What's more enjoyable than your beloved four-legged friend racing to the front door to shower you with kisses after a long day? Well, some could argue that being greeted with fish breath isn't exactly the welcome home gesture they were hoping for. If your dog's breath is getting a bit out of hand (to put it nicely), it may be a sign of a more serious, underlying condition that needs to be addressed.
Bad Breath in Dogs | Halitosis
Stinky breath, or halitosis, is a product of bacteria buildup. Lovely, right? The bacteria typically originates in the mouth but infections in the respiratory system and gut can also lead to bad breath. The term halitosis is used to describe the odor coming from the mouth as a result of the bacteria. There are several potential causes of halitosis, but most commonly it is directly linked to poor oral hygiene.
Periodontal disease, along with other mouth diseases, is quite common in dogs ultimately due to a lack of dental care. There's good news and bad news associated with this fact. The bad news is that more often than not, the dog owner is at fault for the poor oral hygiene. Poor oral hygiene is so much more than bad breath and can lead to a multitude of problems (all which we will address shortly). The good news is that we have the ability to not only fix the issue, but prevent it from happening in the first place.
In this article, we hope to shed light on the not so appealing topic of dog breath and inform our readers of ways to prevent, manage, and eliminate the stink.
Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs
In order to eliminate and prevent bad breath in dogs, we must first understand what is causing it. Bad breath can be caused by something as simple as a poor diet or can be a sign of something much more severe such as liver disease or diabetes.
Poor Oral Hygiene and Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disorder that affects the gums and supporting structures around the teeth. In the late stages, the gum tissue recedes and bone loss around the tooth occurs, resulting in loose teeth that can fall out.
The bacteria that live inside of your dog's mouth can be a breeding ground for serious infections. The buildup of bacteria leads to an accumulation of plaque and tartar which therefore contributes to the foul odor coming from Fido's mouth. Keeping your dog's teeth and gums clean and healthy is the first step in preventing additional conditions from developing. For example, gingivitis is considered to be a prominent precursor to periodontitis. Gingivitis is a type of gum inflammation that can quite easily be avoided by brushing Fido's teeth daily and maintaining good oral hygiene practices. Plaque buildup causes the dog's gums to become irritated and sensitive, therefore leading to inflammation.
Again, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is a leading example as to how bad breath and dental disease can primarily be the fault of the pet parents. We cannot stress enough that oral health should not be overlooked.
Additionally, periodontal disease can lead to other serious issues such as tooth decay and a horrendous amount of pain for Fido. It is extremely important for pet parents to be able to recognize the early signs of gum disease in order to prevent it from causing even more harm to your pup.
Additional Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
Additional symptoms of periodontal disease include:
- Pawing at the mouth
- Bleeding or swollen gums (gums that are severely inflamed)
- Blood on chew toys or in the water bowl
- Bumps or lumps in the mouth
- Bloody or ropey saliva
- Constant chewing of the inside of the mouth
- Overall sensitivity in the mouth region
Furthermore, if the periodontal disease goes untreated, the bacterial infection from the mouth has the ability to spread to other parts of the body. When a bacterial infection travels it can quickly lead to major inflammation throughout the body as well as organ issues. Your dog's bad breath will be the least of your concerns if the gum disease isn't treated promptly and effectively.
Breeds Prone to Poor Oral Health
Many studies have found that smaller dog breeds are more prone to having issues when it comes to oral health. Experts believe that this is due to their teeth being closer together and allowing a larger amount of tartar and plaque to build up. If you have a smaller dog breed, be sure to brush their teeth on a consistent basis and stay on top of vet visits to ensure their dental health is up to the necessary standards.
Poor Dietary Habits
Another leading cause of bad breath in dogs is poor dietary habits. We likely don't have to tell you that dogs love getting into things that they shouldn't. Whether its inedible trash, rotting food, or even their own poop, dogs seem to enjoy eating just about anything. Unfortunately, this love ultimately leads to stinky breath (among other problems). If your dog has diarrhea, is vomiting blood, or is not eating, it may be a sign that they've gotten into something they shouldn't have. Pet parents should do their best to keep an eye on Fido when certain items are in close reach. Better yet, make sure that the garbage is stored away and when on walks, clean up after your dog right away. Trust us when we say that if your dog continues eating things like trash and feces, bad breath will only be the tip of the iceberg in terms of health issues.
Additionally, sometimes even proper dog food can cause your dog's breath to be less than appealing. Both dry dog food and wet, canned food are both thought to offer different benefits for Fido. Wet food’s high water content is known to be beneficial for dogs with urinary problems. It can also be good for finicky eaters and dogs that are missing many teeth that have a harder time chewing kibble. With that being said, wet, canned food typically doesn't have the most pleasant smell and will likely cause your dog to have stinky breath. Typically, bad breath from canned food can easily be resolved with water and time.
Don't write off bad breath as simply something all dogs have-- it's not. Pet parents should make sure they get to the bottom of the issue!
