Bad Breath in Dogs: What Causes It and How to Deal With It

Bad Breath in Dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

One of the first fragrances you will encounter upon when a new puppy arrives in your home is the smell of his breath. No matter how fast the puppy grows and it seems to you that in time it has grown into a large dog, the smell of the puppy’s breath will imperceptibly but permanently etch into your sub consciousness. You will recognize it every time you meet a puppy, pet him and smell the well-known odor from his mouth. This smell will bring back the happiest of memories and provoke a smile that will absolutely be recognized by all the people who love dogs.

Spending quality time in games and having fun with your dog will lead to a better knowledge of each other. By analyzing your dog very well you can easily notice the appearance of some unusual things. One of them will certainly be a change in the smell of his breath. Therefore, bad breath in dogs represents one of the most common complaints of dog owners at the veterinary practice. Halitosis, fetor ex ore, malodor… All these various terms are synonyms used for the same problem, bad breath in dogs! You will probably ask yourself what causes dogs to have bad breath.

Same problem, different causes

What causes dogs to have bad breath? Actually, the causes of its occurrence can be of different nature and different localization.

The first change in the smell of a dog’s breathe can come even at an early age. The puppies between the ages of 3 to 5 months of arriving in the somewhat problematic period when there is a change in his milk teeth to permanent. There may be a possible bleeding and you may at first notice something unusual with the smell of your dog’s mouth.

Be aware that puppies of this age are willing to nibble on anything they can find. Enable the puppy to play with toys, remove sharp objects with which it could be cut, hurt or objects that could be thrust into the tissue of the mouth, tongue or between the teeth. Remove from the reach of the dog all the valuable items that could be damaged.

Pay attention to your home plants because some of them can be toxic if the dog chews it up and swallows it. Make sure that the dog cannot get to the electric wires. Different injuries of the oral tissue, bleeding, as well as inflammatory processes that can occur in this age may affect the reassignment of breath smells and it is very easy to notice.

Dog chewing everything

Sometimes during the walk you will notice that your dog eats feces. You will meet the probably worst form of a bad breath and you certainly will not be happy in this situation. Coprophagia in pups and nursing females is considered to be normal, instinctive behavior and the causes of its occurrence are still not precisely defined. In any case, the use of high-quality food and vitamin supplements can prevent these unwanted behavior to some extent.

The use of certain types of foods can influence the smell of the breath. Pay attention if the occurrence of an unusual odor coincides with the change of the foods your dog consumes. This is especially possible if the dog’s nutrition is based on home prepared food or you have a custom to give him food from your table.

Pathology behind the bad smell

The main cause of bad breath are decay processes in the dog’s mouth caused by bacterial activity. The bacteria release gases such as sulfur, which gives breath specific odor alike eggs. Polysaccharides from your dog’s saliva, which precipitates the teeth represent an ideal nutrient medium for the growth of bacteria in the oral cavity which has especially in vast numbers. In this way the teeth plaque is created.

During the time calcium precipitates on the tooth plaque and it gradually creates a tooth tartar. The tooth tartar is usually localized at the dog’s canines and the molars. Inflammation of the tissues surrounding the teeth, periodontitis, is one of the most common cause of the appearance of bad breath in dogs over 3 years of age.

Initially prevailing types of aerobic bacteria (those using oxygen) are gradually replaced by prevailing anaerobic bacteria species (named after the fact they do not need oxygen).  Antibiotics are commonly used in therapy and the best results come from clindamycin usage. There are medications based on zinc, zinc is mixed with sulfur and zinc sulfide products which neutralize the sulfur, the gas responsible for the presence of the bad smell.

As the inflammation progresses, the normal gingival sulcus’s are replaced by pockets in the gums that can accumulate food debris and bacteria whose activity leads to putrefaction processes which are also responsible for the bad breath.

If your dog is prone to biting hard objects such as stones or metal objects, it is very likely that after the damage of the tooth enamel the dog’s teeth will be more vulnerable to penetration of bacteria and emerging pathological processes. Try preventing the dog to bite or chew hard objects that represent a danger to his teeth.

