Question: Why does my dog’s breath smell so bad?

My Lab is 9 years old. His breath is horrible. It smells rotten. You can smell it when he walks up to you. We have looked at his teeth and they all look good. He is eating fine and acting normal. What can I give him to help? We have tried yogurt and that has done nothing.

-Allison

 

Answer:

Dear Allison,

I understand the anguish of bad dog breath. My mom once had a Greyhound with breath so foul he could melt the paint off the walls. It was murder being trapped in a small car with him when he was panting and barking!

That poor dog’s breath was always bad because he had severe dental disease. While dental problems are the most common cause of bad breath in dogs, there are other reasons your pup might have halitosis.  

5 Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs

1. Normal Mouth Bacteria

Even dogs with clean-looking teeth can have bad breath. The normal bacteria in a dog’s mouth feed on food remnants, multiply and eventually die.

The process produces the foul odors you notice coming from your dog’s mouth. Humans experience the same thing and that’s part of the reason most of us brush our teeth twice a day!

2. Oral Tumors

A less common cause of bad breath is oral tumors. Benign and cancerous oral tumors can trap food, harbor bacteria, or have so much inflammation they put off odors.

These tumors can be as small as a pea or as large as a golf ball. It’s sometimes challenging to find tumors in a fully awake dog due to a quickly moving tongue and resistance to examination.

3. Gastrointestinal Disease

Digestive problems like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can lead to bad breath. When the stomach contents are regurgitated, the gases contained in the stomach escape from the mouth.

4. Kidney Disease

Any disease that alters a dog’s normal metabolism can cause foul breath odor. Kidney disease allows toxins to build up in a dog’s body. The condition can lead to strong odors around the mouth as ammonia is released by the enzymatic action of saliva on the blood toxins.

5. Eating Garbage or Feces

This one seems obvious, but unless you’re aware of your dog’s habits, you might not think of it. Most dogs will eat half-rotten things from time to time, but a few go one step further. They eat poop. It could be their own, poop from another dog, or even from other animals (especially cats and horses).

How to Improve Your Dog’s Breath Odor

Even though you said your dog’s teeth look fine, I still want to encourage you to have a veterinarian take a look. The cause of bad breath may not obvious unless you know exactly what to look for.

Your vet may want to run blood tests to check for kidney problems. Radiographs or ultrasound can give a better idea of what’s going on in the digestive tract. If everything checks out OK, your dog may need dental radiographs to look for problems under the gum line (very common).

Easy Steps to Improve the Breath of a Healthy Dog

Let’s assume your dog’s vet exam doesn’t turn up any major problems. The easiest thing you can do to improve your dog’s breath odor while improving his health is to brush his teeth every day. You really must do it every day because the bacteria grow constantly. Brushing the teeth removes soft plaque before it hardens into calculus that you can’t remove easily.

With patience and persistence, almost all dogs can be trained to allow daily tooth brushing. If you need some help getting started, check out this YouTube video: How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth.

Good luck with your dog and I hope his breath is smelling sweeter soon!

 

Sincerely,

TB Thompson DVM

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