How can I encourage my stinky cat to wash more?
February 12, 2018 12:47 PM   Subscribe

We adopted an adult cat who had been under stress at his home. I thought the smell was a result of stress. A month later, he is still pretty stinky. I gave him a bath, hoping to encourage him (figured he'd wash himself to dry the fur), but no luck. I brush him daily, which he likes. But aside from licking his paws, and washing his face, not much is happening.

He does clean his butt - there's no odor from that, but his long black fur is matted-looking and I can't stand the odor.
Does anyone have any suggestions to encourage him? Butter on his paws hasn't had any effect.
posted by Enid Lareg to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
You probably know that you can get "cat wipes" at most big pet stores, right? That might at least make it easier for you to get a routine going and get him cleaner overall.

I don't like the strong scents of those, though, so I just use a warm wet washcloth, wipe the cat down nightly, and enjoy the results -- this is mainly for anti-allergy reasons, but the cats seem to like it OK if you do it right. For the first few times, I might use a couple of washcloths. Make sure the cat is warm and dried afterward.

I'm not sure how much this will encourage him, but it might get him used to feeling cleaner and better, and start to de-mat his fur (you should cut the bad parts, for sure -- especially if he's just overwhelmed by the length). Once he gets used to being clean and loved, maybe he'll start taking on more maintenance himself. Maybe?
posted by amtho at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

You brush him, but say his fur is "matted-looking", do you mean it's actually tangled, or that he just doesn't have the look of a healthy cat where his fur is all sleek and shiny? My kitty is prone to bouts of indigestion, and whenever she's having an off week, her fur changes texture (and yes, she sometimes smells funny). I don't think it explicitly has to do with whether she's licking/washing; it's about internal issues - blood sugar, thyroid levels, kidney function, digestion, etc. Given that you just adopted this cat, maybe he's been to the vet recently, but if not, or if this doesn't get better in another month, take him in.
posted by aimedwander at 1:04 PM on February 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Seconding the vet, just in case, if things don’t improve. My awesome vet always takes notice of my cat’s coat, and tells me to be aware of any ‘unkempt’ cat look as a precursor for physical symptoms.

Also, what’s your cat eating? A good diet can make a world of difference in a cat’s coat. Wet food with lots of recognizable proteins in the ingredient list is never a bad place to start.
posted by cgg at 1:09 PM on February 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

Vet visit for sure. In addition to the issues aimedwander listed, how are the cat’s teeth doing? If he’s got dental pain going on he’s probably going to stick to essential grooming only, and he’ll have stinky saliva if his gums are diseased. Also, the vet can give him a professional grooming, so you’ll get a fresh start without tangles or matting.
posted by oh yeah! at 1:13 PM on February 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

It would help if you could describe what he smells like?
Pissy? Poopy? Oily? Bad-breathy?

One thing to think about- does he smell kind of... meaty? Cats who are stressed leak small amounts of stinky liquid from their anal glands, which smells kind of like really intense unpleasant beef stew... like the smell of Bovril concentrate x 1000. Vet can express those glands, if so.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:30 PM on February 12, 2018

Maybe have him shaved down to a lion cut? He'll look a little silly for a while but it would give him a fresh start. One of mine quit washing until I got her thoroughly groomed and her winter coat was gone, then she stepped back up the self-care.
posted by The otter lady at 1:54 PM on February 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would take him to the vet. It's not normal for a cat to be smelly. Also, do have the vet check his teeth and gums. Problems there can make a cat very very stinky.
posted by tiger tiger at 2:31 PM on February 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

I would definitely look into whether something in his diet could be causing him skin irritation. Cats can have food allergies or intolerances just the same way people can, and in cats, they often manifest as coat and/or grooming issues.
posted by BlueJae at 2:33 PM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, keep in mind that if his grooming issues are stress-related, one month is not really a very long time for a cat to settle in to a new environment. He may need more time to actually feel like he belongs in your home. If it were my cat, I would still take him to the vet to talk about this grooming issue sooner rather than later, though, to rule out underlying health issues.
posted by BlueJae at 2:38 PM on February 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

Thanks, you've given me lots to think about. The previous owner said she'd taken him to the vet, who diagnosed stress, but I think I'll take him in myself and see if it's teeth or diet. He is raggedy looking, but no real snarls or tangles, so I doubt shaving will help, but thanks.
posted by Enid Lareg at 4:13 PM on February 12, 2018

Stress can be treated too -- there are those collars that give off a calming pheromone (Sentry, I think, as opposed to the Feliway ones which emit the 'mother & kitten bonding' pheromone). And there's 'kitty Prozac', which I think can be used short term, so you'd be able to taper off once his stress levels had gone down to 'chill.'
posted by oh yeah! at 5:22 PM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Feliway is probably a good idea. You can just go get a wall plug ASAP and see if it starts helping him.
posted by amtho at 5:53 PM on February 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

A vet visit is an excellent idea. You can also ask your vet about things you can add on top of his regular food or as treats - you want to make sure that any supplements are going to be cat-safe, for example fish oil can be packaged in a lot of different forms and some are fine for cats and some aren't. I really like the Vital Essentials freeze dried cat treats, they come in a bunch of different varieties and are super easy to pop on top of a meal or offer as a treat. There's also things like powders you can mix into canned food - for a long time I was supplementing my cat's food with lysine powder to help maintain his eye health, and it was vastly less stressful than trying to give him a pill. So if the vet suggests a pill for him ask if it can come in a different format, since lowering his stress is the name of the game.

I agree that a month is a short time to see changes in his coat. It's hard to tell from your description but could it be that he naturally has curly fur? It's not that uncommon, one of my cats has curly fur on his tummy and straight fur everywhere else. It looks adorable but when we first brought him home from the shelter he did have a fairly raggedy looking situation underneath. Another thing to look for are his nails. Are they brittle? Do they grow very slowly? If you can get a good look at them are any of them ragged or discolored? As he gets calmer and healthier these things should improve, and if they don't then there's probably some underlying thing that he'll need medical help with.
posted by Mizu at 7:18 PM on February 12, 2018

I echo the rec for vet visit to check the cat’s teeth and express his anal glands—the latter won’t hurt him even if that’s not the problem. It may be worth checking also if he has any urinary/litterbox problems that are making him stinky or too miserable to groom. The vet should check also that he doesn’t have any wounds hidden under fur that could stink from infection; puncture wounds like from cat teeth can be tiny.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:45 AM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely check the teeth--especially if his breath is particularly foul. With that in mind, I need to bug my partner to schedule our own two dental kitties for extractions and cleanings in the next couple of months. It's actually very common for cats to have dental problems, including recurring absorptive lesions that will result in bad tooth decay no matter what you, the human, do for the cat. One of my cats has this issue, and we're more or less resigned to the idea that he's going to be losing all his teeth sooner rather than later--which is fine, he eats wet food only anyway, but will probably result in some drooling.

Personally I would describe the anal gland smell less as "meaty" and more like "rancid, horrifying fish oil." If that's the problem, look out for the cat appearing to "wipe himself" on your floors, which is a common sign of anal gland issues.

If he'll let you look in his mouth, give it a quick once-over. It's definitely still worth taking him to the vet, but it might reveal something obvious to you, too.
posted by sciatrix at 2:05 PM on February 13, 2018

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