As for the other causes of bad breath localized in the oral cavity, there are different trauma, ulceration, necrosis of tissues of the mouth, damaging foreign objects and the presence of oral cancer. During your dog’s mouth examination if you notice some other unusual things except the bad smell, you should also notify your veterinarian which would contribute a lot in making the precise diagnosis.

The tongue represents an area to which you must also devote attention during the checkup because various infections, trauma and inflammatory processes can also contribute to bad breath. Fully check the status of the tongue and make sure there are no abnormalities. Keep in mind that certain dog breeds such as chow-chow naturally have purple pigmentation of the tongue which is not pathology. Also, at some dogs you will notice black spots on the gums and palate, which can be normal pigmentation of these areas, although it will seem unusual at first glance.

Dog teeth

Tumors of the mouth can also be part of the pathology that is responsible for bad breath. One of the most common tumors in the oral cavity is epulis, it is a benign tumor of the connective tissue of the gum that usually occurs in older dogs and in terms of breed predisposition the most predisposed are the German Boxers.

The tumor has the same color as the gums so it is difficult for the owners to make a difference from the dog’s gum and they often realize that something is wrong only when the tumor grows and becomes bigger. These tumors are prone to bleeding and they can cause troubles when the dog eats. These tumors are divided into three types: Fibromatous, Ossyfying and Acanthomatous. In terms of treatment surgical intervention is recommended.

Other symptoms that you could possibly notice after you felt bad breath is the presence of tartar, redness and swelling in the gums, the presence of neoplasms, foreign objects embedded in the oral tissue or the tongue, bleeding or purulent processes …

Most of these problems irritate the dog so it paws the mouth trying to eliminate the problem that bothers him. Many of these pathological processes can be painful and complicate the feeding. The dog can even begin to completely refuse consuming food. These conditions can lead to very serious situations of anorexia and urgent treatment is needed.

If you’d like to know more about the causes of doggy bad breath, we have a great article on dental disease in dogs, their causes, and suggested solutions for keeping your dog’s mouth healthy.

Importance of proper diet

Dog nutrition is a very important part of this topic. The ancestors of your dog in the wild were alone responsible for their nutrition. They had to kill for every meal. Sticking their teeth into the flesh, tearing it crushing bones etc. These same teeth allowed them to defend themselves from other beasts and survive. Today, the nutrition of your dog has moved from the wild into your kitchen, and the responsibility of its quality lies in your hands.

Not sure what’s really out there in the marketplace? Find out more in our article about organic dog food and the available brands for you to consider.

Food quality is of great importance not only for the digestive tract but for the entire state of the body and the health of your dog. Do all you can to make sure your dog consumes the best food possible for its size and age? Never give the dog frozen or too hot food because it can lead to serious problems in the digestive tract.

Dog Nutrition Infographic

Another option is to consider a complete change in diet. Our article on the raw food diet for dogs will provide you with essential information you need to help your dog’s breath, as well as other great benefits.

If you’re interested in helping your dog’s breath, as well as experiencing other useful benefits, please read our article on the

Brachiocephalic dog breeds (dogs with short muzzle), which include boxers, Boston terriers, pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, bullmastiffs and similar breeds, are more predisposed to problems with bad breath, because of the specific arrangement of teeth that are closer together than in other dog breeds. These breeds are also predisposed to the occurrence of oral cancers, the most common of which is epulis. Bullmastiff, 80 percent of dogs over 3 years are suffering from initial phases of periodontitis.

The cause of bad breath may not always be located in the mouth. Different processes in the nasal cavity — bleeding, rhinitis and inflammatory processes in the dog’s sinuses, can also be causes of bad breath. Infections and inflammatory processes in the throat such as tonsillitis may also contribute to the occurrence of bad breath.

Bad breath can be a symptom of systemic diseases such as diabetes when sweet, fruit alike smell can appear from the mouth. Uremia and renal or hepatic impairment may cause a breath with smell of urine. The above conditions are very serious and require immediate medical treatment.

If you ask yourself what to do about dog’s bad breath, here is some advice that could help you prevent the appearance of this problem. Take a serious concern about the hygiene of your dog and the area in which it lives. These include the use of clean dishes for food and clean water bowels with fresh water that is always available for your dog.

