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My Dog's Breath Smells! - Causes, Treatments and Preventions

You brush your teeth every day, but do you brush your dog’s teeth every day?

Dental care plays a vital role in the...

Does your dog's breath smell unpleasant? Bad breath is a very common problem among dogs. Sometimes we might even overlook our dog's smelly breath as normal 'doggy breath'. Thankfully, bad breath can be easily avoided and treated. You won't be holding your breath the next time your pooch gives you cuddles!

In this article, our vets from Felcana will share a bit about:

  • What causes bad dog breath?
  • Signs your dog may have dental disease
  • Common dog dental problems
  • Dog breeds at greater risk for dental disease
  • How can bad breath in dogs be treated?
  • What happens at the vet?
  • How can smelly breath be prevented?


What causes bad breath in dogs? 

Bad breath most often stems from dental health issues. It can be caused by bacteria, food particles or other substances that get stuck between the teeth and gums of your dog. However, smelly breath isn't always linked to oral health problems.

The most common causes of bad breath are:

  • Dental disease
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Certain foods, such as a fish-based diet
  • Foreign objects stuck in dog's windpipe or oesophagus

It is important to make sure your dog gets regular health check-ups at the vet, to ensure there is not an underlying health issue causing the stink in their breath.


Signs that your dog may have dental disease

It is estimated that between 70-80% of pets have some form of dental disease. If left untreated, minor periodontal disease can progress to much more serious diseases. Bacteria in the mouth can spread throughout the body through the bloodstream, causing an infection. They may lead to serious health issues such as kidney, heart, or lung disease.

Fortunately, it's relatively easy to recognize when problems begin to appear in your dog's mouth. You may notice some of these signs if your dog has an oral disease: 

  • Continuous bad breath
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Tooth loss
  • Thick yellow/brown plaque at the gum line
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Increased salivating
  • Trouble chewing food
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss

If you find that your dog's bad breath is accompanied by other signs such as vomiting or diarrhoea, a visit to your vet is recommended.


Common dog dental problems

Top 5 dental diseases in dogs

1. Tartar/plaque

The most common cause of bad breath in dogs is plaque buildup on their teeth. Plaque is an accumulation of bacteria and food debris that form in areas where there are no natural defences to prevent it from forming. When this occurs, the bacteria begin to produce sulfur-containing compounds that give off a foul odour. If plaque is not removed regularly, it becomes calcified over time, forming hardened brown deposits called calculus. You may notice calculus on the surface of your dog's teeth.

How does calculus form?


2. Gingivitis 

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. This occurs when tartar builds up on your dog's teeth and under the gum line. You will notice a thin, red line along the gums if your dog has gingivitis. Your dog's gums may bleed at times. Some smaller breeds, such as Toy Poodles, may be at greater risk for gum disease because they tend to have smaller spaces between their teeth. 


3. Shaky teeth/loss of teeth

Gingivitis can progress quickly and cause the gum to lose attachment from your dog's teeth as tissues weaken. This will make your dog's teeth shaky and the tooth root may fall out over time. 


4. Chipped/broken teeth

Dogs may break their teeth while chewing on things such as hard chew toys, sticks, or bones. The canines tend to be the most commonly fractured teeth in the dog. In some cases, a tooth fracture exposes sensitive nerves. This becomes very painful for your dog, and you might find that he stops eating or chewing on toys. 


5. Tooth root abscesses

Tooth root abscesses are infections around the tooth root. If your dog has a tooth root abscess, you might see a swelling or abscess on your dog's cheek beneath his eye. This abscess may burst and drain out. 


Dog breeds at greater risk for dental disease 

The latest research from the Royal Veterinary College has shown that certain breeds of dogs may be more prone to developing dental issues than others. 

These breeds include:

  • Toy Poodle
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Greyhound

Flat-faced breeds, such as Pugs, tend to have less room between their teeth and hence trap food particles and bacteria more easily. This is a similar case for smaller breed dogs as well. As a result, they may be prone to gum disease and tooth decay.


How can bad breath in dogs be treated? 

Depending on what is causing your dog's smelly breath, it may be necessary to see a vet who may have specific recommendations on what is best for your dog. You may use Felcana's Symptom Checker which can help to guide you on whether it is crucial to take your dog to the vet. 

