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Why Does My Cat Smell Bad?

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It's not natural for a cat to smell bad. Find out what might be wrong and how to fix it.

It's not natural for a cat to smell bad. Find out what might be wrong and how to fix it.

My Cat Smells Bad—What Can I Do?

One of the best parts of owning a cat is the low-maintenance aspect. Usually, a simple, once-a-day scoop of the litter box is about all the maintenance a cat needs other than food and water—and, of course, affection.

But sometimes, these normally very clean creatures can develop grooming or skin issues that can cause them to smell bad.

If your cat normally kept him or herself clean but suddenly develops an odor or poor grooming habits, it may be time to take them to the vet or give them a little extra boost to keep them fresh.

There are five common reasons a cat may develop odors, which include:

  1. Illness
  2. Infection
  3. Mouth Issues
  4. Old Age
  5. Fur Issues

Some of these issues can be corrected, and some will mean that you will need to give your cat extra care.

1. Bad Odors Could Be a Sign of Illness

One of the first suspects causing your cat to smell bad may be some type of illness. They could either have an illness that makes them too tired to groom themselves or the illness itself could be making them smell bad.

Check your cat for other signs. Have they lost weight? Been in a fight? Are they still eating? All of these could lead to problems with cleanliness and grooming.

2. Check Your Smelly Cat for Signs of Infection

Sometimes, if an animal has an infection, it may smell bad. Infections can hide, especially if the cat has longer fur that could hide any injuries or wounds easily. Check the cat carefully, noticing any tender spots. Also check for fleas, as reactions to flea bites can turn into scabby sores that can, in turn, smell bad.

If your cat does have an infection, they most likely will need an antibiotic issued by a licensed vet to help clear it up.

Sometimes the cat may have tooth issues that contribute to its overall bad smell.

Sometimes the cat may have tooth issues that contribute to its overall bad smell.

3. Mouth or Tooth Issues in Cats

Sometimes cats, especially older ones, can develop bad breath. This, in turn, affects the quality of their saliva. So when they groom themselves, the bad smell from their mouth transfers to their coat.

If you have more than one cat and the cats groom each other, it may also make the other cats smell bad.

You will need to examine your cat's mouth and see if their breath might be the culprit. Bad breath is usually caused by tooth decay or can also be a sign of chronic illness such as kidney failure.

Either issue will require a vet visit for either a tooth extraction and cleaning or possible treatments to help the cat with kidney function loss (usually this is a condition that can't be reversed, unfortunately).

Consider Changing to a Different Type of Cat Food

If the problem was tooth decay, consider changing the cat food you are using to a higher quality, premium cat food and make sure the cat gets either dry cat food or dry treats every day. The dry food or treats helps to clean the teeth and mouth and premium foods contain fewer additives and sugars, which contribute to tooth decay.

As an added bonus, premium food can help reduce the incidents of smelly, solid waste from your cat as well. Fewer additives equal less waste.

4. High-Maintenance Fur Can Smell Bad

Some cats have high-maintenance fur. It may be extra long or dry. The dryness can also be caused by bad diet as well as genetics, so a switch to a better cat food may help this issue.

Cats such as Persians may get tangles in their fur, making that spot hard to clean. Having regular scheduled brushing or groomer visits may help cut down on this problem for cats with hard-to-maintain fur.

Some cats with long or dry fur may have trouble grooming it completely.

Some cats with long or dry fur may have trouble grooming it completely.

5. Old Age Can Lead to Bad Odors

When cats get older, just like people, routine tasks become harder. Your cat may feel too tired or stiff to thoroughly groom him or herself anymore.

Your cat may not only smell bad, but their fur is likely to look a bit disheveled and not as smooth and shiny as it was when they were younger. If this happens, it may be time to think about washing your cat or having him or her groomed professionally.

How to Clean Your Cat

If you need to bathe your cat, you have several options:

  • You can bathe them at home in a bathtub or sink.
  • You can use pet wipes or dry shampoo.

If you are bathing your pet the traditional way, be sure to get some help, have plenty of dry towels ready, and take your time. Most cats don't enjoy the experience but will tolerate it if the environment is quiet and it is an owner that they trust.

An alternative is to purchase pet wipes or dry shampoo. These are especially good if your cat is older or is sick, and you don't want to stress them out too much.

How to Prevent Odor Problems

Some of these issues are preventable. Once corrected, you don't want the smell issues to come back. You can keep your cat cleaner by:

  • Keeping them inside
  • Taking them to regular vet check-ups
  • Brushing them
  • Switching to a premium food

Unless your cat has a rare genetic condition, it should not smell bad. Trying to figure out what is wrong and correcting the problem will make you and your cat happier and less smelly.

Cats are naturally clean animals.  So if your cat is smelling bad, there is likely a problem.

Cats are naturally clean animals. So if your cat is smelling bad, there is likely a problem.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Since we have moved homes, my cat is over-grooming herself and has a bald patch on her side, she also smells odd. What do you think the problem is?

Answer: She is likely stressed from the move. She probably smells bad because of the over grooming and she may even have an infection. I would suggest finding a vet and having her checked out. She might need some temporary medication until she settles into her new place. Cats don't love change.

Question: Can I spray perfume on my cat?

Answer: Unless it is a powder specifically designed for cats, do NOT spray your cat with human perfume. Cats are neat and lick themselves. The chemicals in human perfume may sicken or kill them. I have read of people putting items such as essential oils on their cat. This is also a bad idea. The cats with the oils on them got really sick, and some died. Cats have sensitive livers and kidneys; using strange chemicals on them may cause irreparable harm.

Question: I have a kitten who is 12 to 14 days old. I have cleaned and washed it, but it still smells really bad. I have also observed that he has some red marks on his face. Can you tell me what happened to him?

