Does your dog have bad breath? You have probably heard of "doggie breath" and wondered if it's normal. Some people assume dogs naturally have bad breath. However, bad breath is not considered normal in dogs; it is usually a sign of another problem. If your dog has bad breath, it's time to investigate the problem and take action.
Why Do Dogs Have Bad Breath?
There are a few possible causes of bad breath, or halitosis, in dogs. Dental disease is by far the most common cause of bad breath in dogs. Injuries and foreign bodies in the mouth may lead to bad breath as well. In some cases, the source of a dog's bad breath is not in the mouth, but in the body due to a metabolic problem.
Bad breath is most commonly caused by bacteria-laden plaque and tartar in the mouth. Just like in humans, dogs' teeth form a sticky film called plaque throughout the day. Plaque forms when saliva, food particles, and bacteria combine to coat the teeth, including the parts just beneath the gums. Within about 24-48 hours, plaque hardens and becomes tartar, or calculus, a crusty yellow-colored substance. Bacteria multiplies and may cause irritation to the gum tissue leading to periodontal disease and other dental problems. Plaque and tartar buildup not only causes bad breath and dental disease; it can lead to a number of other health problems in dogs.
Bad breath may also be caused by an injury or foreign body in the mouth. For example, objects like sticks, hair, cloth, or even food may become wedged in between teeth and gather bacteria and debris, leading to odor. Additionally, a wound inside the mouth may become infected and malodorous.
Bad breath may come from a place other than the teeth. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious condition that affects some dogs with diabetes and may cause an acetone-like odor on a dog's breath. Kidney disease may cause a dog to have a urine-like odor coming from the mouth. Gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory illnesses may cause a foul odor of a dog's breath.
Signs Associated With Bad Breath in Dogs
Dogs with bad breath may have a number of other signs that point towards the underlying cause.
- Redness of the gums (gingivitis)
- Tartar buildup on teeth
- Bleeding gums
- Excessive drooling
- Reluctance to chew food or toys
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
Treatment for Bad Breath in Dogs
Your veterinarian will begin by performing a physical examination on your dog. If a dental problem is found, your veterinarian may recommend a professional dental cleaning and oral examination under anesthesia. During this procedure, a veterinary technician will clean and polish the teeth and look for abnormalities. Dental radiographs may also be done. The veterinarian will thoroughly examine the teeth and mouth to determine if further treatments are needed, such as tooth extractions. Lab testing is recommended before anesthesia to rule out underlying conditions that increase the risk of anesthesia. These lab tests also help the vet assess your dog's overall health.
If your dog's teeth appear normal, your veterinarian may wish to perform lab tests to look for metabolic problems like diabetes and kidney disease. Treatment will depend on the result of the lab tests and the severity of the condition.
How to Prevent Bad Breath
Daily tooth brushing is the best way to prevent dental disease and bad breath. Tooth brushing will probably not eliminate the eventual need for professional dental cleaning, but it will slow the buildup of tartar and delay the need for a dental cleaning. Also, brushing regularly after a dental cleaning can significantly extend the time before another cleaning is needed.
Not all dogs will allow you to brush their teeth. Your dog is more likely to accept having his teeth brushed if you start a daily routine when your dog is still a puppy. However, adult dogs can be taught to tolerate tooth brushing.
Some owners find it difficult to brush their dog's teeth regularly. Some dogs never learn to tolerate tooth brushing. In these cases, you may wish to find special dental chews that can help clean the teeth. These products will not replace tooth brushing, but they are better than doing nothing. Ask your veterinarian about the best option for your dog.
If you notice your dog has bad breath, start by taking a look in your dog's mouth (if your dog will tolerate this). You may begin by lifting the lips at the sides of the mouth. If your dog allows you, open the mouth to look at the insides of the teeth as well. Check for tartar buildup on the teeth. Tartar is usually yellow in color, but it may have a grayish appearance in severe cases. Look for redness or bleeding gums. Check for teeth that are loose, broken, or have exposed roots. Look for objects or materials lodged in the mouth or between the teeth.
The next step is to contact your veterinarian. Let the vet's office know your dog has bad breath and describe what you saw (or didn't see) in your dog's mouth. Report any other signs you have noticed. No matter what, you should schedule a visit to the vet's office for an examination. By explaining what you have seen, it will help the veterinary team determine how urgent the situation is.