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How to prevent and treat bad doggy breath

Danel Grimmett Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Sunset Veterinary Clinic

Doggy breath can be the result of many different conditions. Let’s remember: dogs eat many things that would be absolutely repulsive to their owners - dead animals, feces, bugs, etc. And let us not forget that dogs are prone to lick certain areas of their bodies that maybe aren’t the cleanest of spots. All of these things contribute to bad doggy breath, but don’t let that trick you into thinking that canine halitosis is normal. Bad breath can be a sign of much worse things to come for your pup.


Do brush your dog’s teeth daily

It sounds like a chore, sure - especially if your dog is fighting it the entire time. However, brushing daily is the best way to keep teeth clean and healthy, and it’s the easiest way to beat bad breath. The outside surface of their teeth (the part that lays inside their lips) is the most important surface to clean.

Do check your dog’s teeth for tartar build-up or food particles

Dogs don't use toothpicks. So, as owners, we need to check our dog's mouth for stuck food and tartar build-up. The accumulation of tartar along the gum line can and often does result in gum recession which leads to periodontal disease and eventual tooth loss. Brushing your dog's teeth can help avoid these situations, but you can never be too careful. Check those teeth after a big meal!

Do check with your veterinarian if tartar is visible on their teeth

If you’ve cleaned your dog’s mouth thoroughly, brushed its teeth, and are still seeing tartar build-up, it’s definitely time to go to the vet. As stated above, tartar can start a snowball effect resulting in periodontal disease. Advanced periodontal disease can lead to bone resorption. If the bone becomes fragile enough, pathologic fractures can result. The simple act of chewing food can lead to a fractured jaw! Always check with your vet if you’re unsure of what you’re seeing, or if the problem persists.

Do have your dog’s teeth cleaned if your veterinarian recommends it

Periodontal disease and abscessed teeth are a source for local and systemic bacterial infections. The “showering” of bacteria from the teeth into the bloodstream can lead to systemic infections. Bacterial endocarditis is a colonization of bacteria on the heart valves resulting in the disruption of blood flow through the heart. This condition can lead to congestive heart failure. The showering of bacteria through the bloodstream can also lead to kidney impairment and failure.

Do realize that bad breath could be the result of something bigger

I’ve talked about what could happen if bad breath isn’t properly treated, but if you’re brushing your dog’s teeth and seeing no signs of bacteria build-up, your dog could be suffering from a systemic disease such as diabetes or kidney failure. If you are unable to determine the source of the bad breath, take your dog to a veterinarian to properly assess the situation.


Do not use human toothpaste

Only use toothpaste that has designed to be safe for dogs and/or recommended by your veterinarian. Most human toothpastes include fluoride, which can be extremely poisonous to dogs.

Do not feed your dog soft food if possible

Maybe this can’t be avoided in some cases, but if it can, elect to use hard kibble instead. Hard kibble will be more abrasive helping to keep your dog’s teeth clean.

Do not fall for aggressive marketing campaigns for treats

These marketing campaigns come through commercials, radio spots and elaborate packaging. We see/hear them every day. Trust me, your dog doesn’t know what a T-bone steak looks like. Don’t buy a treat just because it is colorful and looks like something you recognize as tasty. Your dog will be excited about healthy treats that are good for its teeth, too!

Do not dismiss bad breath as normal for dogs

Your dog’s breath might not be as fresh as yours (assuming you aren’t brushing his teeth twice daily), but doggy halitosis should not be a common issue. If your dog has been experiencing bad breath, please consult your veterinarian regarding the issue.

Jumping cartoon

It is recommended that you brush your dog’s teeth daily, use veterinary approved dental chews, and schedule regular dental checkups with your veterinarian. On occasion, dogs will need to have their teeth professionally cleaned. The frequency of these cleanings will vary by breed, age, health history and diet. Bad breath is no laughing matter and it could lead (or be the result of) serious health concerns for your pup. Take the first step and consult your veterinarian if your dog has perpetual bad breath; it could save its life!

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Danel GrimmettDoctor of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Danel Grimmett has been a member of the Sunset Veterinary Family since 2009. Her experience covers a wide span of clinical settings. It includes emergency medicine, small, exotic and mixed-animal practices, both in the United States and over...

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