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Many dog owners may assume that bad breath in dogs is just another everyday dog trait. Bad breath in dogs, known medically as halitosis in dogs can occur when your dog has a dental condition from gum disease or infection to tooth decay. This is a a foul odor which is noted to be coming from the mouth or oral cavity of your dog.

Bad breath is usually caused by bacteria in the mouth, so all mammals can have bad breath from time to time. Humans wake up, brush their teeth, take a swig of mouthwash, and in most cases, mask the bad breath for the rest of the day. However, most dog owners don’t brush their dog’s teeth every morning.

Bad breath in dogs does not always mean that there is a health problem, but it’s important to rule it out. If you notice your dog has bad breath, it’s worth giving them a dental check-up and looking for the other symptoms below. Dogs may have temporary bad breath from something they ate, but it shouldn’t be a long-lasting problem.

Treating bad breath starts by identifying the cause and taking steps to correct the underlying problem. Other than dental disease, causes of bad breath are oral tumors, tonsillitis, or foreign material in the mouth or voice box area. Even systemic diseases like kidney disease and diabetes can cause a change in the odor of the breath.

Symptoms of Bad Breath in Dogs

The main symptom of bad breath is pretty obvious. But, because there are multiple causes for bad breath in dogs, here are some other things you may notice about your pet:

  • Swollen, puffy gums
  • Blood tinged saliva or bleeding gums
  • Breath that smells fruity or sweet versus the foul smelling breath which is most obvious

Common Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs

Gum Disease

The most common cause of bad breath is a build up of bacteria on your dog’s teeth, called plaque. While a healthy mouth has bacteria in it, plaque promotes the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria that produce unpleasant odors, causing bad breath. If plaque isn’t removed, it can cause irritation and inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), which are the first signs of gum disease which is also known as periodontal disease.

When left untreated, gum disease can be dangerous to your pet’s health. In some cases, infection may even penetrate the bone causing a tooth root abscess (which may burst through into a sinus causing sinusitis) or even osteomyelitis (infection of the bone). Even simple gingivitis is a risk factor for heart disease and kidney failure as the bacteria can easily enter the bloodstream – in severe cases, they may even suffer from blood poisoning and septic shock.

Despite gum disease being preventable with a regular oral hygiene regimen, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that roughly 80% of dogs have gum disease by age three. That’s a lot of bad breath!


Dogs with diabetes can have breath that smells distinctly like acetone, the compound commonly used in nail polish remover. This is because acetone is a type of ketone, and diabetics have high levels of ketones in their blood, which makes it more acidic. These ketones can also sometimes smell especially sweet or fruity.

Liver Problems

If your dog has exceptionally strong, foul breath combined with vomiting, appetite loss, or yellowing gums and corneas, that could be a sign of liver disease. This smell is distinctly different than the smell caused by periodontal disease. Bad breath caused by periodontal disease smells more sulfuric. You should visit the vet immediately if you suspect your dog has liver disease, as it can be life-threatening.

Licking of the anal area

If you have a dog with an itchy bottom, he’ll often lick his anus where anal gland fluid can get on to his tongue. This can smell pretty bad and could be a sign that his anal glands need expressing – something that can be done quickly and painlessly by your vet.

Kidney Diseases

Kidney disease can result in high urea levels in the body, causing the breath to smell like urine or fishy. Kidneys are also an important organ for filtering out toxins.

Dietary Habits

Dogs can be gross. Sometimes their habits translate directly into bad breath. If your dog regularly gets into the garbage, or has access to decomposing animal remains, then his bad breath could be the result of unsupervised snacking.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Bad Breath in Dogs

If your pet demonstrates bad breath with any of these symptoms, it is important to get your veterinary professional involved sooner rather than later for the health of your canine family member. Your vet will need some input from you, so prepare yourself to supply information regarding your pet’s dietary regimen. Any oral cleaning regimens currently in place and the duration of those activities, exercise habits and general behavior, including the duration and severity of the bad breath you’ve noticed.

Curing bad dog breath depends on the cause. But luckily there are quite a few treatment options out there which includes;

  • Dental cleaning: dental clean and polish are the best ways of getting the gums back to normal. They will use an ultrasonic descaling tool to remove plaque from the teeth, both above and below the gum line. The teeth will also be polished to make it harder for bacteria to stick to them in future.
  • Removing Bad teeth: During the course of cleaning, your veterinarian may have to remove loose or damaged teeth, depending on the scope of the periodontal disease.
  • Tooth brushing: The best way to keep control of bacteria in the mouth is by brushing. This means gently wiping the teeth with toothpaste on a muslin-type material.
  • Diabetes, kidney, and liver disease are all conditions that require treatment from a veterinarian. Once the underlying issue is resolved, your dog’s bad breath should go away, too.

Preventing Bad Breath in Dogs

Gum disease is the most common cause of bad breath in dogs. So taking care of your dog’s oral microbiome with these good oral hygiene practices may just prevent bad breath:

  • Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth with dog-specific toothpaste and brush is the most effective way to remove plaque buildup around your dog’s gum line.
  • Providing your dog with lots of chew toys is also an effective way to improve oral health. The gnawing process knocks off plaque and can increase saliva production to wash away bacteria.
  • Routinely check your dog’s teeth for signs of gum inflammation or worsening of gum health. This is to know if you need to make changes to your dog’s oral hygiene practices.


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