There are a lot of things that can cause weird vaginal odor. Some of them are totally normal and some might be signs of more serious problems.

In general, a healthy vagina has a light, sweet smell that comes from the good bacteria lactobacillus. But sometimes that smell can change to a coppery or fishy aroma, which could be signs of trichomoniasis or bacterial vaginosis.

1. Stress

Women may notice a slight odor in their vagina, especially as they approach menopause. While this odor can be alarming at first, it isn’t always cause for concern. However, if the smell is accompanied by other symptoms such as itching or discharge that looks like pus, you should visit your doctor immediately.

Your vagina contains a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria, which keeps your pH at a healthy level and shields you from infection. But many things can throw off the balance, including antibiotic use, douching, and hormone changes. This can allow bad bacteria to overgrow and produce foul-smelling metabolites.

Certain foods can also affect how your urine and vaginal discharge smell. For example, asparagus, garlic, and red meat can give your urine a strong odor. Pregnancy is another time when some women notice an ammonia-like odor in their vulva. Doctors aren’t sure why, but they believe it’s related to a change in diet and the increased production of urine.

It’s also important to drink plenty of water, which can help wash away these metabolites. If you are still noticing the odor of cat urine, try rinsing your vulva more often and see if it helps. If the odor is severe, talk to your doctor about antibiotics. They can help you find the root of the problem and get you back to a normal pH.

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2. Food

Many foods—garlic, onions, asparagus, coffee, fennel or alcohol—can alter your normal vaginal odor. These smells can be passed along to your urine, and the resulting odor may resemble cat pee. This is a result of the amino acids in these foods breaking down and releasing mercaptans, which are known for giving off that rotten fish-like scent.

Another cause of funky odors down there is dehydration. When you’re not drinking enough water, your urine becomes more concentrated and carries an intense ammonia smell. When you drink more, the odor lessens through dilution.

If the odor is particularly strong, it could be a sign that you’ve lost touch with your normal pH balance. A trip to the gynecologist can help get you back on track.

A few other things that might make your urine and/or vaginal discharge smell like cat pee are an unprotected sex session or a missed tampon (they can both throw off the normal flora of your vulva). If you notice a funky odor with itching or thick white discharge, it’s a good idea to see your gynecologist for further testing. You may need antibiotics if an infection is diagnosed. In the meantime, try RepHresh Vaginal Gel, which works to correct the pH balance in your vulva. It should improve the odor within two treatments, says Dr. Streicher.

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3. Hygiene

If you’re wondering if your vagina smells like cat pee, the good news is that it’s totally normal. However, if the scent changes or is accompanied by other symptoms, a visit to your doctor may be in order.

Vaginas are self-cleaning, which means that your internal genitals clean themselves. The vulva is the outer part of your genitals, which includes the inner and outer labia, the mons (the mound of fatty tissue in front of your pubic bone), the clitoris, and the urethra opening.

The odor that comes from your vagina is a combination of sweat, bacteria, and urine. The good news is that the odor is usually pleasant because there are enough healthy bacteria down there to outnumber any potentially harmful ones. However, this bacterial balance can be disrupted by factors like stress, certain foods, and sexual activity.

The best way to keep your vulva healthy is to use products designed for the area. Anything you put in your vulva should be pH-balanced, meaning it’s not too basic or acidic and shouldn’t contain any fragrances, Dr. Bausic explains. It’s also important to shower and urinate regularly, especially after sex (especially if you’re using a condom), to rinse away any bacteria that could cause a urinary tract infection or yeast infections. Lastly, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

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4. Infections

Vaginal odor is embarrassing for most women and can be a sign of underlying health problems. It’s important to find the root cause of the odor so that you can take the right steps to fix it.

A healthy vagina should have a slight scent. However, food choices, hygiene practices and other factors can cause a change in odor that needs to be addressed. If the odor is strong or doesn’t disperse, it could indicate an infection that requires medical attention.

An infection called bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of unpleasant vaginal odor. It results from a disruption of the normal bacterial flora in the vagina, which can result in inflammation and an overgrowth of bacteria that create foul-smelling metabolites. Bacterial vaginosis is most pronounced during the reproductive years, but it can affect women of any age. It’s usually triggered by blood or semen entering the vagina, which can throw off the normal pH balance and lead to an imbalance of bacteria. Douching and other feminine hygiene habits can also disrupt the normal bacterial balance, especially after sex.

Another potential cause of an unpleasant vaginal odor is trichomoniasis, which is a sexually transmitted infection that can be treated with antibiotics. It’s usually caused by a protozoan called Trichomonas vaginalis, which has an unpleasant fishy smell that can make the vulva feel itchy and painful.