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Why Does My Dog Have Bad Breath? (Possible Causes and Solutions)

Dr. Ross Henderson is a dog dad and associate veterinarian practicing in Colorado.

It isn't realistic to expect your dog's breath to smell like roses, but it shouldn't be seriously funky, either. If it is, there may be an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.

It isn't realistic to expect your dog's breath to smell like roses, but it shouldn't be seriously funky, either. If it is, there may be an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.

Reasons Your Dog Has Bad Breath

Your dog comes up to you, gives you a big kiss, and you feel like you just got hit with a wall of horrendous odor. You might be asking, why in the world is my dog's breath so bad? As an associate veterinarian, I get asked about canine halitosis daily, so don't feel alone if you're experiencing this with your pet.

Plaque Buildup

One of the most common causes of halitosis is plaque. Plaque simply describes bacteria residing on the enamel, which is the outer surface of the tooth.

If that plaque mineralizes, it turns into something called calculus—also known as tartar. Calculus is very hard and typically requires special instruments to break off during an anesthetic dental procedure.

Dental Disease

The bacteria that cause plaque can start off as minimally invasive and mildly irritating all the way to bone destroying bacteria that can cause severe discomfort, loose teeth, and even bad breath.

The longer the calculus is present, the higher the chance it can start to cause inflammation of the gums. We call that gingivitis. If left untreated, dental disease can progress to inflammation of the bone, which can be very serious and may even require extractions.

Stinky Food

Is your dog eating malodorous food or waste? As a vet, it's not unusual for an owner to come in and tell me that their dog has been eating poop. Yeah, I know it's pretty gross, but at least it's an easy problem to fix. Here are four ways to stop your dog from eating poop.

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Other Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs

Now, is halitosis exclusively from dental disease and funky food? Not necessarily. There are other causes that could be the culprit. Here are just a few:

  • Metabolic diseases (e.g., diabetes)
  • Respiratory diseases (e.g., sinus infections)
  • Certain types of cancer (cancerous tumors can cause significant inflammation and necrosis that may lead to foul odor)
  • Gastrointestinal diseases (e.g., a foreign body, gastritis, or a version of garbage gut)
  • Skin issues can (e.g., skin-fold dermatitis, which is really common on the lower mouth and jaw and can house a lot of bacteria like Pseudomonas or Staphylococcus pseudintermedius)

If you suspect your dog may be experiencing any of the issues listed above, it's time for a trip to the vet.

What to Do About Your Dog's Bad Breath

Those are just a few causes of halitosis. Now, my role as a vet is to determine any of those previously mentioned causes, as bad breath is treated depending on what the causing agent is.

If your dog has periodontal disease, the level of intervention will often depend on the stage it has progressed to. For example, early stages will likely only need formal scaling and polishing, while progressed stages may involve bone loss and therefore require x-rays and likely extractions.

All in all, the prognosis for halitosis is relatively good if we treat the underlying disease. Or if we're simply dealing with periodontal disease, good oral hygiene and daily brushing will be your secret weapons for minimizing the effects of bad breath.

Never Forget to Talk With Your Vet

I hope this has helped. And as always, be sure to speak with your veterinarian about your specific pet. I wish you and your furry friends the very best.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2021 Ross Henderson

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