Why does my dog have bad breath?

Delaying your dog's dental care poses major health risks. (Illustration by Bruce Snow)

Delaying your dog's dental care poses major health risks. (Illustration by Bruce Snow)

Everyone who owns a dog knows what dog breath smells like. There are many reasons why dogs have bad breath: they may have just eaten something that smelled bad, they may have an anal gland impaction and have been licking themselves (a good reason to not let your dog or dogs kiss you), or they may have a medical problem like kidney disease or, more commonly, dental disease.

Besides obesity, dental disease is the most common medical condition we see in dogs and cats. What most people don't realize, though, is that bad breath is only the tip of the iceberg. Dental tartar buildup is not a cosmetic problem. Tartar buildup leads to gingivitis, and bacteria grow in the tartar which leads to infection in the gums, teeth roots and eventually the jaw bones.

A larger health issue

Chronic gingivitis can also lead to systemic health problems. Any inflammation in the body has consequences - it causes the body to react and produce negative, inflammatory proteins that wreak havoc on the kidneys, heart and other organs. I have unfortunately seen more than one pet euthanized because of kidney failure secondary to untreated dental disease. So what can we do?

Prevention is always easier, better for your pet and cheaper than treatment. Because of the speed at which bacteria grow in a pet's mouth, daily dental preventative care is necessary. The absolute best dental prevention is teeth brushing - luckily it's also the least expensive. With some training, most dogs will readily accept teeth brushing and may even come to like having it done. The finger brushes, in my experience, are usually better accepted than the actual toothbrushes. Be sure to use a dog-specific toothpaste because they are designed to be safe when swallowed, unlike human toothpastes.

If daily tooth brushing is not an option, then there are some alternatives that will help keep your pet's teeth clean. You should always speak with your veterinarian prior to starting any new products to make sure they are safe and the most effective products for your pet. Some available options are:

  • Feeding a prescription diet designed for dental health
  • A prescription oral rinse designed to be administered daily
  • Dental chews
  • Water additives that reduce bacterial contamination in the mouth

How veterinarians can help

Some dog breeds, such as pugs, may require more extensive dental care than others. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Sandi C. of Chico, Calif.)

Home dental care will help reduce the bacterial contamination in the mouth, which in turn reduces tartar buildup, gingivitis, and that knock-you-down dog breath we all have experienced! It will also help reduce the number and frequency of dental cleanings that need to be done. But, at some point in your pet's lifetime, a dental cleaning will be needed to restore the teeth to optimum health.

A dental cleaning is a medical procedure where your pet will be anesthetized by the veterinarian, the tartar will be removed and the teeth will be evaluated thoroughly for any signs of infection, broken or loose teeth, or gum recession. X-rays may be taken to evaluate the parts of the teeth under the gum line that we cannot see, which is where most diseases hide.

Treatments include simply removing the tartar, applying antibiotic gels to infected gums, oral or injectable antibiotics. Loose or infected teeth either need to be extracted or the pet can be referred to the veterinary dentist for a root canal.

Dental cleanings can be expensive - $200 to $800 or more depending on the extent of the dental disease - but planning ahead of time for that expense will allow you to get this necessary treatment done for your pet. The less disease that is present in your dog or cat's mouth, the cheaper the dental cleaning will be.

We encourage owners to have regular dental cleanings done when it is recommended by the veterinarian to help prevent the costs from rising when extensive X-rays or treatment is needed for the teeth. Many places also offer payment plans or CareCredit to help when it comes to paying the bill - just ask your veterinarian if there are any options.

Certain breeds of dogs develop more extensive dental problems than others, and with these breeds it is even more important to begin a home dental care regimen and to get routine dental cleanings done. These breeds are:

  • Chihuahua
  • Yorkshire terrier
  • Toy poodle
  • Pomeranian
  • Dachshund
  • Maltese
  • Papillon
  • Shih Tzu
  • Boston terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Miniature schnauzer
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • West Highland white terrier
  • Collies and Shetland sheepdogs

Remember, any pet with teeth can get dental disease, so regular yearly exams with your veterinarian are vital to identify and treat problems associated with the teeth!


About this Angie's List Expert: Open since 2000, Country Club Pet Hospital is a feline friendly practice and also treats exotic pets. Based in Mansfield, Texas, the practice offers veterinary care to pets in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

As of March 12, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.


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Indianapolis veterinarians recommend dog and cat teeth cleaning

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After a dental cleaning, pet owners can help teeth and gums stay looking good with regular brushings, veterinarians reccommend. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Matt Lemmons)
After a dental cleaning, pet owners can help teeth and gums stay looking good with regular brushings, veterinarians reccommend. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Matt Lemmons)

Dogs and cats require regular teeth cleaning and teeth brushing for good pet oral health. Indianapolis veterinary dentists recommend annual pet dental exams performed by veterinarians.

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