Thursday 10 July 2008

My cat smells bad

Cat at a veterinarian's surgery. Photo by McBeth

If you say, "My cat smells bad", it is certainly not the cat's fault. If a human smells bad it is probably because the person is not clean and therefore the person's fault. Cats instinctively keep clean through very regular grooming.

A cat that smells bad is 99% certain to be ill. The illness may be a viral infection that has become a secondary infection (bacterial infection). It may be bad breath caused by gum disease. Or for the Bengal cat there is a condition called Bengal cat smelly poo! Yes, their poop can be smelly which can make the cat smell a bit.

Bengal cat can have smelly poo! Photo: Helmi Flick

There are a number of possibilities and only a qualified person (a veterinarian at first call) is able to diagnose the reason.

All the cats I have known and all the cats I have loved and lived with have smelled lovely. Cats groom themselves frequently using their saliva and versatile tongue. As a result they are clean, unlike some (few) humans. If a cat cannot groom her/him self it will be due to illness (if there is no grooming) or overweight (if there is partial grooming). If she is grooming most of her body that she can get to but not those parts she cannot get to because of her size she will still smell nice.

There are other possibilities if you think "my cat smells bad". Smell is subjective. A person may not like the smell of a cat. This is unlikely because it is a nice neutral type of smell but definitely pleasant.

Another possibility is that she is giving off pheromones (a scent from her glands) if she is on heat (in an estrus cycle - see cat heat behavior or cat pregnancy). This smell is designed to attract a male for mating. The smell is musk-like. Your cat should be spayed (altered) if she is not a breeding cat as there are too many domestic cats in the world and very many millions in the USA are euthanized by shelters every year because of lack of space to house them or find suitable homes. Although I would be surprised if she smelled "bad" (the smell is not actually bad) for this reason as most responsible people ensure their cat is neutered/spayed. Breeders nearly always neuter/spay before selling a cat.

I am not a vet but I would favor the likelihood of bad breath as being the most obvious reason for a cat smelling bad. The most common causes of bad breath are:

---kidney disease can lead to mouth ulcers, which in turn lead to infections and bad breath


---tooth disease and gum disease (Gingivitis, periodontal disease, stomatitis - quite common)

This is a must do if you are thinking, "my cat smells bad" - see a veterinarian as soon as possible. This is not normal and is almost certainly due to ill health.

  • (for bad breath)


  1. Well, it is not ALWAYS a matter of disease. My bengal tom (not neutered yet) has a strong smell around his 'behind'. A littlebit like wild cats in a zoo. I actually got used to the smell, so it is not that bad, but it is completely different from other cat's who almost don't have any smell at all. BUt just to give you one more possible reason.

    Good luck!

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