Bad Dog Breath: Dogs’ Breath Can Be Worse Than Their Bite

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By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

R.I.P. 1966-2014

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.

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16 responses to “Bad Dog Breath: Dogs’ Breath Can Be Worse Than Their Bite

  1. I have a female min pin that did not have bad breath a couple of weeks ago, now it is so bad it smell like a sewer and it’s getting worse by the day. Her appetite has not been the best and I don’t see her drinking any water at all. I am trying to figure out what could be the cause of this. Any help would be appreciated, thank you. I can afford to take her to the vet right now.

    1. I have a Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix. She just turned 5. Her breath has never been an issue until a few months ago, it’s rancid. Smells like sewer for sure. I took her to the vet and he said it wasn’t due to any dental issues-her teeth are fine. So we have to do blood work but it’ll cost over 500 dollars. I don’t have the money to do that and I’m terrified there’s a bigger issue here. She seems a bit sluggish then she used to be. She hardly drinks enough water. I’ve had her since she was a puppy. I’ve never over endulged her with people food. I’m scared and don’t know what to do?!

  2. Our last JRT, Jackie, got brown teeth, but nothing came of it. Our current JRT, Jake, had to get his teeth cleaned under anesthesia, then we got products for canine teeth. He doesn’t like cleaning, but he’ll tolerate a gentle rubbing with paper towel if treats follow. Then, at the suggestion of our puppy class teacher, Trish Wamsat, we started getting him bones. It’s awesome! Scrapes the tartar right off and is a good treat to give when we leave the house!

  3. I never realized that the dogs and cats breath are as dangerous as their bite. Very informative.

    Lajolla Dentist

  4. I have sent my dog to vet for thorough cleaning and they said his mouth wasn’t even that bad. Gave me Ora vet, bought more gave one a day. He has the worst breath of any dog. Don’t know what else to do.

  5. OMG this dog’s breath is foul…is there anything that I can feed him to get rid of the putrid odor? I am dog sitting and I can’t bring him to the dentist?

  6. Please help my staff has recently had bad breathe it smells like some poo has rotted in his mouth any help or advice please

    1. He might literally be eating poo, lots of dogs do (that’s actually the best case scenario if you want to avoid a vet trip) Or he could need his teeth cleaned by the vet, or he might have internal issues (digestive system, liver, kidneys etc). Blood work will tell you if that’s the case.
      Best of luck!!

  7. My dog been had bad breathe and I gave him the greens from the store and brush his teeth and the smell didn’t go away. And a few days ago I smelt a dead smell and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I gave him a bath yesterday and I smelt in his mouth and it smells like death and sewer. How can I get rid of this smell in his mouth without going to the vet for him? PLEASE HELP ME!!!!

    1. Hi. No way around this, he needs a vet. You are looking at several possibility, with one of them being a serious dental issue. Sorry. Good luck.

  8. I desperately need help…my rescue king charles has rotten teeth and cant stay in same room as family if we are eating as you wldnt be able to eat your food…unfortunately he has a very bad heart so cannot be put to sleep to remove rotted teeth…is ther anything i can give him to get rid of smell…he also lucks floors which i keep having to steam as it leaves floor odour…

    1. This is a question for your vet. You need to talk to them as soon as possible as bad teeth can also lead to more heart issues.

      1. You might ask for a referral to an actual pet dentist. I used to work with one and they are far better equipped to deal with high risk patients than your general veterinarian. The might be able to perform anesthesia and cleaning plus extractions.

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