How to Fix Your Cat's Bad Breath

Start by brushing their teeth regularly.

cat yawning
Photo: Natalia Ganelin/Getty Images

If your cat puts you off cuddling every time he opens his mouth, the issue may be his teeth. Ward off gum disease, and its pernicious effects on both his breath and his overall health, by brushing them at least every other day, says Mary Krakowski Volker, DVM, a member of the American Veterinary Dental College Advocacy Committee. Gently hold his head with your non-dominant hand and lift his lips (upper, then lower) with that thumb, so you can reach the teeth in each quadrant with the other hand.

"Get him used to it with just fingers, while rewarding him with petting and treats," says Krakowski Volker. Then gradually introduce a soft children's-size toothbrush. (Use feline toothpaste if he likes it, but water alone works, too.) If the foul odor remains even after a period of regular brushing—especially if he shows other signs of oral discomfort—head to your vet, as it could be a symptom of something more serious.

"Taking care of pets' teeth is the number-one thing you can do to promote a better quality of life, and a longer one," says Daniel T. Carmichael, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist with the Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island, in West Islip, New York. (To make daily cleaning manageable, add it to a routine you already have, such as washing your cat's bowl.) If your pet resists, "put a little tuna juice on your finger, lift up his lips, and brush his teeth," Carmichael added.

Regardless of whether or not brushing clears up your kitten's bad breath, regular dental check-ups are still recommended. "Cats should have their oral health evaluated annually, as part of a routine checkup," says Gary Richter, an integrative veterinarian and owner of Holistic Veterinary Care, in Oakland, California. If these check-ups reveal anything of concern, your vet may perform a more thorough examination, along with a deep cleaning that will have your cat smiling again in a flash.

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