Current best practices for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of halitosis in cats

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Halitosis is an unpleasant odor that comes from the oral cavity. Bad breath (halitosis) is caused by plaque and tartar on a cat’s teeth. The worse the breath smells, the worse the oral disease.

What causes bad breath in cats?

Bad breath is caused by:

  • Plaque-related bacteria
  • Tartar or tartar
  • Decomposing food particles that are retained in gum pockets
  • persistent bleeding due to coagulation disorders and
  • Tissue necrosis.

Contrary to popular belief, neither normal lung air nor gastric aroma contribute to bad breath. The most common cause of bad breath in cats is periodontal disease caused by plaque (biofilim). Plaque bacteria settle on the freshly cleaned and polished tooth as soon as the cat begins to salivate. Within days, the plaque mineralizes, creating rough tartar that collects more plaque and causes inflammation of the gums. As plaque ages and gingivitis progresses to periodontal disease (tooth loss), the bacterial flora changes from “good” bacteria to destructive bacteria.

While this is happening, the periodontal ligament becomes infected, which leads to the destruction of the tooth support. The main cause of bad breath in cats is the bad bacteria that cause putrefaction that produce smelly sulfur compounds.

Volatile sulfur compounds can also play a role in periodontal disease, which compromises the integrity of the tissue barrier and enables endotoxins to produce periodontal destruction, endotoxemia, and bacteremia.

How is bad breath treated?

Treating bad breath in cats involves eliminating the cause (s). First, the teeth must be thoroughly cleaned and polished under general anesthesia. The cleaning removes plaque and tartar above and below the gum line (with the help of hand instruments and scaler tips used under the gum line).

After teeth cleaning, a tooth-by-tooth examination is carried out. Intraoral dental x-rays are inspected to complete the oral assessment. Often the teeth affected by advanced periodontal disease or tooth resorption need to be extracted.

If the gingival pockets are small or bleeding is detected on probing, local antimicrobial administration can help reduce bad breath by decreasing the bleeding and reducing the pocket depth.

How can bad breath be prevented?

Fortunately, once teeth are clean, there are products that can be purchased to help reduce plaque buildup. The Veterinary Oral Health Council accepts such products. Accepted products are listed on

Oral hygiene products containing zinc can inhibit odor formation due to their affinity for sulfur. Zinc and hydrogen sulfide make up the insoluble zinc sulfide. Zinc also interferes with microbial proliferation and the calcification of microbial deposits that can cause bad breath.

After the causes of bad breath are identified and eliminated, daily plaque control is an essential part of controlling and preventing bad breath recurrence.

It is recommended that the Q-Tip be applied to the gum-tooth interface on a daily basis. It is recommended that you soak the cotton swab in tuna water as this will slow the build up of plaque. Veterinary dental examinations are also recommended twice a year to treat and prevent bad breath.

About Basepaws

Basepaws is a leading innovator in pet biotechnology, committed to researching and discovering new knowledge that will help veterinarians better care for their patients. Basepaws helps veterinarians set standards for health and wellbeing and provides the tools necessary to enable proactive health interventions and real health care. In their mission to bring more pets to the vet for proactive care, they developed an early detection dental health test that provides pet parents with information on whether their cat needs veterinary care before clinical signs become apparent.