Bad Breath in Pets

Halitosis, also called bad breath, is described as an offensive odour originating from the mouth of our pets. Bad breath is a very common reason pet owners bring their pets in to see us at the vet clinic. Common causes may be related to the mouth or, occasionally, related to other more systemic health problems.

What causes bad breath in pets?

The most common cause of halitosis in our pets is periodontal disease. The unpleasant smell often results from bacteria in the mouth.

Bacteria is attracted to the tooth surface within hours of cleaning the teeth. Within days, the plaque becomes mineralized producing calculus.  Calculus is hard and needs to be removed using an ultrasonic dental instrument to remove it from our pet’s teeth.

As plaque progresses, gums can become inflamed (gingivitis) sore and sometimes even bleed. If left unchecked, other undesirable changes can occur such as bone loss from the jaw. The bacteria involved contributes to halitosis.

Other causes of halitosis include:

  • endocrine (hormonal) disease such as diabetes (“sweet” smell to the breath)
  • organic disease such as kidney disease
  • gastrointestinal disease (some type of cancers, foreign bodies, motility issues
  • skin disease (infections in the lip fold in some breeds of dogs commonly cause halitosis)
  • dietary (eating fetid foodstuffs or eating stools - “coprophagia”)
  • Oral disease not involving the teeth and gums (cancerous growths)
  • Foreign bodies (bones, sticks, fish hooks) or trauma including electric cord injury

How do I know if my pet has halitosis?

Halitosis is easily diagnosed by smelling your dog or cat’s breath. If there is a disagreeable odour, halitosis is present. A veterinary examination is necessary to diagnose the specific cause of bad breath. If the reason is not obvious after looking in the mouth, blood tests will be taken to check for internal disease.

What to do if you pet has bad breath?

Periodontal disease is painful. Some dogs and cats will have problems chewing hard food, others will paw at their mouths. Unfortunately, most will not show any signs.

Regular check-ups with your vet are a great way to identify if there are any issues with your pet’s teeth or gums. If your pet has overwhelming bad breath, call our clinic to book an appointment.

How is halitosis treated?

Halitosis treatment depends on the cause. In most cases it is treatable and, as periodontal disease is the prevalent cause, professional teeth cleaning can often solve the problem. Occasionally tooth extraction is required.

Can halitosis be cured?

Once the underlying disease has been treated, halitosis will disappear. If due to periodontal disease, daily tooth brushing will help maintain good oral health and sweet breath.

How to prevent bad breath

Good oral hygiene is the key to healthy teeth and gums, and fresh breath. To prevent this, you can feed your pet a diet that is specially formulated to care for your pet’s dental health, or you could consider a dog or cat toothpaste and brush your pet’s teeth every day. There are also some excellent dental chews available but remember these must be used every day to be effective.

Talk to your vet or vet nurse about the best option for your pet.