As strange as it may sound, if your dog's breath has a sweet and fruity smell it may be a sign of diabetes. If diabetes is left undiagnosed and subsequently untreated, it can lead to a life-threatening condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis. The change in your dog’s breath is due to a buildup of ketones in the body. Diabetes is very treatable if caught early but can lead to serious health conditions if the condition worsens without detection. Luckily, there are symptoms to look out for other than unusually sweet-smelling or fruity breath. Other symptoms of diabetes include:
- Change in appetite
- Excessive thirst
- Increased water consumption
- Increased urination
- Weight loss
- Urinary tract infections
- Cataract formation, changes in eye health
- Chronic skin infections
If you notice any of the symptoms be sure to contact your vet straight away for a proper diagnosis.
One of the more severe causes of bad breath in dogs is liver disease. If the bacterial infection in the dog's mouth is bad enough, it can have the ability to travel to vital organs, including the liver. Liver disease can lead to high levels of metabolites in the blood, which results in halitosis.
Other signs of liver disease include:
- Lack of appetite
- Yellowish gums
If you notice any of these symptoms, a timely diagnosis from your veterinarian is paramount in getting your dog back on the right track and to prevent the disease from worsening.
Dog breath that smells like urine or ammonia is often a sign of decreased kidney function. If your dog's kidneys aren't functioning properly, it can lead to a build-up of waste in the bloodstream and affect the scent of Fido's breath. If your dog's breath smells like urine or ammonia, contact your vet straight away. Kidney disease is serious enough on its own but if left untreated can lead to even more severe problems for your pup.
The bottom line is that sometimes bad breath is simply a sign that Fido's mouth needs some extra attention. However, sometimes it's a serious warning. Understanding the differences is incredibly important to maintain your dog's health and well-being.
How to Get Rid of Bad Breath
Luckily, there are ways to get rid of Fido's bad breath. Of course, as we previously mentioned, the first step in doing so is recognizing the underlying issue causing the stinky breath. However, once this is determined, there are a few ways to get back on track with enjoying those slobbery kisses.
Professional Dental Cleaning & Regular Check-Ups
Professional teeth cleaning and routine checkups are two of the most effective ways to maintain your dog's oral health. Even if Fido is the epitome of health and happiness, you'll want to see your vet on a regular basis for a checkup and to ensure that your dog's teeth are looking good.
Having your dog's teeth cleaned professionally used to mean that they had to be put under anesthesia, an idea that rightfully concerned many pet parents. However, today there are more and more companies that are providing dental services without the need for anesthesia or other drugs. This may be an option for pets with minimal to mild tatar. However, they are unable to perform dental radiographs, clean below the gumline or perform extractions if necessary. It can also be stressful for the pets to be awake during the cleaning. Be sure to ask your vet for recommendations for your pup's individual needs.
Daily Tooth Brushing
Of course, professional cleaning will really get the job done. With that being said, brushing your dog's teeth at home is more important than some pet parents may realize. Before you grab a toothbrush and begin, there are a few things to know!
First of all, dog owners should purchase a toothbrush and toothpaste that are designed and formulated for dogs. Do not use your own toothpaste for Fido! Pet toothpaste is made to be safe for your dog and comes in a handful of flavors that will help make the whole experience easier for you both. Funny enough, pet toothpaste can be purchased in peanut butter, liver, and other meat flavors (as well as standard mint). We recommend purchasing an enzymatic toothpaste that will provide extra protection against tartar and plaque build-up.
As far as toothbrushes are concerned, soft, gentle bristles are the way to go. Soft bristles will ensure that your pup's gums aren't harmed or damaged while still eliminating tartar and plaque. Additionally, silicon finger sleeves may be easier to use, especially for smaller dogs. Pet owners can wear these toothbrushes on their finger and safely make sure they are reaching all of Fido's back teeth.
Do your best to make the experience a pleasant one for your dog, particularly in the beginning. Ease them into the idea of having a foreign object in their mouth instead of forcing it. In time, your dog will likely have no qualms with the idea of having their teeth brushed.
Chews toys are a great way to help promote overall oral and dental health. The right chew toy will provide an effortless way to loosen plaque build-up and remove old food particles that can get stuck in hard to reach places. Additionally, chew toys can provide Fido with a form of entertainment all while improving their hygiene.
Dental chews from many brands (such as Greenies, Whimzees, and OraVet Dental Hygiene Chews to name a few) are designed specifically to support natural plaque removal as well as simultaneously freshen Fido's breath. The majority of dental chews are formulated for your dog to be able to consume them in their entirety. In other words, they can eat the whole thing.
Other chew toys such as Kong balls, rawhide strips, and rope toys are additional ways for pet owners to help prevent gum disease and bacterial buildup as well as get rid of current mouth odor.
Many pet owners favor having all natural remedies for their pet's ailments and highly encourage this way of thinking. So often we make a simple trip to the vet and leave with medications that may have potentially harmful side effects. Instead, many natural remedies are readily at our disposal, we just have to know where to look.
