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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

About two weeks ago, my cat, who is about 4 years of age, started losing lots of weight, his breath started smelling horrible (like he just ate poop) and his fur turned greasy and smelly. When he sleeps with me at night on my pillow I’ll wake up to my hair smelling like his and being just as grease-filled. He hesitates when he tries to eat, and when he tries it seems to be hard for him chew, so he just doesn’t. I’ve gave him wet food and he seems to be able to eat it, but I can’t have him live on it for budget reasons.

Before he got like this he would eat regular cat food and throw it up soon after, it being not digested in the least bit, still full pieces.

His gums are all normal colored, if that helps at all. I poked around in his mouth and nothing seems to agitate him, which to me ruled out a sore or bad tooth in the mouth. Should I take him to the vet or does someone know what it could be and what I could do to help?

~Ashley

Siouxsie: Let’s start by looking at the possible causes of these symptoms. First of all, major weight loss occurs when a cat doesn’t eat, either because he’s suffering from pain, because he doesn’t feel well, or because he’s depressed.

Thomas: A cat’s fur gets greasy when he stops grooming. Cats usually stop grooming when they don’t feel well.

Dahlia: You say your cat is having difficulty chewing his food, so he swallows the kibbles whole and then regurgitates them.

Siouxsie: All of these symptoms definitely seem to point to something wrong in your cat’s mouth.

Thomas: Dental problems are not the only cause of pain in a cat’s mouth and bad breath. If your cat has a foreign body such as a bone, hair, grass awn, or plant material stuck in his mouth, these can cause irritation and infection, which can lead to bad breath and reluctance to eat.

Dahlia: If your cat has an abscessed tooth, resorptive lesion (a “cat cavity,” which usually occurs at or near the gum line) or gum disease, that can make eating difficult and can cause bad breath.

Siouxsie: If your cat has an ulcer or tumor in his mouth, perhaps under his tongue or back by his throat, this too can cause bad breath and discomfort.

Thomas: Lung diseases can also be a culprit in bad breath situations, but because your cat’s bad breath is accompanied by other signs of oral discomfort, we think lung disease is less likely to be causing your cat’s problem.

Dahlia: Kidney failure can also cause bad breath, but usually when the kidneys fail, the breath smells like acetone (nail polish remover) rather than feces. Also, kidney failure is pretty uncommon in younger cats; it’s usually a disease that happens in cats that are more than 10 years old.

Siouxsie: The short answer to your question, Ashley, is that it’s very unlikely there’s anything you can do at home to fix your cat’s problem.

Thomas: But since your cat clearly is sick, and will only get sicker if he refuses to eat, he does need to see a vet pretty soon.

Dahlia: Even though you didn’t notice anything wrong with your cat’s teeth or gums, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with his mouth.

Siouxsie: It’s quite possible that even if your cat does have a resorptive lesion or abscessed tooth, your finger pressure might not hurt but trying to chew food will.

Thomas: Your vet will do an oral exam on your cat to see if he or she can find any foreign objects, infections, or tumors in his mouth. The vet may also do X-rays of your cat’s teeth and jaws and probe his teeth and gums to detect possible disease.

Dahlia: Once your vet has figured out what’s wrong and your cat gets the treatment he needs, he should be back to his old self pretty quickly. You should call your vet pretty soon if you haven’t already, because as we said, failure to eat can make your cat very, very sick.

Siouxsie: You’ll probably have to keep feeding your cat canned food until whatever is causing his problems is treated, because it’s crucial that he gets adequate nutrition.

Thomas: Good luck, Ashley. Please let us know how things turn out.

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