantees their paws will stay clean too.
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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 correctly 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.
Cats have two anal sacs containing sweat glands that produce a not-so-sweet-smelling liquid. They mark their territory by spraying this fluid. The sacs can be impacted or get a bacterial infection, so the fluid can't come out.
In severe cases, an abscess is filled with pus forms and 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 veterinarian about weight loss and increased fiber in the diet. Anal sacs can also be removed if necessary.
Kidney and urinary problems can cause stinky 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 severe kidney problems like renal failure will have excess urea in the body, which can cause uremic breath odor (a cat's breath that smells like ammonia).
Cats unable to urinate should be given immediate veterinary care, as urinary blockages cause toxins to build up in the body and can be fatal if left untreated.
Skin infections frequently result from underlying health issues such as wounds, allergies, parasites, cancer, immunological disorders, or anything else that disturbs the skin's normal defensive systems.
Keep an eye out for an abscess if your cat has recently fought another cat. These illnesses occur within 24 hours when germs contained in cat saliva enter the bitten kitty's body and develop into infections.
A cat's odor could be caused by an infection, so get your cat checked by the vet if you notice an infection on your cat's skin to prevent the situation from getting worse.
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In general, a healthy cat should not have a strong odor. However, some smell is normal for a few reasons:
Cats groom themselves regularly by licking their fur; their saliva can give off a musty smell as it dries on their coats. Bathing your cat regularly can help reduce this odor.
Cats mark their territory by rubbing their face and body on objects, leaving behind odor from oil and wax secretions in their skin. Neutering a male cat can decrease territorial marking behavior and the associated smells.
Dental disease or other medical issues can sometimes cause bad breath or body odor in cats. If your cat has a foul, unusual smell, it's a good idea to have your vet examine them to check for any underlying issues.
Female cats will go into heat if they are not spayed. When in heat, a cat may spray urine, roll frequently, and become very vocal—all of which can lead to undesirable smells in the home. Spaying a female cat eliminates the heat cycle and prevents these odors from occurring.
After being neutered, male cats may continue to mark territory for a few weeks due to residual testosterone in their system. Their odor should decrease over time, but bathing and litter box hygiene will also help speed up the process. If odors persist for more than a month after neutering, have your vet examine the cat to ensure there are no other medical issues and discuss options for behavior modification.
With regular grooming, litter box care, spaying or neutering, and medical checkups as needed, cat owners can successfully eliminate or reduce undesirable smells in the home and keep their feline friends happy and healthy.