Ask a Vet: Why Does My Cat Smell Bad?


I have a 14 year old female cat. In the last couple of weeks she got this odor of rotten smelly feet. It is really really bad. I was wondering if you had any ideas.


Healthy, clean cats and dogs should not smell bad. A medical condition, often involving an infection with bacteria, usually causes a persistently strong smell emanating from a pet.

Skin problems are among the most common. Cats may suffer skin infections with yeast or bacteria that can lead to an unpleasant odor and are often accompanied by hair loss, itching, or visibly red and inflamed skin.

Cats who are unable to groom themselves because of old age or obesity may soil or contaminate the skin with urine, feces, or debris and thus smell bad. These problems are most common in cats that are not able to groom themselves.

Dental disease occurs with tragic frequency in feline companions. The syndrome is characterized by teeth that become infected with bacteria, which smell bad and cause bad breath. Since cats groom themselves with their mouths, the odor can be spread all over the hair and skin.

Other sorts of infections also may cause the sort of odor that you describe. Abscesses (which usually occur as a result of fighting) smell incredibly awful. Bladder infections may cause the hind end to become significantly malodorous.

Some other conditions that aren’t related to bacteria or yeast also may cause a cat bad smells. For instance, complications from kidney disease and diabetes can lead to halitosis (and, consequently, fur that smells bad).

Karyn, you should start by looking for obvious problems. Lift your cat’s tail and look underneath it for contamination with feces or urine. Check to make sure your cat’s coat doesn’t contain mats that are wet and stinky.

If you can’t find anything, then a veterinary examination and possibly blood and urine tests are in order. Most of the conditions I have mentioned cause more than just a bad odor, and your cat may have a serious medical condition that needs to be treated.

However, be aware that over the course of my career I have seen several instances where an owner’s perception that his or her cat smelled bad was, in fact, just that. People with heightened senses of smell sometimes begin to think their pets have developed an odor, when in fact nothing is wrong.

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