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Why Does My Cat Stink Like Fish? (Dirt or Natural?)

If your cat is smelling like fish you may be getting worried or just wondering what is causing this. And, if there is anything you can do about it… 

Why does my cat stink like fish?

That fish scent is coming from two anal glands which you cat has, that are located on either side of your cat’s anus. Typically, you aren’t going to notice a scent, but when your cat is frightened or even when they get excited, they can expel this odor much like a startled skunk.

So, now you know. But, how can you prevent this smell? What is the best way to clean your cat? Do cats even like being bathed? Keep reading for these answers, and much more…

Is this “fishy” smell normal?

Tuna fish.

Tuna fish.

While it’s certainly less noticeable than what a skunk would produce, you’ll definitely smell it and it’s completely normal – unless it is happening frequently. If this is something new that your cat is doing and it’s happening quite often, it could be a sign of tumors or other issues, and a vet trip is going to be a good idea.

How can you prevent your cat from stinking like fish?

As it is a response to being surprised or getting excited, there is very little that you can do about this odor other than spray a little air freshener, unless you want to resort to surgery. The scent isn’t a long-lasting one, typically going away within a minute or two.

That said, if it is a regular occurrence, bring your cat into the vet. It could be an infection; in which case your vet will likely express and rinse the anal sacs and give your cat some antibiotics and this may take care of the issue.

Your vet can actually remove the anal sacs, but any surgery should be considered as a last resort after your vet has investigated the issue.

How do you clean a smelly cat?

You need to be slow and careful when cleaning your cat and to start with, you’ll want some cat-specific shampoo. Using a spray bottle or a pitcher of water, you want to start by wetting the nape of the cat’s neck and working your way back to the tip of the tail.

Avoid getting the face wet or you’ll have an upset kitty – cats really hate having a wet face and if your cat has a temper, gloves might be a good idea for the bathing process, and ideally you can put them in the tub and shut the bathroom door.

Lather in your cat-specific shampoo, being careful to keep away from the face and your cats’ eyes, and keep a washcloth handy just in case you miss and need to clean kitty’s face to get the soap away from their eyes.

Be thorough in your washing, making sure to get the belly, tail, armpits… you can also use cotton balls to clean the ears once you take them out of the water. Once cleaned, dry your cat off with 1 (or 2 if they are long-haired) towels and you are done!

Note:  You can’t force them to take a bath and if your cat is absolutely not having it, you may have to settle for spot-cleaning with a sponge. Forcing them can stress your cat out and even get a little dangerous, as your little cherub is well-armed unless they have been declawed. Use your best judgement and be prepared!

Do cats like bathing?

Two washed kittens.

Two washed kittens.

Cat’s love baths – just not from you! Your cat grooms themselves quite often and generally they do a very good job of it and should not require your assistance. Giving your cat a bath will generally stress them out and they will make you quite aware of their opinion on it.

Some cats actually don’t mind, but usually these cats have been introduced to water at an early age. Most cats… well, let’s just say that if you need to help them to bathe, you will likely only be able to quickly clean specific spots.

How do I make my cat smell better without bathing it?

If your cat is constantly smelling then you may have a problem. Cats are very private creatures and have a habit of making themselves scarce when something is going on. Skin irritation can be hard to see and can sometimes cause odors. Impacted anal glands are another common reason that cats can get stinky.

Finally, ear infections are also a possibility, so watch your cat to look for their paws going to their ears often. A vet visit is the best way to get to the bottom of any untoward scents but if you can’t see the vet right away, try getting some kitty wipes and giving your cat some daily cleanings to see if this helps.

Why does my cat’s fur smell bad?

If your cat has bad-smelling fur, especially if it looks like it is getting matty and feels greasy to the touch, then they may have stopped grooming themselves. This is something that should definitely warrant a visit to the vet.

Cats are very fastidious about their cleaning, so when they stop grooming then it could be a sign of hyperthyroidism, cat diabetes, or some other serious condition that you’ll want to get a handle on now. Schedule a vet appointment as soon as you can and get it checked out!

Why does my cat’s breath smell like fish?

If your cat’s breath smells like fish even when they haven’t eaten fish recently, then it could be a sign that something is wrong with your cats’ teeth. If your cat only eats soft food, add a little crunchy food to their diet. This helps to clean off plaque from their teeth so a little crunchy food every now and again is a good idea.

In rare cases, foul breath can be a sign of kidney disease, so check with your vet to rule this out. Most commonly it’s simply going to be a dental issue, and in those cases your vet can recommend some products that you can mix in your cat’s water to help deal with gingivitis so that you can minimize or possibly even eliminate kitty halitosis.

Why do my cats like to smell stinky stuff so much?

When you see your cat investigating something stinky like feces, watch their faces closely. You’ll typically see them curl their lips slightly, and then they suddenly look surprised. Some people call it a ‘poo face’, but the official name is the ‘Flehman response’.

What happens with this is that your cat is simultaneously smelling and tasting a scent and when you see that tongue sticking out there is a reason. That tongue can trap things like pheromones, flicking them to the roof of their mouths, to travel through 2 ducts behind their teeth where the scent-bits are carried next to your cat’s ‘Jacobson’s organs’.

This gives them a more comprehensive picture of the scent and is the same technique that snakes use to smell important olfactory data about their surroundings. To put it simply, your cat likes smelling stinky things because he or she has ‘HD Smell-o-vision’!

What causes a cat’s butt to stink?

Most commonly this is going to be an issue with your cat’s anal glands, but you can also get some kitty wipes if you notice any fecal matter becoming stuck in their fur. This most commonly occurs with long-hair cats so some regular kitty-wipe grooming might be just what you need.

If you are not seeing fecal matter in the fur, then this could be an indicator that your cat is ill and a vet visit is going to be the quickest way to ’get to the bottom’ of the issue.

What causes a cat’s skin to smell bad?

Most commonly your cat has been startled and after expressing their anal glands, immediately grooming might distribute the scent. While it normally goes away quickly on its own, with long haired cats it can take a bit longer if they’ve spread the scent by immediate grooming.

Skin infection is another possibility but can be hard to detect. If you notice your cat grooming one area heavily, put on some gloves and gently try to get a closer look to see if the skin is red or irritated.

Finally, if your cat smells bad regularly, a vet checkup is your best bet to determine what is going on. Cats are very secretive and it’s hard to tell when they are experiencing discomfort, so a few tests at your veterinary clinic should quickly determine your next steps.

Lindsey Browlingdon