Dog breath treats

Make sure you make the dog feel comfortable when manipulating its mouth during games at an early age. It will be useful in many situations in everyday life, during the game, brushing teeth, visits to the vet, showing the teeth of the dog on dog shows when requested by a judge, and thus can even save the life of the dog in cases where the instance taken into the mouth is something toxic. You have to know that the mouth and teeth are very sensitive and personal dog areas and are reluctant to allow manipulation.

You must acknowledge the fact when approaching to manipulate with the dog’s mouth, to do it in a calm and patient manner. Use only toothpaste made for dogs with flavors that your dog likes, like a paste with meat flavor that does not bother the dog. Never use a human toothpaste as an alternative. Breath refreshing sticks for dogs are made to neutralize the normal mouth odor. They only mask the bad breath but they don’t eliminate the main reason which is responsible for the bad breath.

Your trusted veterinarian

Just as your relationship with your dog requires careful actions and patience, the same goes when dealing with your veterinary doctor. Select the best possible veterinarian who will take care of your dog while growing up, conduct regular checks and be up to date with everything that is happening with the dog’s health during its growth, development and future life.

Choose a veterinarian who will be happy to listen to all of your questions and will be happy to answer them too. You need someone who will take all your information seriously and always devote enough time to advise you about everything that interests you. Give priority to the vet who will be patient while manipulating with your dog and who does his best to gain his trust. Do a web research for better information in the fields and topics connected with the proper care of your dog, but do not put all the tips in use before consulting your veterinarian.

Great importance should be given to any problem at an early stage and in that order notifying your veterinarian should only come as necessity and obligation. Some processes can thrive and facilitate the lead to major problems of anorexia and even life-threatening conditions of a dog. If periodontitis and gingivitis do not cure the progressing of the condition there is a danger to other internal organs such as the heart and kidneys.

The prevention is always a smart choice

Any change in your dog’s breath signals an alert that something is wrong. Inform your veterinarian about it as soon as possible. If you vet does not take your complaints seriously and does not allocate sufficient time to devote to this problem it is probably time to change the vet. A skilled veterinarian will first do a general clinical examination of your dog, examine the oral cavity and then, if necessary, propose additional examinations, laboratory tests, and usually an x-ray images to detect the real cause behind the problem and then successfully eliminate them.

During the examination the veterinarian should also pay attention to the skin around the mouth and possible changes caused by trauma, bacterial infection or possible presence of purulent processes in the skin — pyoderma because all these relevant states may also cause a very specific smell.

Dentists for dogs

When severe gingivitis occur the first thing that is recommended is antibiotic therapy to calm the inflammation and provide dental interventions to eliminate the causes of the inflammation in the end. Those dental procedures include tartar cleaning, teeth repairing and removing of rotten teeth.

All the dental procedures mentioned earlier need a providing of general anesthesia because it is practically impossible to intervene in the mouth without it, if this is not done there is a risk of injury and the procedures can be stressful for the animal. Devices that are used in these procedures with their sound, vibration and splash water would certainly upset the dog and make the performing of these procedures practically impossible.

On the market there are chew toys that are used to remove plaque and specific dog treats for plaque removal.

Breath mints for dogs

You should always take the veterinarian’s recommendations about the proper nutrition of your senior dog very seriously, especially if your dog has a history of teeth problems or missing teeth. It is recommended to use a special dog food for seniors which is available on the market. You can soak the granules with warm water to make them soft and easier to consume. If the dog is left without teeth it will be difficult for the canine to consume solid food and it will need your cooking skills to help him manage this situation.

Saving on a bit of cash can be great for you both you and your pet, so why not consider making dog toothpaste in your own home? Read our article on the easy-to-do steps for making homemade dog toothpaste.

The key points

Proper diet, veterinary checkups, regular teeth brushing, providing well hygiene and implementation of a stable circle of trust between you, your dog and your veterinarian are key points to prevent the occurrence of many health problems including those responsible for bad breath. Make sure you do your best for your dog to be healthy. Make sure you do your best for your dog to be happy. Make sure you do your best for your dog to be breathtaking!

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.