Answer: It may have an infection. Contact a vet and have him checked out.

© 2013 L C David


Winnie on July 14, 2018:

I have recently adopted a street cat probably about 3 months age.. He is beautiful except that currently the flea eggs is still lingering around his body and some spots on the neck and ears (probably due to the flea so he keeps scratching here and there). On the third day I noticed that he smelled somewhat so stinky..

I observed that he licks his body a lot. I bet it is caused by stressed due to moving to a new environment..

Have yet brought him to the vet because they are closed. It has only been 3 days. Fingers crossed.

Max on June 18, 2018:

Hello I have recently bought a kitten who is about 12 to 13 days. He smells really bad.I wash him once a day and also clean his litter box twice a day but still he smells bad.Do u have any suggestion what should I do??

Willie on December 12, 2017:

Hello I have a 14 year old male cat who has lost a lot of weight he drinks but seems very tired all the time. Sleeps about 23 hours. doesn't seem to want to eat and has a very bad smell (Rotten) coming from his mouth and coat. drinks and uses the litter box with no problems.

Pat on November 28, 2017:

My cat is about 20 yearsold with long fur. He smells and his fur is ugly now. He needs help.

L C David (author) from Florida on November 11, 2017:

Yes! Sounds like that is probably the issue. She will smell better and feel better after her dental work.

CC on November 01, 2017:

Thanks, I feel silly that I didn't put two and two together that she's transferring her bad breath stink to her fur! I wondered why she was getting smellier, she's on high quality food, fabulous coat that's well groomed, and quite healthy, just has some moderate tartar issues we've been putting off handling till she settled in (she's adopted). Time for a kitty dental appointment to go on the books!

Belinda on October 24, 2017:

My cat is 3 years old and is a Koran. The cat’s breath and butt has always smelled really bad since he was a little kitten. I had his teeth cleaned and the vet said he had gum disease but it didn’t improve at all and he hates teeth brushing what can I do

L C David (author) from Florida on August 08, 2017:

Can you carefully give him a bath? There are cat safe shampoos at your local pet supply store. That being said, older cats to get an older. They just can't groom as well as they could when they were younger.

Valarie on August 04, 2017:

My cat is over 15 years old. About 6 years ago took him to the vet for bad breath and his tongue was sticking out. Was told he had a bad tooth and could be cancerous. Was told if extracted the disease could spread. He's still physically active, has an appetite and uses the litter box. He has bad body order and his fur is stiff. What should I do, don't want to put him down but can't afford veterinary care

L C David (author) from Florida on April 19, 2017:

That is very strange but it must have something to do with the tongue reacting to the skin.

catowner899 on April 18, 2017:

I have two cats, one is around 12 years old and while she doesn't normally smell bad, the moment she starts grooming herself her fur smells of burnt hair. It's not bad breath nor any apparent skin problem. Don't think it's the food as my other cat doesn't have this smell yet they eat the same food. Has anyone noticed something similar? Any updates on LouLou's cat smelling of 'burnt plastic'? (Mine surely didn't roll in anything, as the smell is fairly regular and only comes up while grooming.)

L C David (author) from Florida on January 22, 2017:

That does sound like she has rolled in something. Is her fur sticky at all? Have you checked her skin underneath the fur to see if there is anything sticky or any abrasions? She might need a bath. If she continues to smell bad and you don't see signs of infection you may need to bathe her (get some work gloves or make a grooming appointment).

LouLou on January 21, 2017:

My cat aged 10 has come in with her fur smelling of burnt plastic, she is not harmed and her fur is not wet, burnt, discoloured just smells, I thought if it was something she had rolled in it would have gone by now, but it's still quite string, please help

L C David (author) from Florida on November 21, 2016:

There could be an anal sack issue (such as a blockage) which would cause the smell and the marking issue. Hopefully the vet can look at her and figure out what is going on.

L C David (author) from Florida on November 21, 2016:

Some cats seem to have what I call "absorbent fur" and whatever they are around is the smell they absorb. Usually they will be better in a few minutes unless they accidentally got some waste on their fur.

Mary on November 14, 2016:

My cat has been making poo marks on the carpet for awhile on & off but stinks all the time! I do clean her more often with a towel but going to try pet wipes tell i can get her to the vet in few weeks. Curious what others do for this when don't have lots of $ also put out extra water & give cat nip on there nody. I think it might ne an infection though

Anonymous on November 10, 2016:

Whenever my cat uses the litter, she makes herself stinky... I don't know why she does this at all.

L C David (author) from Florida on September 02, 2014:

Sounds like she might need to be seen by a vet. When cats aren't feeling well they may stop actively grooming. It could be as simple as having her teeth looked at. If she is older, tooth decay can cause bad breath and hurt, making her feel bad all over.

denise on September 01, 2014:

my cat has been sleeping a lot and has a bad smell to her mouth and a scub on her nose

L C David (author) from Florida on May 02, 2014:

I hope that they can figure out what is going on with your cat!

andria on May 02, 2014:

My cat who is 2 years old recently had parasites..The vet treated him along with my other 2 cats ( including one whom we recently rescued) Nikkou. . The one with the now also smelly n has blood in stool.The vet tested stool again 2 more times n has given probiotics..I am now insisting on a blood test n am in tears

L C David (author) from Florida on July 21, 2013:

That's hilarious. I guess smelling like flowers is a plus. I have a cat who seems to absorb whatever smell he is around. When we cook dinner, his fur smells like dinner for awhile afterwards. When he goes to the litter box...well, you get the idea.

Thanks for coming by!

moonlake from America on July 21, 2013:

We have one cat we have to take in to have groomed. His hair is a mess all the time. We actually get him shaved he looks good and seems to feel comfortable. We once had a cat that smelled like flowers all the time never figured out why. Voted up.