Thursday, January 12, 2012

Killer Breath

I try to keep things positive on this blog, but I have to say it: Snalbert's breath could kill someone elderly, frail, or with a compromised immune system. He has the worst breath of any cat I've ever known. If he's on the floor near my chair and opens his mouth to yawn or talk to me, I practically keel over. When I give him his blood-pressure pill at night, it's almost enough to make my hair stand on end. I have to hold my own breath until he's swallowed and the air has cleared a bit.

I'm lazy and I don't brush the cats' teeth. I'd planned to get Wendy and Possum used to it when they were kittens, but we were too overwhelmed with nursing everyone through ringworm, several intestinal parasites and infections, and virulent calici virus (not to forget Snicky's inflammatory bowel disease and chronic renal failure) to deal with teeth. My, those were the days.

But I've never brushed any cat's teeth and I've never been confronted with such killer breath. Greenies, those crunchy treats that are supposed to clean cats' teeth and sweeten their breath, have zero impact on Snabby's awesome stench. I asked the vet about it. She bravely sniffed and said it was just "typical old-man cat breath," not caused by gingivitis or any other disease.

Typical old-man cat breath. Wow. If we could harness that powerful elixir, we could probably take over the world. Not that I'd want to... although I'd like to see us all have world peace, universal health care and education, the end of poverty, the end of sports talk radio, and cures for cancer and dementia.... Snalbert would probably just want universal cheese and free laptops and wireless for all cats.

But until we figure out how to bottle the stuff, I'd settle for a remedy for his grody old-man cat breath. Eew.


  1. Er - Snalbert DID take over the world - the intertubez.

    I hear you on the as yet EPA unregulated toxic cat breath. I'm surprised that there aren't cat breath alarms which alert one to toxic air - akin to CO alarms. Summon the haz mat team! Rescue the inhabitants. Air out the premises! All hands on deck!

  2. PB: Since you aren't a Tull fan, maybe it should be Locomotive Breath?

  3. Please seek a second opinion from a different vet: serious halitosis is nearly always an indicator that something is wrong (e.g., liver, kidney, or lung disease). Here's a handy vet page that explains some of the possibilities and gives hints as to the kinds of odors that are associated with different conditions:

    In the meanwhile keep an eye out for other symptoms such as swelling, bleeding from the gums, drooling, appetite changes, drinking, etc.

    Good luck, and please let us know what happens.

  4. Thank you for your advice, VL. It was a superior version of what I'd have written if I were reading someone else's post on killer cat breath. Snalbert gets full check-ups twice a year and blood and urine tests quarterly. His chronic renal failure is moderate but fairly stable right now. So we're pretty sure he's okay otherwise.

    The other thing is: he's had this rotten breath for a long time! I think the vet first started telling me he was okay more than a year ago. Even so, I'll definitely mention it the next time he's in.

    At 16-1/2, he's too old for dentistry, but fortunately his teeth and gums seem to be in good condition.

    I may just be oversensitive, or perhaps it's the food we feed him. He's the only one of our cats who talks all the time, so I get many more nose-fulls of him than usual.

    Thank you again for your concern, and for writing and sending the link. You are clearly a caring and wise cat person!

  5. Dear PB,

    I've only recently discovered your lovely, eminently proper blog, and have been slowly making my way through old posts, so I didn't realize Snalbert has chronic renal disease. I'm usually loath to offer advice-- well, ok, I'm not, actually, it's just that my sense of propriety is usually strong enough to restrain me--but I've seen so many animals (and people) mis-diagnosed that I figured it was better to risk my being perceived as intrusive than to risk a cat being mis-perceived as healthy. Please forgive my lapse, all the more egregious since you obviously are already very knowledgeable about cats. Motherly (motherish?) anxiety got the best of me.

    Thank you for being so gracious!

  6. Hi VL,

    I'm delighted you wrote again and that you like the blog. Thanks so much for your kind words!

    I think we have the same motherish instincts about cats whose owners might be ignoring some health issue. I used to spend a ton of time responding to questions on, in the health and behavior forums, for that reason. There are lots of new or inexperienced cat people writing there, and many can't/won't visit the vet unless they realize it's urgent, often because they're so strapped financially. They're often desperate for advice so, if you've got any time and energy to spare, I know that the experienced advisers there would welcome for your knowledge and support.

    I ultimately burned out — after getting deeply worried about some very ignorant and rude kitten owners, but I'm just about recovered. I will start getting busy there again one of these days.

  7. Dear PB,

    I relate to the burnout--indeed, I find comment threads to be among the most convincing pieces of evidence that democracy is doomed. Which is why I periodically stop reading/posting to them.

    Your blog, however, provides evidence of quite a different sort: wry, warm, and clever, your writing has a lively grace that spurs me out of the doldrums I sink into after too heavy a dose of reality. Thank you, and please keep it up!


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