9 Reasons Your Dog Has Bad Breath And 9 Ways To Prevent It

Love your dog, but hate his bad breath? Indeed you do! A healthy dog’s breath should be “paw-fectly” fresh. So if your dog has bad breath, it isn’t something you should shrug your shoulders and accept. It could be a sign that something is wrong with your dog.

Rather than recoiling or reaching for the air freshener, the responsible pet parent needs to start asking questions like:

“Why my dog has bad breath and what should I do to cure it?”

More than being unpleasant, a bad odor is a strong call for action. However, what you do, will depend on why the dog has bad breath. Because this isn’t just about masking an unpleasant smell, but also about fixing the underlying issue.

Do the right thing by your dog by learning more about the causes of halitosis (bad breath) in dogs and effective ways to prevent it.

Signs that Indicate Your Dog Has an Oral Problem

When a dog has bad breath the symptoms may be all too obvious, such as needing to hold your breath around your dog. More often though, it’s more subtle, such as a bad smell on the pet’s fur where he’s washed himself.

Aside from stinky breath, halitosis can be accompanied by other signs that give clues to the actual cause of bad breath. Following are some of them:

  • Red or Inflamed Gums: Known as ‘gingivitis’, this sign is an early warning of potentially more serious dental disease.
  • Ulcers in the Mouth: Can be the result of licking toxins, gingivitis, or kidney disease.
  • Heavy Drooling: A sign of a painful mouth or throat.
  • Brownish Tartar Deposits on Teeth: This pushes on the gum causing recession and ultimately loose teeth.
  • Increased Thirst: Some dogs drink to get rid of a bad taste in the mouth or it can be a sign of more general disease.
  • A Poor, Dull or Dry Coat: A dog with a sore mouth will be reluctant to groom.
  • Smelly Fur on the Forelegs: Foul-smelling saliva is drooled into the fur as the dog sleeps and rests his chin.
  • Altered Eating Habits: Dropping food out of the mouth or asking for food but not eating, can point towards a hungry dog with sore teeth.


  • Pawing or Rubbing at the Mouth: A symptom of oral discomfort.
  • Decreased Appetite: Possibly due to more general illness or because of oral pain.
  • Weight Loss: As a result of general ill health or eating less due to dental discomfort.
  • Physical Changes: A swollen belly for example. It’s a red flag that indicates the dog has a health problem that needs attention.

So what are the underlying reasons a dog has bad breath? Let’s take a look.

The Most Common Reasons a Dog Has Bad Breath

Dental disease springs to mind because:

a) Dog’s don’t generally brush their teeth every day, unless we do it for them, and
b) Dental disease is extremely common.

Indeed, the state that most dogs have evidence of periodontal (gum) disease by the age of just three years – and yes, you read that right!

But let’s look at the global picture of why a dog has bad breath because halitosis can be due to one of many reasons listed below. Remember, there are many other reasons aside from dirty teeth which lead to stinky breath.

1. Dog’s Diet: You know how your breath stinks after eating garlic bread. Well, the dog equivalent is a diet high in fish or fermentable foods such as soya. If your dog has bad breath that is worse after eating, then it may well be his food that’s to blame.

2. Disease: Conditions such kidney disease or diabetes are strongly linked to bad breath. In the case of kidney problems, toxic metabolites build up in the blood where they have a double whammy effect. Firstly they are released on the breath and secondly they irritate the delicate gum tissue, causing infection. Likewise, an untreated or unstable diabetic often has a sickly sweet, acetone like quality to the breath.

3. Oral Infection: Gum inflammation (gingivitis) weakens the gums natural defense mechanism, leading to infection, which is often smelly.

4. Oral Foreign Bodies: The piece of stick wedged between the back molars acts as a food trap and can cause a super smelly stink.

5. Toxins: The dog that stole medication or accidentally poisoned themselves with weed-killer is liable to have smelly breath as a result of organ damage.

6. Stomach Upsets: Dogs that are vomiting for whatever reason, such as scavenging or pancreatitis will have the bad breath to go with it.

7. Cancer: A tumor in the mouth may be concealed beneath the tongue or right at the back of the mouth and hard to see. The dog may bite on the tumor and it becomes infected and smelly.

8. Inadequate Saliva Production: It is rare, but some dogs don’t produce enough saliva, and without its natural antibacterial properties bacteria multiply and the mouth becomes smelly.

