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


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

What causes halitosis in cats?

Halitosis is caused by:

  • bacteria associated with plaque
  • calculus or tartar
  • decomposing food particles retained within periodontal pockets
  • persistent bleeding due to coagulation abnormalities, and
  • tissue necrosis.

Contrary to common belief, neither normal lung air nor stomach aroma contribute to halitosis. The most common cause of halitosis in cats is periodontal disease from plaque (biofilim). Plaque bacteria attach over the freshly cleaned and polished tooth as soon as the cat starts to salivate. Within days, the plaque becomes mineralized, producing rough tartar which accumulates more plaque and causes inflammation of the gingiva. As plaque ages and gingivitis progresses into periodontitis (tooth support loss), the bacterial flora changes from "good" bacteria to destructive bacteria.

While this is occurring, the periodontal ligament becomes infected causing destruction of tooth support. The primary cause of bad breath in cats is the bad bacteria causing putrefaction that generates smelly sulfur compounds.

Volatile sulfur compounds may also play a role in periodontal disease affecting the integrity of the tissue barrier, allowing endotoxins to produce periodontal destruction, endotoxemia, and bacteremia.

How is halitosis treated?

Treatment of halitosis in the cat involves eliminating the cause(s). First, the teeth need to be thoroughly cleaned and polished under general anesthesia. Cleaning removes plaque and calculus above and below the gum line (with the help of hand instruments and scaler tips designed to be used under the gum line).

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

When periodontal pockets are small or when bleeding is found on probing, local antimicrobial administration may help to reduce halitosis by decreasing bleeding and diminishing pocket depths.

How can halitosis be prevented?

Fortunately, there are products that can be purchased to decrease the accumulation of plaque once the teeth are clean.  The Veterinary Oral Health Council accepts such products. Accepted products are listed at

Oral care products containing zinc can inhibit the formation of odor through their affinity to sulfur. Zinc and hydrogen sulfide form the insoluble, zinc sulfide. Zinc also interferes with microbial proliferation and calcification of microbial deposits that can cause halitosis.

After the causes of halitosis have been identified and eliminated, daily plaque control is an essential part of controlling and preventing halitosis from recurring.

Daily application of Q-tip to the gums/tooth interface is recommended. Dipping the Q-tip on tuna water is recommended as this will help slow the accumulation of plaque. Twice a year veterinary dental examinations are also recommended to help treat and prevent halitosis.

About Basepaws

Basepaws is a leading innovator in pet biotechnology and is committed to research and discovering new knowledge that will help veterinary professionals provide better care for their patients. Basepaws helps veterinary professionals to set standards for health and wellness and provides the necessary tools to empower proactive health interventions and true preventative healthcare. In their mission to bring more pets to the veterinarian for proactive care, they’ve developed an early detection dental health test that is able to provide pet parents with knowledge of their cat requiring veterinary care before any clinical signs become apparent.

Related Videos
Heather E. Lewis interview
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.