Why Does My Cat Stink?

Photo of Ragdoll Cat Casper
Getty / Alex Barlow

Do you have a stinky cat? Cats are generally known for their cleanliness. Most are fastidious self-groomers, which keeps them free of dirt and odors. However, you may sometimes find that your cat smells bad. Although some cat odors are harmless or easy to fix, others can mean there is a health problem.

Why Does My Cat Stink?

The best way to figure out why your cat stinks is to determine the source of the odor. Is your cat just stinky around the head or face? The rear end? Do you notice an odor on a particular part of the coat or does it seem to be all over? Asking these questions is the first step in addressing the problem with your stinky cat. Once you know where to odor is coming from, you will have a better chance of helping your cat.

Causes of Odors in Cat

There are several potential reasons for bad odors in cats. Once you are able to determine the location of the odor, you may be able to figure out the root cause. In many cases, your cat will need to go to the veterinarian. If you are unable to determine the source of the odor, it's still important to contact your vet.

Mouth

Some people assume it's normal for cats to have bad breath. However, halitosis in cats is usually a sign of a health problem. Temporary mouth odors may be caused by something the cat ate. However, consistently bad breath calls for a visit to the veterinarian.

Dental disease is probably the most common cause of bad breath in cats. Plaque and tartar buildup has a foul odor due to its bacteria content. The buildup can cause gingivitis and lead to gum disease. The odor may become worse and the teeth and gums can become permanently damaged. Your vet will likely recommend professional dental cleaning.

Ulcers, growths, and wounds in the mouth can develop an unpleasant odor if left untreated. Bacteria in the mouth can make these worse. These lesions may be caused by stomatitis or some other problem. Not only are this very bad-smelling; they are usually also very uncomfortable for the cat. Your vet should examine your cat to determine the next steps.

Rear End

If the foul odor is coming from the area around the base of the tail, chances are it's a problem around the anus.

Flatulence is normal in humans and animals, and cats are no exception. If your cat is passing gas frequently or it has an extremely bad smell, there may be a gastrointestinal problem. An inappropriate diet can cause stinky gas, so changing cat food may help. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if your cat is still very gassy after a diet change.

Diarrhea can leave traces of loose stool around the rear end. It may be difficult for the cat to keep up with grooming if diarrhea keeps happening. If your cat has had diarrhea for two or more days, it's time to see a veterinarian. There are a variety of potential causes for diarrhea in cats, ranging from minor to serious.

Constipation causes stool to back up in the colon, making the cat strain to defecate. The hard, impacted stool might not pass, but sometimes liquid stool is able to pass. This can get on your cat around the rear end and tends to smell especially foul. Get your cat to the vet within a day if you suspect constipation. This is a very uncomfortable situation for the cat and is sometimes a sign of a more serious health issue.

Anal glands are tiny sacs located just outside a cat's anus. They contain an oily, putrid, somewhat fishy-smelling fluid that is normally expressed during defecation. The fluid may also be released during acute fear, stress, or excitement (similar to a skunk's scent glands). In some cases, the anal glands can become inflamed, infected, or impacted. Some of the fluid can seep out, leaving a very foul odor on a cat that doesn't seem to go away. These cats may scoot and rub their rear ends or lick the anus obsessively. If you think your cat is having anal gland problems, be sure to contact your vet for an appointment.

Perianal fistulas are wounds in and around the anal area that have a tunnel-like structure. Though these are relatively uncommon in cats they can be very serious. Perianal fistulas as extremely uncomfortable and highly malodorous. They can lead to or occur in conjunction with other GI problems and often require surgical treatment. If you see wounds around your cat's anus, schedule a vet appointment right away.

Skin and Coat

If your cat's odor seems to be coming from all over the body, then it might be a problem with the skin and coat. A bath may help if your cat is noticeably dirty. However, if your cat looks relatively clean, there may be something deeper going on.

Skin infections can cause a cat to have a bad smell overall. If the infection is serious, the cat may have a thinning coat and visible irritated skin. You may notice a greasy, smelly coating on your hands after petting a cat with a major skin infection. The odor is typically caused by bacterial or fungal overgrowth. Be sure to visit the vet at the first signs of skin infections so your cat can be treated before the infection becomes severe.

Wounds on the skin may stay hidden under the hair and become infected. This may cause a foul-smelling discharge (pus) to seep out of the wound. If your cat's body smells bad and you can't seem to find the source, try running your fingers through the coat and looking for wounds. If you find one, see your vet as soon as possible.

Ears

Ear infections are caused by an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria in the ears. Beside scratching and head-shaking, you may notice that your cat's ears smell horrible. Have a look inside to see if there is debris present as this is often a sign of an ear infection. Be sure to visit your vet soon to determine if an ear infection is present and to begin appropriate treatment.

Urinary Problems

Cat urine has a very strong ammonia-like smell that can get smell even worse when there is a problem. Urinary tract infections can cause the urine to smell especially putrid. Incontinence can mean that your cat always seems to smell like pee. If you notice urinary odor on your cat, it's important to see the vet within a day or two before things get worse.

Warning

If your cat is straining to urinate but not actually passing urine, this is an emergency. Your cat may be blocked. Urinary obstructions are extremely life-threatening. Bring your cat to the nearest open vet immediately.

When to Call the Vet

Remember that cats are experts at masking illness. By the time you notice any signs of illness, things might be very serious. Be sure to contact your vet at the earliest signs of illness or if you detect an unusual odor that is not going away.