No owner wants their dog to have bad dog breath, yet it remains to be one of the number one complaints among pet owners. But what actually causes your dog's bad breath? If left untreated, what other conditions could your dog's bad breath lead to? And what are the available solutions to bad dog breath? Read on to find out how to keep your dog's mouth healthy, clean, and fresh.
What Causes Bad Dog Breath?
Plaque, Tartar, and Periodontal Disease
The foundation of bad dog breath is the build-up of food particles on teeth and gums and the resulting bacterial growth. If this plaque is not removed from the teeth, over time it hardens and becomes calculus or tartar. This tartar creates a rough surface which attracts more food particles and plaque, leading to even more tartar build-up. Tartar in dog teeth is much harder to remove than just plaque, and often requires veterinary scaling.
One of the most common conditions in pets, periodontal disease is also a major contributor to bad breath in dogs. Canine periodontal disease (a.k.a. gum disease in dogs, dog dental disease) starts when bacteria in the mouth cause the buildup of plaque and tartar along the gum line. This bacteria then breeds under the gums and begins to deteriorate supporting tissue around the tooth. The gums are now inflamed and your dog has (reversible) gingivitis. Your dog's immune system then produces excess white blood cells to attack the bacteria. Chemicals produced by the white blood cells cause additional damage to the supportive tissues of the tooth by causing inflammation in the periodontal space (between the tooth and gums). This condition is referred to as periodontitis. If left for too long, the tooth will likely need to be extracted in an expensive dental procedure.
Indigestion and Food Intolerance
While not a primary cause of bad dog breath, indigestion and other gastrointestinal upsets can cause periodic bad breath in dogs. These causes of bad breath in dogs are occasional instead of chronic, occuring only after your dog has ingested the offending food and for several hours after. However, it should be noted that if the offending food is in your dog's regular kibble, his symptoms will appear chronic. Usually, this bad breath is accompanied by upset stomach, nausea, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, or other signs of digestive problems. Switching to a higher quality dog food or a limited ingredient diet can help reduce allergy symptoms and food intolerance.
Some dogs experience indigestion that does not have to do with food allergies or intolerance. Indigestion in dogs can also be caused by anxiety or stress, including separation anxiety or travel anxiety. These symptoms can manifest during a stressful event or even for a few weeks after a traumatic event.
Kidney Disease, Liver Disease, and Diabetes
Bad dog breath can be a sign of some very serious conditions. While these conditions are not the usual cause of bad breath in dogs, they are still worth noting. Some of these conditions, such as kidney and liver disease can be caused by advanced periodontal disease. Diabetes is unrelated.
Pay special attention if your dog:
- Has breath that smells sweet or like urine
- Has bad breath that is accompanied by difficulty in urinating, increased urination, lethargy or extreme tiredness, decreased appetite, profuse vomiting, yellow looking gums
- Has any other unusual symptoms
What Can Bad Dog Breath Lead To?
Heart, Liver, and Kidney Disease
While bad breath is a symptom and not a condition, it can lead to some very serious and debiliating conditions. When you allow bacteria to proliferate in your pet's mouth, eventually it makes its way to the bloodstream and then, it can reach the liver, kidneys, and heart. Severe dental disease has been linked to heart valve infections, heart murmurs, kidney disease that causes renal failure, and eventually even death.
This is why proper dental health and prevention of bad breath and periodontal disease in dogs is so important.
What Can I Do To Get Rid of Bad Dog Breath?
Home oral hygiene for your dog can remove plaque, improve oral health, decrease progression of periodontal disease, and help get rid of that terrible dog breath. Here are 6 excellent dental solutions for dogs:
Regular tooth brushing is just as important for pets as it is for people. Particles of food and bacteria build up near the gum line and in between teeth. These bacteria can lead to plaque and tartar, poor gum health, bad breath, and even the breakdown of protective enamel on the teeth. While daily brushing is recommended, brushing as little as once or twice a week can keep your pets mouth healthier and keep your vet bills down.
2. Water Additives
Water additives freshen your dog's breath and reduce bacteria. Similar to mouthwash products for people, water additives can be poured by the capful directly into your dog’s water dish. Water additives are best used in conjunction with regular toothbrushing, as they are not able to remove plaque and tartar or breakdown food that is built up between the teeth.
3. Chewing and Dental Treats
For pets that are a little more finicky, chewing is an easy way to keep plaque and tartar build up from spoiling canine pearly whites. Bones, rawhides, bull sticks and dental treats and toys are a tasty and less invasive dental solution. Your pet will do all the work for you, using the treat to scrape the food residue and bacteria from their teeth.
Treats specifically marketed as dental treats will have ingredients to target bad breath and bacteria, like peppermint or parsley. Some treats are formulated to keep their shape as the animal bites into it. This ensures that the abrasion from the cookie will reach the plaque closest to the gum lines where much of the bacteria will hide. While no treat can reverse tartar damage, they are still valuable as they can prevent future tartar development.
4. Raw Food and Bones
Food can play an important role in dental health. Canned foods offer no abrasion against the teeth and are not recommended without supplementing bones or chews. Dog kibble formulated for dental health can be a better way to control plaque in your pet’s mouth than standard diets as it contains calcium carbonate, which serves as an abrasive on teeth. Raw diets are by far the most effective food for maintaining proper oral health. The intact enzymes in raw meat are superior to other diets at protecting your dog's mouth from the bacteria that causes plaque and tartar. A raw food and bone diet also does not contain as many simple sugars and like ingredients that promote the growth of bacteria in your pet's mouth.
5. Tooth Sprays, Foams, or Gels
Products in the form of gels, foams, or sprays also help to clean dog teeth and freshen breath. Applied directly to the gums and teeth or on the underside of the cheeks, gels and sprays work in a similar way to mouthwashes. Your pet tries to lick the product off, spreading the oral cleaner around his or her own mouth. For more severe build up, massaging the gel/spray onto their teeth with a finger toothbrush will produce more effective results. This method is a better choice than just brushing the teeth when trying to whiten already stained teeth, but once again, is best when used in conjunction with brushing your dog's teeth.
6. Oral Probiotics
The best way to achieve and maintain better dental health is to control the bacteria in your pet’s mouth. Oral probiotics work by culturing healthy bacteria directly in your pet's mouth. Introduce healthy bacteria into your dog’s mouth by sprinkling this powdered probiotic directly onto their food. The good bacteria will kill off harmful bacteria by competing for resources. The result is whiter teeth, fresher breath, and improved overall dental health. This hassle-free, inexpensive treatment is safe for both dogs and cats, and can improve or even replace other dental treatments such as toothbrushing.
While proper dental care for your dog is not always easy and can take time and effort, it is well worth the cost. The oral hygiene you provide for your dog will not only help you get rid of bad dog breath, but improve your dog's systemic health and prevent infection, disease, and even increase their lifespan.