Cats are known for their cleanliness, fastidiously grooming themselves daily, often for long periods of time. It may, therefore, come as a surprise to you to discover an unpleasant aroma following your cat around. A fishy smell is not exactly welcome to most pet owners, so what causes it, and what can you do?
Here are some things to consider if your kitty is making your nose wrinkle.
Your cat smelling a bit like an ocean trawler may be down to something as simple as the food they are eating. Cats are obligate carnivores, gaining their nutrition from a diet rich in animal protein. Most cat diets are therefore mostly made up of meat or fish as the primary ingredient. The type and quality of ingredients can affect your cat’ condition, poos and even their smell! Always choose a diet that is of suitable quality, is complete and balanced for your cat’s age and lifestyle. If you choose to change your cat’s food, remember to introduce any new food gradually over the course of several days to prevent a stomach upset.
Cats have two anal glands, one on each side of the anus. They produce a foul-smelling thick liquid that is usually only discharged when your cat passes faeces. This is perfectly normal, and the smell is usually undetectable when the liquid is excreted normally within the poo. However, cats can empty their anal glands when scared, excited or stressed. This results in a small amount of dark brown liquid, and a terribly fishy smell!
An occasional anal gland emptying incident is normal, but if your cat seems to be constantly leaking smelly discharge, is scooting their back end along the floor, or is licking at their anal region more than usual, take them to your vet for a check-over. Anal gland impactions, infections and abscesses can cause a lot of discomfort as well as the pungent aroma!
It seems to be accepted amongst some cat owners that cats just have bad breath. This isn’t true! A cat’s breath should be fairly neutral, and any bad odours usually indicate a problem. There are a few reasons why your cat’s breath may be breath-takingly stinky.
Dental problems are a really common issue in cats. One large study of 13,900 cats found that 20% of cats over 7 years old had oral disease as their primary complaint (9.9% in those under 7 years), and that oral problems were the most common disease in cats, by a large margin. Dental problems usually start with the accumulation of plaque, which is a layer of bacteria and food. The bacterial presence makes this smelly, leading to halitosis (bad breath). If the plaque is not removed by brushing, it then hardens to tartar (or ‘calculus’) which is clearly visible on the teeth and difficult to remove. Eventually, there will be periodontal disease and tooth loss.
Ulceration and infection
Wounds, infections and ulcers in the mouth can also cause strange smells, which can be fishy in nature. Stomatitis (inflammation of the oral cavity) and gingivostomatitis can cause large areas of inflammation and ulceration. It is a painful condition, and affected cats often have reduced appetites, hypersalivate and may paw at their mouths.
Growths in the mouth can get very large. They may get food stuck around them, or become infected, both of which can cause bad smells to originate from the mouth. You may see other symptoms, such as difficulties in eating, or a lot of drooling.
There are some other conditions that can cause your cat to have bad breath, although not necessarily a fishy smell. Diabetes, kidney disease and liver disease can all cause changes to the smell of your cat’s breath. If you are concerned about an odd smell from your cat, always seek veterinary advice.
If you’re having trouble pinpointing the source of your cat’s fishy odour, it may be a general smell from their whole body or skin. If your cat is a messy eater and a poor groomer, it may be that they just need a little bit of help keeping themselves clean and tidy; especially long-haired and older cats. If your cat seems outwardly clean, but their skin is smelly, greasy or scurfy, they may have a skin condition. Skin infections can cause a musty, potent smell and can be very irritating and itchy for your feline friend. Ear infections are also a common source of bad smells.
Smelly cat: the summary
Feline species are generally clean creatures, and our domestic cats are no exception. A malodourous cat usually means that there may be something amiss. It could be your cat’s diet causing that overwhelming smell of fish, but medical conditions such as anal gland problems, dental disease or skin troubles could be the source. If you’re concerned that your cat has started to whiff a bit, a check-up with a vet is a sensible first step.