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Dog bad breath: Causes and care

Dog mouth close up advice
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There’s nothing worse than having to refuse cute kisses from your canine pal because of their stinky breath. People often believe that dog bad breath is no cause for concern. However, it can be a sign of an underlying health or dental issue. Let’s take a closer look at the possible reasons why your dog's breath smells and how to get it under control.

By Alice Lang

Updated on the 19/12/2019, 15:28

Bad breath or halitosis in dogs can seem like no big deal - until you can’t be within a metre of your pooch without being knocked flat with a bad stench! Of course, occasional bad dog breath could merely be down to something he or she ate. But if it’s becoming a common occurrence, some investigation is essential.

What to do if your dog has bad breath

“A pooch’s breath may never be kissably sweet,” says Gregg DuPont, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, in Vet On Call: The Best Home Remedies for Keeping Your Dog Healthy, “but it shouldn’t be staggeringly bad either”.

“Unlike humans, dogs don’t brush their teeth” explains Matthew Hoffman, author of Dogs: The Ultimate Care Guide, “This means the plaque, along with the smell, won’t go away. By making a few changes in her diet and practising basic oral hygiene, you’ll soon have her smelling sweet again”.

If you’ve noticed your dog's breath is out of control, your first course of action should be to up their dental hygiene regime. Try out these simple tips:

Brush your pup’s teeth using a toothpaste which is specially formulated for dogs (human toothpaste could upset your dog's stomach). Once a day is best, but make sure you brush your dog’s teeth at least once a week.

Use dog dental chews. The natural process of chewing will help ward off bad breath and keep teeth clean. Look for ones with ingredients like chlorophyll and cinnamon to help freshen breath.

Feed your dog high-quality, easy to digest dog food. Fewer carbs and less sugary foods mean fewer bacteria in the mouth. Ensure that fresh water is available at all times.

Don’t leave your dog’s food out all day, as this gives bacteria a chance to breed. Stick to set feeding times.

Underlying causes of dog bad breath

Dog bad breath causes
Dog bad breath can have a variety of underlying causes©Marek Szturc on Unsplash

Periodontal disease

Studies show that a massive 80% of dogs and cats have signs of periodontal disease by the age of 3. Periodontal disease can have no symptoms at first. As it progresses, it can cause chronic pain and trauma to your dog’s mouth like bone loss, eroded gums and missing teeth.

The overgrowth of bacteria caused by this disease causes foul-smelling breath as well as bleeding gums, loose teeth, bumps in the mouth, and bloody saliva.

Oral diseases

In addition to periodontal disease, there are a whole host of oral conditions which could lead to dog bad breath. This could range from oral masses such as cancerous or benign tumours, gum overgrowth caused by hyperplasia, or stomatitis, which causes painful inflammation of the gums.

Gastrointestinal problems

Problems with your dog’s GI tract, oesophagus, stomach or intestines such as chronic gastritis or a heliobacteria infection can easily lead to stinky breath.

Metabolic diseases or diabetes

David Harris BVSc MRCVS points out to Vet Help Direct that metabolic diseases like kidney failure and diabetes can cause bad breath. “These conditions are both associated with changes in urination and drinking, and often weight loss. If untreated, both are potentially fatal.”

“In diabetes, the breath may smell sweet (because of the excess sugar in the bloodstream); sour (because of increased bacterial growth, as the bacteria feed on the sugar); or musty (as yeasts grow in the mouth). In kidney failure, the breath may smell metallic (due to a build-up of toxins and waste products that the kidneys aren’t filtering).”

Treating dog bad breath

If you’ve implemented a strict dental hygiene regime for a couple of weeks and your dog’s bad breath isn’t going away, it could be a sign of one of the conditions we’ve mentioned. But don’t freak out - it’s likely that your pup will just need a simple treatment or some medication.

You should head to the vet and be prepared to answer questions about the bad breath, such as when it first started, what your dog’s eating habits are and if their behaviour has changed at all.

Generally, your vet will then carry out an oral examination and in some cases, a physical exam. If poor oral health is to blame for your dog’s stinky breath, a professional doggy dentist cleaning may be all that’s needed to freshen him up.

In cases of periodontal disease, a full dental cleaning and checkup will be required, where your pup may need to go under general anaesthesia as tooth extractions may be required.

However, if there is suspicion of a metabolic disorder, tumours or infection, blood work or an X-ray may be required. Treatment will then depend on the outcome of these investigations. For infections, antibiotics or anti-inflammatories are the first port of call, whereas a diabetes diagnosis will require long-term insulin treatment. In the rare case of oral cancers, surgery can help to remove growths and repair damaged tissues.

Once all the underlying causes have been diagnosed and treated, your doggy’s stinky bad breath should begin to freshen up. Then you can enjoy your pup's kisses and cuddles again!