Dental care starts at home, and there are many ways to help keep your dog's breath fresh. We will share some of our tips and tricks later on in this article! 

Regular dental health check ups at the vet are important


What happens at the vet if my dog has bad breath?

Dental checks can be combined with your pet's yearly health check. During the full examination, the mouth, teeth, gums, and jaw will be evaluated to look for any obvious changes or disease. Your vet will also do a physical examination overall to make sure there are no other issues causing the bad breath.

It may be necessary to perform x-rays of the mouth and jaw to make more accurate assessments and diagnoses if changes are noted. For this procedure, your pet will be under a general anaesthetic so the dental procedure can be carried out as safely as possible. If your dog is older or has other health conditions, speak to your vet about your concerns. 

While your pet is sedated, deep dental cleaning of the teeth and mouth will be performed. Using an ultrasonic scaler, your dog's teeth will be hand-scaled, and polished. If any teeth need to be extracted, it will also be done at this time. Your pet's mouth will be thoroughly rinsed, and after a final check, they'll be ready to wake up!


How can my dog's smelly breath be prevented? 

Between visits to your veterinarian for routine checkups, dental health at home is extremely important too. Prevention is always better than cure!

3 steps to preventing smelly dog breath


1. Brushing your dog's teeth

How to brush your dog's teeth

Brushing your dogs' teeth is one of the most important things you can do for their oral health. While it may seem like a daunting task, most dogs cope with this very well. Vet surgeries and pet care stores sell a variety of dog toothpaste and toothbrushes. Dog toothbrushes range from normal handheld brushes to ones that fit over your fingertip - choose one that you and your dog are most comfortable with!

Do not use human toothpaste as they contain ingredients that can be toxic to your dog, such as xylitol. If you would like to find out more about how they may be harmful, check out this article

How to clean your dog's teeth is a question we are frequently asked. To get your dog used to brushing, try putting some dog toothpaste on your finger and have them lick it off, then rub your finger along their teeth and gums to get them used to the feeling of it. From there, you can progress to using the toothbrush. Gently lift up your dog's lips and run the toothbrush down all of your dog's teeth, not forgetting the back molars! 

What we find the most helpful is trying to build positive associations with the process, such as praising your dog and giving treats after they have allowed you to brush. This is the easiest to do when they are still a puppy.

If your dog still has their puppy teeth, it is recommended to get them used to having their mouth touched and the sensation of brushing. Most dogs' puppy teeth will fall out by 6-8 months of age to allow their adult teeth to grow in. It may be worthwhile to speak to your vet if this doesn't happen.

You should ideally brush your dog's teeth daily. With the right routine, this can be a fun bonding activity for you and your dog that hopefully both of you look forward to! 


2. Dog dental chews

If your dog doesn't like having its teeth brushed, then using a dog dental chew might be a good alternative. With many options available, it would be worth it to do a bit of research into the different kinds to see what would suit your dog best. Some dogs may be picky eaters and prefer specific flavours!

There are many natural animal products that are a good choice. Rawhides, air-dried bones, and antler chews are great at keeping plaque from building up and keeping your animal entertained with a treat.

For an alternative choice, dried vegetables like parsnips and sweet potatoes can be used as well. There are also many brands of dental sticks for dogs, chews and treats that help remove the plaque build-up and can even help with bad breath! 


3. Water additives

Water additives may also help to prevent bacteria buildup in your dog's mouth. Most water additives contain enzymes that help to break up tartar, decrease plaque levels and prevent bad odours in your dog's mouth. The greatest advantage of water additives is how fuss-free it is to use - a specified amount can be added to your dog's drinking water daily, it is as simple as that!

The downside is that your dog may not like the taste of the additive and turn down drinking water altogether. If this does happen, the product may not be suitable for them.

It is also important to keep in mind that this should ideally be done in combination with brushing, for maximal benefit. 


Remember, dental care plays an important part in the overall well-being of your dog. Do not overlook how much your dog's breath and teeth can tell you about their overall health! By taking a few minutes a day to spend on your dog's oral hygiene, you can help fight off keep your dog's teeth shiny and keep that smelly breath at bay.