9. Dental Disease: Last but by no means least comes infected, broken, or damaged teeth and poor oral hygiene such as an buildup of plaque (a sticky, bacterial rich substance that coats the teeth) and tartar ( a hard, deposit of minerals that covers the teeth.)

9 Effective Ways to Prevent Bad Breath in Dogs

If your foot hurts because the shoe is too small, the answer is not painkillers, but a new pair of shoes. In the same way, if a dog has bad breath because of kidney disease, the answer is not a but therapy to assist the kidneys to work more efficiently.

With this in mind, let’s look at the steps you should take so that he gives sweet kisses once again.

1. Lookout for changes: If your dog has bad breath and starts drinking more than usual or having accidents in the house, take note of it. The first clues that the dog has a health problem are often subtle changes from the norm. For example, eating less or drinking more, lack of interest in , or being less energetic on walks.

Get your pet checked by a vet, as a problem diagnosed early is much more responsive to treatment.

2. Handle his mouth: Get your dog used to getting his mouth handled by you. This allows you to check their mouth and spot that stick stuck between the molars or an abnormal growth at the back of the mouth. Regular checks mean you soon become familiar with what normal looks like and are better able to spot problems early.

3. Fresh breath foods: If all appears well but the dog has bad breath, try changing the diet. Test out if food is responsible and for a few days feed a bland diet that is free from spices, fish, or soya. If a few days on chicken and rice sweetens his breath then perhaps it’s time to seek out a new menu in the longer run.

4. Vet descale: OK, let’s assume the dog’s checkup got the all clear for underlying health problems. But the vet found heavy tartar coating the teeth. The quickest and best way to get back to a healthy mouth is a professional descale under anesthesia.

Then once the teeth are clean you can move forward with other preventative measures to keep those pearly-whites gleaming.

5. Brushing teeth: How do you keep those newly cleaned teeth sparkling white? In an ideal world, daily tooth-brushing is the answer. Not only does it rub away debris and remove the sludge called plaque, but it also reduces the concentration of bacteria in the mouth.

The secret to getting your dog’s co-operation is to use a . These taste great (to dogs!) and he’ll think you’ve gone slightly bonkers because you’re rubbing delicious tasting pate in his mouth…whereas in fact you’re cleaning his teeth.

A quick side note here. Never use human toothpaste on your dog. It’s too high in fluoride which when swallowed could upset his stomach.

6. Dental rinses: If brushing isn’t for you, then how about a doggy dental rinse or spray? These don’t have the same mechanical cleaning action as brushing, but they can reduce plaque formation and keep bacteria under control. To use either squirt some of the solution into the pouch made by the dog’s lips and let him slurp it around, or dip a cotton swap into the solution and then rub it onto the teeth.

7. Food or water additives: Another option if your dog has bad breath is using food additives or water additives. Many of these are seaweed derivatives and help to break down plaque and prevent bacteria formation. One such product that comes highly recommended is .

100% natural and harvested from Scandinavian seaweed, you simply sprinkle a small amount on the dog’s meal each day. This changes the properties of his saliva, to make the mouth a more hostile place for plaque to develop.

A great example of a water additive is .

8. Dental chews: These range from the which has a rubbing action on the teeth, to dental chews verified as effective by the such as . The idea here is the dog gets a treat a day, to help rub his teeth clean.

These treats contain calories. So feed slightly less food at each meal to avoid unwanted weight gain.

9. Dental care diets: Sticky foods get caught between the teeth and hasten plaque formation. Thus, wet food hastens tartar formation over dry food. But even on a , tartar will form eventually. What to feed for dental health is controversial.

Fans of raw feeding rave about its teeth cleaning properties, whilst those against it, worry about salmonella, parasites, and broken teeth. Alternatively, look for diets labelled as ‘dental care’. For example, a diet such as is optimized to clean teeth as the dog chews on the kibble.

Take Control because Bad Breath is Not Normal

So remember, when a dog has bad breath this isn’t normal. Don’t become nose-blind and ignore the smell. Seek out the explanation as to why the dog has bad breath. While dental disease is extremely common (and needs treatment), bad breath may be a warning sign of disease somewhere other than in the mouth.

And last but not least, take control when your dog has bad breath. Protecting his dental health doesn’t have to be hard work. There are a range of ways you can make your dog’s breath sweet again.


. VCA Hospitals
. Royal Veterinary College, London.

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