Why Kittens Smell Bad & What It Could Mean

Aside from kitten breath, kittens really shouldn't smell bad. If yours does, something might be up.

Updated September 7, 2023
Woman smelling her kitten

We all know that puppies can be stinky, but cats are usually meticulously clean. So if you notice an unpleasant smell coming from your kitten, it might come as a bit of a shock. Sometimes, kittens smell bad because they’re going through a normal developmental phase, like teething.

On other occasions, something more serious may cause it, like a parasite or skin infection. Start your search for potential problems by figuring out where on your kitten the smell is coming from, so you can take action and have them smelling like roses again in no time. 

Kitten Odor From the Mouth

Examining a young Cat teeth

If the odor is coming from your kitten's mouth, there are several possible causes.

What to Look For

  • Bad breath
  • Teeth pushing up through the gums
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Drooling
  • Reluctance to eat

Possible Causes

A vet should check any cat with foul-smelling breath out. But in kittens, teething usually causes bad breath. Teething occurs between three weeks and six months of age. Less common causes of stinky breath in kittens include:

  • Periodontal disease (inflamed gums and tooth roots)
  • Stomatitis (a severe, painful inflammation of a cat’s mouth and gums, usually because of advanced periodontal disease) 

What to Do

Take your kitten to the vet for a checkup just to rule out anything serious, but it's most likely that what you're smelling is just "kitten breath" caused by teething. Funky breath during this time is normal and will pass once your kitten finishes teething. However, your vet can look for more serious conditions, such as periodontal disease and stomatitis, which typically occur in older cats.

Quick Tip

To prevent periodontal disease and related problems, start brushing your kitten's teeth as soon as you bring them home. Regularly brushing their teeth will get them used to the process early. 

Smells Coming From the Ears

If a whiff near their ears yields an unpleasant smell, this might be what you're up against.

What to Look For

  • Bad smell coming from the ears
  • Dark or yellowish waxy substance in the ears
  • Shaking the head
  • Scratching at the head or ears
  • Inflammation of the ear canal
Fast Fact

These are all common signs of a yeast infection.

Possible Causes

  • Allergies
  • Moisture
  • Hormonal abnormalities

What to Do

Have your vet examine your kitten, where they'll assess the discharge from your kitty's ears under a microscope to make a diagnosis. If the vet finds evidence of a yeast infection, they'll probably give you drops or an ointment to apply to your kitten's ears at home.

Your vet will also want to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of the infection. Depending on the cause, this condition tends to recur, so they may suggest a regimen of cleaning your kitten's ears at home to prevent repeat infections.

Stinky Kitten Skin

Kitten Resting On Lap

If kitty stinks all over, the smell might be coming from their skin.

What to Look For

  • Smelly pus oozing from the skin
  • Inflamed, reddened lumps under the skin
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Limping

Possible Cause

Abscess (a pocket of infection under the skin which typically results from a puncture wound, such as a bite from another animal)

What to Do

A trip to your veterinarian is definitely in order, because they'll need to sterilely lance and drain the abscess. This usually requires sedation, or, at the very least, pain medications to keep your kitty comfortable. Afterward, your kitten will need antibiotic pills or an antibiotic injection to clear up the infection. 

Need to Know

If the infection is left untreated, it can enter the bloodstream and may be fatal, so prompt medical attention is imperative.

If you have other pets at home, watch for any signs of aggressive behavior toward your kitten. You may need to isolate them for a while as the others adjust to a newcomer. 

Smells From Soiled Kitten Fur 

Sometimes, it's your kitten's fur that smells bad.

What to Look For

  • Feces stuck to the fur
  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Anal gland material on fur

What to Do

To help your cat out and get rid of the stench, gently wipe the fur with a warm, wet washcloth until the area is clean. If you have a long-haired kitten, you may want to clip the fur around their anal area to make it easier for them to clean themselves. 

Unfortunately, diarrhea or loose stools are more likely to cling to the fur. If your kitten has either diarrhea or loose stools for more than a day or two, they need to visit a vet.

Odors Caused By Stool

Smelly stools may also be the culprit.

What to Look For

  • Long-term, smelly, loose stools, sometimes with blood or mucus present
  • Swelling on either side of the anus
  • Scooting their bottom on the floor
  • Pain near the tail or when trying to sit

Possible Causes

What to Do

Your vet will need a fresh stool sample to examine for Tritrichomonas foetus or other parasites. They can then prescribe the best medication for whatever worm is present. Isolate your kitten from any other cats in the household while undergoing treatment, since the parasite is easily passed to other cats sharing a litter box. 

Anal sac disease is uncommon in kittens, but it can happen if the anal gland openings become clogged. Your vet can squeeze the anal sacs manually, though if the sacs are also infected, your vet will give your kitten antibiotics as well.

Gassy Kitten Odors 

If your kitten is a little gas bag, this could signal issues as well.

What to Look For

A little gas is normal for kittens while their digestive tract continues to develop and adjust, but excessive, foul-smelling gas can indicate a problem with your kitten's digestive system.

Possible Causes

  • Parasites
  • Food allergies
  • Dairy products
  • Rich foods
  • Spoiled food
  • Eating too fast
  • Hairballs

What to Do

Consult with your vet about what may be causing your kitten's flatulence. It's possible you only have to change their diet to fix the problem, but intestinal parasites are common in kittens. Your vet will probably want to collect a stool sample to examine for worms or other parasites. The recommended treatment will depend on the cause. 

Switching your kitten to a low-allergen diet or eliminating a certain protein source may be in order. You may be advised to serve smaller, more frequent meals.

When to See a Vet Immediately

Take your kitten to the vet right away if they show any of these symptoms, which may indicate a more serious problem.

Veterinarian examining a kitten
  • Pain when you touch her belly
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Scooting across the floor
  • Bloody bowel movements

Kittens Really Shouldn't Smell Bad

Kittens may be messy, mischievous creatures, but they shouldn't really smell. When your little one smells fishy, musty, or like poop, something is definitely up. It could be as simple as soiled fur on their bottom or something more serious, like a skin abscess. If your nose is telling you something is wrong with your kitten, let your vet sniff out the cause. They can help you find the right treatment and have your little kitten feeling better in no time. 

Why Kittens Smell Bad & What It Could Mean