Why Does My Dog Have Bad Breath?
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.
Foul dog breath could be 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 preventive care is necessary. The absolute best dental prevention is teeth brushing, and 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 with dog dental issues
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, and 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. 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. 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:
Cavalier King Charles spaniel
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!
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on March 12, 2013.