My Cat Smells! What’s Causing the Bad Odor?

My Cat Smells! What's Causing the Bad Odor?

With due praise to Phoebe’s oddly addictive Smelly Cat ditty from Friends, cats aren’t supposed to be that way. In fact it is just the opposite; cleanliness is one of a cat’s claims to fame and they earn it by spending hours every day washing. That being said, if you notice a foul odor emanating from your feline pet, it’s a good sign something’s wrong.

Fortunately most cat smells are harmless but they can also signal more serious health problems including bad teeth, gastro issues, or kidney conditions. So, short of clamping a clothespin on your nose and going about your day; how do you track down the source of a bad cat smell and make it right again?

The first step is to zero in on what kind of smell you’re dealing with and where it is coming from. Here are the top four locations of bad cat aroma:

Mouth

If your cat is in fine health, her mouth won’t stink but an array of symptoms can turn the tables. Gum disease is the most common suspect causing bad oral smells, due to the buildup of plaque and tartar as well as swelling gums, gums separating from teeth, and loose teeth. Food and other debris like to settle into gum pockets, inspiring bacterial infections that come with terrible odors. Dental trauma and various diseases can also lead to bad breath in cats. For example, kidney disease often results in breath smelling like urine or ammonia. Liver disease or intestinal blockage can cause a breath smell akin to that of feces.

Ear

Feline ear infections are common and typically appear in the form of a yeast infection related to an allergy or other scenario that causes the growth of musty-smelling breath. Ear mites are another traditional ailment, which looks like coffee grounds. Keep in mind that bacterial infections are tricky in that generally have no obvious cause or they might be related to something else like polyps, allergies, and foreign bodies.

Skin

Skin odor with cats is also common and it normally develops in tandem with other health problems. Indeed, anything that disrupts the skin’s natural methods of protection can cause odors including fetid, musty or even sweet. Abscesses in the skin are another possibility, such as from a bite wound. If the abscess ruptures, the draining pus will give off an unpleasant stench.

Have you noticed an underlying funk coming from your cat? That could be due to her inability to self-groom, resulting in a dirty-greasy coat. If your cat gradually reduces its time cleaning, it might from obesity or arthritis and you should confer with your vet.

Anus

Cats are famously known for their grooming habits and you’ll rarely notice a sign of urine or feces coming from their rear end but when they can’t groom, it’s a whole new ballgame. Diarrhea is a condition often associated with bad smells, especially with long-haired cats that have a particularly difficult time addressing fecal matter stuck to their fur.

Also in that anatomical vicinity are a cat’s anal glands that produce an awful fishy smell. This usually only happens if a cat gets very excited or scared about something that makes her release her anal glands’ ingredients. This will be a day of bad smells for you but the good news is this event is only an occasional occurrence.

How to get rid of a bad cat smell

With some luck, you’ll know that your cat just came in from rummaging around the trash can or recently gobbled some putrid cat food. However, unless the reason is plainly clear, your cat has something going on that needs attention. Make a vet appointment right away.


Central Texas Animal Hospital provides a variety of veterinary services for cats in the Pflugerville/Austin-Round Rock area including vaccinationsparasite preventiondental careweight managementspaying and neutering, and more. Call us at 512-251-BARK today to learn more!