Many dogs, like many people, have bad breath, which medically is called “halitosis.” Bad breath is one of the most common complaints by dog owners; it just isn’t pleasant to be around a stinky dog. Dogs of any age and breed, including mixed breeds, can develop bad breath. Fortunately, most dogs with a smelly mouth don’t have any serious underlying medical disorder.
What Causes Bad Breath?
The most common cause of bad breath is periodontal disease – specifically, gingivitis and periodontitis. These are inflammatory conditions of the gums and other tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. Affected dogs develop painful pockets of inflammation and infection between their teeth and gums, which lead to plaque and tartar accumulation and can cause tooth loss. Bacteria can spread from an unhealthy mouth through the blood stream, causing a potentially life-threatening infection called septicemia or sepsis.
Many owners let their dogs “kiss” them, which is when they notice their smelly breath. Unfortunately, a dog’s natural grooming instincts bring its mouth and tongue directly into contact with body areas that aren’t particularly hygienic, such as the anus and external genitalia. This clearly contributes to bad breath. Other causes of smelly breath include lip fold pyoderma, necrotic oral tumors (melanoma, osteosarcoma), lodged foreign bodies, retained food debris, gastric reflux and eating garbage or rotting food (dietary indiscretion). Brachycephalic breeds, which are those with broad foreheads and flat faces such as Bulldogs, Pugs, French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers, tend to breathe through their mouths more so than other dogs, which predisposes them to bad breath. Sometimes, offensive mouth odors are caused by an underlying medical problem. For example, liver and kidney disease are associated with bad breath from a build-up of circulating ammonia. Diabetic dogs can have a sweet, almost fruity breath smell. Dogs with gastrointestinal disorders frequently have bad breath.
What Can Be Done About Bad Breath?
If a dog has bad breath but otherwise is alert and healthy, the solution may be as simple as starting a good at-home teeth-brushing regimen. Dogs with a substantial amount of accumulated plaque and tartar will need a professional dental cleaning, scaling and polishing. This will give the veterinarian an opportunity to examine the dog’s mouth and check for sores, wounds, lodged foreign bodies, masses and loose or broken teeth. If the dog’s offensive breath is accompanied by other signs of ill thrift, such as appetite loss, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, excessive drinking or excessive urination, the veterinarian may recommend blood and urine tests, radiographs (X-rays) and other more advanced diagnostic tests, because something more serious than dental disease may be involved.
Dogs fed crunchy dry kibble usually have healthier mouths than those that eat canned food. Special diets, treats and toys are available to help control plaque and tartar accumulation. Daily tooth brushing, using toothpaste made for dogs, is one of the best ways to manage bad breath and make dogs more pleasant to be around.