Dog Bad Breath
Veterinarian Reviewed on October 20, 2012 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Signs and Symptoms
Dog bad breath is a common problem that can make life unpleasant for everyone. It can prevent you from playing with and getting close to your pet in the way you would like, and it can be upsetting for your dog too. Also referred to as halitosis, bad breath is not just typical doggie breath; rather, it’s a particularly foul and offensive odor coming from your dog’s mouth. While it’s unpleasant, dog bad breath can also be a sign of a serious health problem in your beloved pet. Sometimes the foul odor will be the result of an infection or other medical problem located in the canine’s mouth, while in other cases the problem will be elsewhere in the body, simply releasing the foul smell through the animal’s mouth. Either way, halitosis needs to be properly dealt with in order to protect and promote your dog’s health and well-being.
In some circumstances, a dog will simply need better dental care in order to effectively deal with its bad breath, but in other situations halitosis can be a sign of far more serious medical conditions. If your dog does have bad breath, there are other symptoms to watch out for as well. For example, oral discharge, bloody or otherwise, will sometimes accompany halitosis. Oral pain and difficulty eating are also warning signs to keep an eye out for. Other symptoms that should be given careful attention include drooling, depression, and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Furthermore, facial swelling, pawing at the mouth, sneezing, and nasal discharge can all be signs of mouth disorders. If you observe any of these symptoms in addition to your dog’s bad breath, a disease or infection could very well be at the root of the problem. However, even if you only observe the foul odor, it’s still important to have your dog examined by a veterinarian so that the cause of your pet’s halitosis can be identified and treated, preventing continuation of the unpleasant odor as well as protecting your furry friend’s health and happiness.
When a dog has bad breath, the diagnostic procedure will likely involve several steps in order to determine the underlying cause of the foul odor. To begin with, the veterinarian will go over the canine patient’s medical history and conduct a thorough physical examination in order to evaluate the animal’s health and to identify any potential illnesses or medical conditions. Veterinary care under such circumstances may also include a complete oral examination, for which a brief anesthetic may be necessary. This will allow the doctor to thoroughly examine the dog’s mouth, checking for infections or any abnormalities. Periodontal probing may also be conducted. This involves using a blunt probe to examine the tooth-gum interface in order to look for signs of periodontal or gum disease. Finally, full mouth x-rays may be used to identify the underlying cause of the dog’s bad breath.
A dog’s bad breath is more than just unpleasant and inconvenient; it can also be a sign of a serious health problem. Not only that, problems located in a dog’s mouth can affect the animal’s entire body, significantly detracting from your pet’s well-being and even shortening its lifespan. The foul odor characteristic of halitosis most commonly results from the accumulation of germs and bacteria in the dog’s mouth. As bacteria multiply, they create spaces large enough to trap bits of food in the mouth, leading to foul-smelling abscesses. Odor-causing bacteria can also get into a dog’s mouth through the eating of garbage or feces.
In addition to bacteria located directly in the dog’s mouth, bad odors released through the mouth can also come from other parts of the body. This often occurs when there is an underlying disease or medical condition. Some such illnesses that can commonly cause foul breath will be discussed below.
There are numerous different factors and medical conditions that can cause dog bad breath. In many cases, halitosis will result from a problem located in the dog’s mouth. Such problems include oral diseases like gingivitis, which involves inflammation of the gums, and periodontitis, which involves inflammation of the tissue surrounding the tooth. An abscessed tooth, an oral ulceration, or an oral tumor can also cause foul breath. Having a foreign body stuck in the mouth can also lead to halitosis. Whether a dog is suffering from plaque buildup or an abscessed tooth, all of these mouth problems lead to the accumulation of bacteria in the animal’s mouth, and this is the source of the bad odor.
Bad breath originating from other parts of the body aside from the mouth can be caused by a variety of diseases and medical conditions. Lung conditions, such as lung cancer, are known to cause halitosis in dogs. Severe kidney disease can also give rise to this problem, as waste products are exhaled through the breath from the blood. A dog may also suffer from bad breath if it has a bleeding stomach ulcer. Under such circumstances, the foul odor of digested blood will rise up from the dog’s stomach and exit through its mouth. Uncontrolled diabetes can also cause halitosis. This is due to the fact that diabetes can cause the metabolism of muscle and fat, which gives rise to breath with an acetone odor. Finally, certain medications can also cause bad breath. As a result, a dog’s bad breath can be caused by many different factors and illnesses, but the most common causes are mouth problems.
The treatment required for your dog’s bad breath will, of course, depend upon the underlying cause of the problem. For instance, if the presence of a foreign object is causing bacterial buildup, that object will need to be removed. If a medical condition is the source of the problem, specific treatment will be necessary. In the case of uncontrolled diabetes, a treatment plan will need to be implemented in order to control and regulate the disorder. Similarly, when a dog is suffering from Dog Kidney Disease, as much support as possible will be provided for the animal’s kidneys. When a stomach ulcer is causing the halitosis, a veterinarian may prescribe a stomach coating medication that will help to promote healing of the ulcer.
Since most cases of dog bad breath result from mouth and tooth problems, dental care will often factor significantly in the treatment of canine halitosis. Professional cleaning of the teeth and gums may be necessary. This type of treatment requires anesthetic and is conducted by a veterinary dentist. After the initial treatment by the veterinarian, there are steps that you can take in order to prevent the problem from reoccurring. These steps mostly involve providing your dog with a healthy diet and regular dental care. Regular dental care includes checkups with a veterinarian as well as home care. Just like humans need to brush their teeth every day in order to maintain good oral health, dogs need to have their teeth brushed frequently as well. In fact, brushing your pet’s teeth for a couple minutes every day is ideal. To do this, use a soft toothbrush and pet toothpaste with a flavour that your dog enjoys. Once your pet gets used to this routine, it will come to enjoy having its teeth cleaned.
In addition to tooth brushing, there are other steps you can take to ensure that your dog’s mouth is clean and healthy. For example, herbal supplements and mouth drops can be of great help with respect to promoting your dog’s oral health. Herbs such as Echinacea can be used internally to boost your dog’s immune system and can also be used as a tea or mouthwash to promote a healthy environment within the mouth. Natural remedies in the form of mouth drops can also greatly improve oral health by fighting tooth decay and gingivitis while cleaning the mouth and preventing bacterial infections. Herbal mouth drops may contain a variety of natural ingredients with beneficial properties that will help you to achieve these positive results. Like Echinacea, natural substances such as neem bark and sage act as antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral agents. Other natural ingredients like myrrh and plantain leaves have similar beneficial properties. So if you want to protect and promote your dog’s oral and overall health, regular dental care and herbal mouth drops can go a long way toward helping you achieve this important goal.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan