Causes and Prevention of Halitosis in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
Halitosis Bad Breath

Causes of Canine Halitosis

Bad breath can be caused by a number of different, and largely unrelated, conditions. These include:

  • Retained decomposing food debris
  • Dental disease (plaque build up; calculus; tartar; bacterial infection; others)
  • Gum disease (gingivitis; others)
  • Tumors of the oral cavity (especially necrotic malignant masses)
  • Canine ulcerative stomatitis (inflammation of the lining of the mouth with weeping sores; may be uremic stomatitis caused by build up of blood urea nitrogen due to kidney disease)
  • Non-healing wounds of the tongue and/or surfaces of the mouth (trauma, foreign bodies, cancer [neoplasia], medical procedures [surgical; dental], systemic infections [those that pertain to or affect the body as a whole], others)
  • Kidney failure (end-stage renal disease; urea and nitrogen build up in the blood stream; uremia)
  • Liver failure (end-stage hepatic disease; excess ammonia builds up in circulation; hyperammonemia)
  • Immune-mediated disease (systemic lupus erythematosus; drug-induced oral eruptions; others)
  • Chronic open-mouth breathing (brachycephalic head structure – wide skull, very flat face)
  • Bronchitis (inflammation of the large upper airways)
  • Pneumonia (inflammation of the functional tissue of the lungs)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder
  • Lip fold pyoderma
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (from uncontrolled diabetes mellitus)
  • Chronic licking of the anal area (perineal or anal sac disease)
  • Leptosirosis (viral infection)
  • Ingestion of unnatural or inappropriate substances; pica (cat/dog/other animal feces [copraphagia]; garbage; rotten animal or plant matter; others)

Interestingly, smells coming up the esophagus from the stomach and normal air breathed out through the trachea from the lungs are not thought to contribute to canine bad breath. The primary cause of the actual malodor is usually a build-up of a particular group of bacterial microorganisms classified as gram-negative, anaerobic bacteria. These are not part of the normal bacterial population of the mouth (in other words, they are not part of the “normal flora” of the mouth).

Preventing Bad Breath

Because there are so many potential causes of halitosis, prevention must be geared towards preventing those underlying causes. One good preventative measure is to have routine veterinary examinations of all canine companions. These annual check-ups should include a thorough oral examination. As dogs get older, veterinary dental cleanings, tooth removal and other professional periodontal procedures may be appropriate. These typically require the use of general anesthesia. Perhaps the best preventative measure for bad breath is routine in-home oral care by the dog’s owner. A veterinarian can easily instruct owners how to perform routine dental care for their pets. A number of doggy dental devices, including specialized toothbrushes, toothpastes, rinses, gels and chews, are readily available to help owners maintain good oral health in their canine companions.

Special Notes

Regular in-home oral care is important not only to prevent halitosis, but also for a dog’s overall health.

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