There’s a reason bad breath, or halitosis, is often called “doggy breath” — dogs’ breath isn’t great. While halitosis -- or chronic bad breath -- is something that humans also experience, it’s more difficult to as thoroughly and consistently clean your pup’s mouth as it is to clean your own.
It’s unreasonable to expect for your dog to have minty-fresh breath, but if your pup’s breath is particularly gnarly, it could be a sign of a health problem. For the most part, bad breath is treatable, but only if the cause is properly identified.
What causes bad breath in dogs?
There are a number of things that could result in funky breath in dogs:
Health-related causes of stinky dog breath
Dental or Gum Disease
Gum (or periodontal) disease is extremely common among canines, affecting over 80% of pups over the age of 3. Small dog breeds with flat faces whose teeth are close together and are at angles, such as Pekingese and Boston Terriers, are particularly prone to periodontal disease and other mouth issues, but that doesn’t mean the oral health of larger dogs should be ignored.
Periodontal disease begins with plaque deposits on the teeth. Minerals found in canine saliva will turn the plaque into tartar, which, if left to build below the gums, will allow bacteria to grow and cause inflammation. This bacteria can end up in your dog’s bloodstream and lead to or exacerbate heart, kidney, liver, and/or lung problems.
If your pup’s breath sends you running, take a close look inside their mouth. If you see red and inflamed gums and tartar buildup on the teeth, that’s periodontal disease and it may be contributing to your dog’s bad breath.
A full dental cleaning may be part of your dog’s annual checkup, but if they have persistent bad breath, an earlier visit might be necessary. To help keep your pup’s teeth and gums clean and healthy in between visits, brush their teeth (ideally once a day) and give them daily dental chews.
Keep in mind that foul breath isn’t always a symptom of dirty teeth. If you notice your dog pawing at their mouth or drooling more than usual, they might be suffering from a different kind of tooth or gum disease.
Bad breath can also be caused by kidney disease or diabetes. When kidneys fail or stop working properly, they stop eliminating certain waste products that then build up in the bloodstream and exit the body in the form of bad breath.
Diabetes can have an odd effect on a dog’s breath too, and if left unchecked can mess with their immune system and allow too much oral bacteria to grow. Diabetic ketoacidosis in particular can make a pooch’s breath smell almost sweet and fruity, which might not seem like a bad thing, but if you notice a change like this in your pup’s breath, let your vet know.
Bad breath can come from oral tumors as well. Oral tumors tend to grow quickly, and the growth is often too fast for blood vessels to counteract them, resulting in dead tissue. Bacteria then takes over the dead tissue and can cause unpleasant odors.
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Toxic or Foreign Substances
Many dogs will eat just about anything, food or otherwise, and there are plenty of random things that can get caught in a dog’s teeth or the crevices of their mouth. Just think — dogs will eat other animals’ poop (a condition called coprophagia when done regularly). Imagine little pieces of that poop getting stuck in a pup’s mouth — it’s bound to literally make their mouth smell like doo-doo.
Toxic substances a dog might get into, such as antifreeze or insecticide, can not only give a dog weird breath, but also make a pup very sick. If you suspect your pooch has consumed a toxic substance, take them to the vet immediately.
Food Can Cause Bad Dog Breath
A dog’s diet can have a huge effect on their breath. Stuff they shouldn’t be eating, like the substances mentioned above, can mess with their breath, but so can food and treats specifically made for dogs.
Dry and wet food both have their pros in terms of their effects on a dog’s breath. Some dog kibbles can help keep the mouth cleaner than wet foods,.
If you think your pooch’s food might be giving them bad breath, try switching up their diet. Puppo offers personalized nutrition plans and its nutritionists will work to build a diet that keeps your pup healthy — and their breath smelling normal.
Treating your dog’s stinky breath
At-home remedies are typically the first line of defense when you first notice your dog’s breath becoming foul. This includes things like regularly brushing their teeth (more on that soon), switching up their diet, and making sure they can’t get into things like the trashcan.
Regardless of the source of your dog’s bad breath, consistent daily dental care is crucial. As mentioned before, dental chews and brushing your pup’s teeth can be very helpful.
How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
Caring for a dog’s teeth isn’t quite the same as caring for your own teeth. Since dogs’ teeth are farther apart than human teeth, don’t worry about flossing your pup’s teeth. You’ll also need to get a brush and toothpaste made specifically for dogs since they can’t use human toothpaste. (Dogs can’t spit the toothpaste out and fluoride in human toothpaste is toxic to dogs.) There are also special gloves you can use to brush your pooch’s teeth with your fingers.
When you brush your dog’s teeth, take it as an opportunity to examine their mouth and look for broken teeth, cuts on their gums, or other signs of poor oral health.
When Bad Dog Breath is a Sign of Something More Serious
If your dog’s bad breath is only temporary, or not fixed by a change in diet or regular brushing, you should bring your pup to the vet to be properly examined and diagnosed. They may even need to get x-rays. This is especially important in case your pooch has kidney disease or diabetes.
Canine bad breath isn’t harmless — it could be a sign of a larger, more serious health issue, so it’s best to treat it sooner rather than later. Even if your pup doesn’t have bad breath, preventative brushing and cleanings are super important. Your dog will thank you for it!
How food can help prevent bad breath in dogs
While it may seem counterintuitive, food can actually help to prevent bad breath by reducing the risk of health issues, like diabetes, that can lead to it in the first place. Feeding your pup a quality and balanced diet, as well as providing consistent exercise and play, can promote health and longevity. Depending on the food itself, dog kibble can also provide brushing action that helps to manage tartar and plaque.
Puppo helps pet parents meet their dog’s nutritional needs, be that alleviating bad breath or weight management. To get a personalized, vet-designed nutrition plan, tell us about your pup with our comprehensive quiz.