Digestion plays a large role in your dog's breath. Adding unrefined, brown rice can aid in digestion and a healthy gut leading to a stink-free mouth.
Pet owners can also mix brown rice with yogurt for an even more powerful digestion boost. Adding a yogurt supplement can also reduce hydrogen sulfide, which is a known contributor to halitosis. Furthermore, yogurt contains probiotics that lead to a healthy gut and therefore better breath.
We likely don't have to tell you about the wonders of coconut oil. Coconut oil is a powerful natural remedy for many conditions, including bad breath. Mixing a teaspoon in with your dog's food can provide extra support for Fido's metabolism, immune system, and digestion.
Carrots are one of the greatest natural chew toys. As your pup chomps down on the carrot, the stimulation of the salivary glands allows for food particles to become dislodged from hard to reach places in the dog's mouth. Carrots also aid in eliminating plaque build-up.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (aka ACV) is another one of nature's wonderful gifts. From treating skin irritations, flea bites or diarrhea, ACV can do it all. What pet parents may not know is by adding ½ a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your dog's water bowl, you can also freshen up their breath!
The citrus component in lemon helps to eliminate bad bacteria buildup in your dog's mouth. Adding just a few drops to your dog's food can go a long way and help to eliminate (and prevent) bad breath.
Countless ailments begin from the inside and show up as external symptoms. Bad breath is no different. Therefore, working to better your pup's breath often begins from the inside out, starting with diet. Feeding Fido high-quality food that's full of vegetables, nutrients, and healthy grains will do wonders for their dental health.
As we previously mentioned, dry, hard food can significantly reduce tartar and plaque buildup whereas many soft, canned food companies advertise for their product's ability to reduce bad bacteria. Again, adding an ingredient such as brown rice or a probiotic such as yogurt can also be a positive dietary change that you may want to consider. There are also specific therapeutic dental diets on the market specifically designed to reduce bacteria and keep the teeth clean. We recommend consulting with your vet to determine exactly what your pup needs and proceed from there.
The bottom line, health starts from the inside out. Ensuring that your dog's diet is the best that it can be is a great way to make sure their dental health is up to the necessary standards.
Sprays, Water Additives, or Mouthwash
Another way to promote fresh breath is with specifically formulated sprays, water additives, and dog mouthwash. The Veterinary Oral Health Council also gives their seal of approval and maintains a list of accepted products that are proven to reduce plaque and tartar.
We want to remind our readers that these aren't necessarily ways to cure bad breath but more of a means to help promote dental health by reducing bacteria buildup in your dog's mouth. The only way to truly cure bad breath is determining the underlying cause and working to restore it.
Preventing Dog Bad Breath
We firmly believe that prevention is the best medicine. When it comes to dental health, it is much easier to prevent tooth decay rather than try to restore it. If possible, brush your dog's teeth on a daily basis. Brushing eliminates plaque, prevents tooth decay, and supports healthy oral hygiene.
Also, as we previously mentioned, staying on top of routine checkups is very important. You may look at your dog's teeth and wrongly think they look perfectly fine. A veterinarian will be able to provide you with an honest, accurate opinion of your dog's dental health as well as ways to take care of your dog's teeth based on their age, breed, diet, etc. Furthermore, your vet will be able to make sure that your dog's gut health is also in good standing and not a culprit of Fido's stinky breath. Routine checkups are an essential way to prevent issues from arising later down the road.
Additionally, stay alert and aware of changes in your dog's behavior that may be tell-tale signs of mouth pain. Unfortunately, our dog's can't exactly talk to us. However, they can give us clear signs that they aren't feeling like the best versions of themselves. It is important for dog owners to be aware of when Fido's "normal" changes and act accordingly.
Dog Bad Breath: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, your furbaby means the world to you. Trust us, we get it. We also understand that being a pet owner can often come with a few not-so-pleasant realities, one of which being stinky breath.
We want to reiterate that your dog's bad breath shouldn't be ignored. While it may be a sign of something simple such as a need for a good brushing, it can also be a sign of something much more serious such as liver dysfunction. Dental disease and poor oral health should not be overlooked. There are many ways in order to ensure that your pup's mouth is healthy and stink-free, but it takes effort from the pet owner.
We know you want what's best for your dog. Look into purchasing the necessary tools to ensure proper oral hygiene today. Your dog will thank you for it!
Jennifer Dempsey, DVM
Dr. Jennifer Dempsey is a small animal veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Central Florida and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Florida (Go Gators!)
She has resided in the Orlando area since graduation and has gained years of experience helping cats and dogs live happier and longer lives. As a general practitioner, she has found client education to be one of the most important aspects of day to day life in veterinary medicine.
Medical writing has helped her to connect with a larger audience and make sure that pet owners are fully aware of their loved one’s medical condition. She currently shares her home with two rescued mixed breed dogs named Primo and Morgan.