Your Dog’s Bad Breath: What You Need to Know

Your dog’s breath isn’t supposed to smell terrible. Bad breath can be an indicator of a medical problem that needs attention.

Oct 26, 2023byHeather Jarek
dog bad breath what you need to know

We all love getting kisses from our dogs, but sometimes their bad breath has us pushing away those sloppy wet kisses. Dogs use their mouths for more than just eating, and they don’t have the best dental hygiene. So, we think their breath is supposed to be smelly. However, most owners don’t realize that their dog’s bad breath can indicate other health issues. Keep reading to learn the causes of bad breath in dogs and what you can do about it.

The Most Common Cause of Bad Breath in Dogs

dog labrador drinking bowl

Periodontal disease, also known as dental disease in dogs, is the most common cause of bad breath in canines. Fortunately, it is also the most preventable and treatable. Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria in the mouth form into plaque on your dog’s teeth. This plaque build-up will harden into dental calculus (tartar) and cause inflammation in the gums.

Almost all dogs experience a form of dental disease in their lifetime. Some breeds are more predisposed to dental disease than others. Toy breeds and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds have smaller mouths, and their teeth are closer together, making it easier for bacteria to grow.

Brushing your dog’s teeth once a day can help minimize the build-up of bacteria in the mouth and prevent plaque from forming. Use toothpaste made for dogs, as human toothpaste has fluoride, which is toxic to dogs. Even with brushing, most adult dogs will require yearly dental cleanings where your veterinarian can use professional dental tools to remove the plaque. If left untreated, dental disease will worsen, leading to gingival (gum) recession, loose teeth, and infection. Prolonged dental disease in dogs can also lead to heart, kidney, and liver disease.

Bad breath is usually the first sign of dental disease in dogs. Other signs include red, swollen, or bleeding gums, tartar forming on the teeth, difficulty eating, and weight loss. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to call your vet and schedule a dental exam.

There Might be Something Stuck in Your Dog’s Mouth

dog beagle chewing stick

Dogs love to chew, and it’s good for them too. When dogs chew, it releases serotonin which helps alleviate stress and anxiety. Chewing can also help keep plaque from forming on the teeth. However, sometimes parts of chew toys can get stuck in the mouth. Pieces of sticks tend to get wedged in the roof of the mouth, cloth material can get stuck between the teeth, and parts of rope or string can get caught under the tongue. This can cause foul-smelling breath and extreme discomfort.

If you notice your dog’s breath suddenly smells terrible or they are having trouble eating, a foreign object may be the cause. It’s essential to seek veterinary care if you believe your dog has an object stuck in its mouth.

The fear of an oral foreign object shouldn’t keep you from letting your dog chew. It’s instinctual for them and does have significant health benefits. The best way to prevent a foreign object from getting stuck in your dog’s mouth is to allow them to chew on veterinary recommended chew toys. Always be sure to take away a chew toy once it has ripped or is starting to fall apart. These smaller pieces are more likely to get stuck or can cause an intestinal blockage.

Issues Beyond the Mouth Can cause bad Breath

dog smiling pitbull grass

It may be a surprise to hear that your dog’s bad breath can be caused by diabetes, kidney, and liver disease issues. These diseases can cause a unique smell to emanate from your dog’s mouth. A dog with diabetes will have sweet-smelling breath. Kidney disease can cause their breath to smell like urine or ammonia. Extremely repellent breath accompanied by yellow tinted eyes or gums is a sign of liver disease.

If your dog has bad breath accompanied by any of the following symptoms, that could mean an underlying illness needs to be addressed by a veterinarian.

  • Red or bloody gums
  • Excessive drooling
  • Dropping food or trouble chewing
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What you Can do to Help Your Dogs Bad Breath

dog holding toothbrush bernese

The first step to solving your dog’s bad breath is visiting the vet. Sometimes no significant health issues are causing your dog’s bad breath. If that’s the case, then there are some things you can do at home to help alleviate those unwanted odors.

We have already talked about brushing your dog’s teeth, which should be the first step to getting rid of bad breath. But sometimes, brushing alone is not enough to keep the odor away. Several veterinary prescribed and over-the-counter dental chews have been proven to help alleviate bad breath and help keep that plaque from building up. There are also water additives that can be put into your dog’s drinking water.

How You Can Prevent Bad Breath

woman hugging dog smile happy

Regular dental cleanings, check-ups, and brushing at home are the golden standards for preventing bad breath in dogs. It’s also important to feed your dog a healthy, well-balanced diet and make sure they are getting regular exercise.

Some dogs like to snack from litter boxes, so if you have a cat make sure the litter box is out of your dog’s reach. Unfortunately, some dogs enjoy eating their feces (coprophagia) due to behavioral or psychological reasons. The best way to discourage this habit is to clean up your pet’s waste before they can eat it. There are also some veterinary prescribed and over-the-counter products you can try.

Don’t let your dog’s bad breath keep you from snuggling up with your best friend. Make an appointment with your vet to ensure that your dog is not suffering from an underlying illness. Do your best to keep your dog’s mouth healthy by brushing and using dental treats and chews. A dog’s oral health plays an essential role in its overall quality of life, so keep their mouths healthy and enjoy those sloppy kisses!

Heather Jarek
byHeather Jarek

Heather is a lover of all animals, big and small. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology in 2014. She has been working as a licensed veterinary technician for the last eight years. Her favorite hobby is horseback riding, and she has been riding horses since the age of eight. She enjoys spending time with her family at the lake with their golden retriever Calista in her free time.