By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS
While a dog’s or cat’s breath will never smell like a bed of roses, if it carries a stench that could wilt a dandelion, something's amiss. That means it's time for a visit to the vet.
The most common cause of bad doggy or kitty breath is a losing battle with the bacteria or tartar in the mouth.
In mild cases, the teeth are slightly speckled with tartar, the gums are inconspicuously inflamed and the odor is only faintly foul. In really bad cases, the gums are screaming for help and the teeth, blanketed under a calcified, yellow brown crust of bacteria and decaying food, are almost hidden from sight.
This mass of microbes and debris works its way below the gums, prying the gums away from the teeth, demolishing the supporting bone, and creating thousands of entryways for bacteria to invade the bloodstream.
For some unlucky dogs, the onslaught is in full bloom only six months to a year after a good veterinary dental cleaning. Others take years to succumb. Still others are fine until they fracture a tooth, creating a rough surface which gives bacteria a firm foothold leading to a speedy assault.
Doggie Dental Care
In any case, if this is the cause of your pooch's bad breath, you're in luck. Your veterinarian can perform a thorough dental cleaning and polishing under anesthesia during which he or she can also skillfully put any severely damaged teeth out of their misery.
Often in dental disasters, the casualty count can be immense with over half of the teeth facing an early retirement. Not surprisingly, a mouth problem of this magnitude also requires antibiotics and some follow-up.
This aftercare often includes a daily antibacterial dental rinse until the tender tissue has healed. Then, to stave off future oral episodes, Fido may need her teeth brushed or rinsed at least three times a week with a veterinary-recommended edible antibacterial rinse or toothpaste.
Unfortunately, teeth aren't the only potential cause of halitosis in hounds or killer breath in kitties. Other processes in the mouth as well as internal problems such as diabetes and kidney disease can cause a sudden sewer-like stench too.
Technically, the smells are slightly different, since they're caused by different chemicals in the body. And a few veterinarians, gifted dog and kitty breath connoisseurs, can just smell the breath and get an inkling of what the disease process might be. But even the finest nose can't be sure.
Since these internal diseases can seriously threaten the immediate health of your pet and since each disease has a different treatment, your veterinarian will perform extensive urine and blood tests if he or she suspects an internal disease.
Adapted from an article originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000.