Why Does My Dog Have Bad Breath?

You love your canine companion. Your dog loves you too and loves to show you with tail wags and
big sloppy kisses. These kisses may not always be welcome, especially if your dog suffers from
halitosis. Halitosis, or simply bad breath, differs from the typical “dog breath” pet owners are familiar
with. While it’s quite normal for your pup to have different smells on their breath from recent meals or
toys, a dog should maintain a neutral smelling mouth. Some causes are rather harmless, but unnatural
or overpowering odors could be a sign of a serious underlying health condition.

Dog with bad breath

Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs Include:

Eating Gross Stuff

Ask any dog owner the grossest thing that their dog has eaten. You might be surprised. You will
certainly be disgusted! Dogs are not known for their refined palate and will happily eat their way
through garbage or non-food items that aren’t good for their bodies or their breath. Dogs may eat
feces, dead animals, garbage, and various other toxic stuff. These objects themselves can obviously
cause bad breath, but also, things can get stuck in the mouth causing rotten smells.

Oral Health Issues

The most common causes of bad breath in dogs are bad oral hygiene and periodontal disease. If your
dog is not a chewer and you do not regularly brush or deep clean, then the most likely cause of his bad
breath is plaque build-up. While senior pups, smaller dogs, and breeds with short snouts are more
prone to having bad breath, no dog should ever have chronic bad breath. A healthy dog should have a
mouth full of shiny, clean teeth and a pink gum line.

If you’ve ever had a puppy, then you remember
those glistening white teeth and soft warm puppy breath. Over time, food and bacteria begin to
accumulate in your dog’s mouth. This will stain the teeth a nasty yellow or brown and the gums can
become red and swollen.

While even a healthy mouth contains bacteria, plaque promotes the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria. If this
plaque isn’t removed, it can cause gingivitis. This inflammation of the gums is often the first sign of
gum disease. You may also hear gum disease referred to as periodontitis. If left untreated, the bacteria
can spread down to the roots of the teeth, and cause the ligaments attached to to tooth to become loose.
This is not only painful, but can make eating an uncomfortable chore. If the bacteria enters the blood
stream, it can travel to the heart causing endocardititis.

If you notice your pooch’s breath begin to
smell, it is likely caused by oral health problems. Try to keep up with your dog’s hygiene or the smell
will become stronger and your dog’s heath and well being may suffer.

Pyoderma is a bacterial skin infection that can often be found in the folds of a dog’s mouth. Dogs with
loose skin, short noses, or long hair near their mouths are most susceptible. When the sides or bottom
of the lips fold up, it can trap food and saliva and cause a mildew smell. Lip fold pyoderma looks like
hair coated with mucus. Wipe your dog’s mouth and keep an eye out for large pimples.

Dog Kidney Disease

Your dog’s kidneys play an important role in processing the body’s toxins and waste materials. When
kidney issues arise, these toxins build up. As you can imagine, toxic build up can cause the mouth to
smell….toxic. High levels of urea may also cause the breath to smell like fish, urine, or ammonia.

Dog Diabetes

Diabetes can cause a buildup of ketones as the body breaks down fat instead of glucose. Dog diabetes
means high sugar levels and saliva with a high sugar content is a great place for bacteria to thrive.
This can result in your dog’s breath smelling sweet, fruity, sour or even musty as yeasts grow in the

Dog Liver Disease

If your dog’s foul breath is combined with vomiting, diarrhea, or yellowing of the eyes, this may be a
sign of liver disease. Again, the build up of toxins in the liver can lead to unusually bad breath.

G.I. Issues

Gastrointestinal issues such as bowel obstructions, acid reflux, and indigestion can also lead to bad
breath. A canine gut will contain both good and bad bacteria. Dogs swallow a lot of saliva, which
contains bacteria from the mouth, and this ends up in the gut. An overgrowth of bad bacteria in the
small intestine can produce a lot of smelly gas. When this gas is absorbed into the bloodstream and
exhaled, the result is a nice blast of hot disgusting dog breath.

Other Diseases
Diseases and infections of the respiratory tract including nasal tumors may also lead to bad breath. This
is caused by pus in the nose trickling into the back of the throat.

Dog bad breath

When Should I Be Concerned About My Dog’s Breath?

If your sweet faced pup is starting to resemble a fire breathing dragon, you are right to be concerned.
When you notice a change in the smell of your dog’s breath, address the problem. Search his mouth for
any foreign objects or growths.

Bad breath can sometimes be caused by a piece of food that has gotten stuck. Be aware that certain odors can signify a particular health issue.

If your dog’s bad breath smells like feces or urine, it may be a sign that they have recently eaten their
own or another animal’s waste. Unfortunately, it can also be a sign of kidney disease. A sweet and
fruity scent can indicate diabetes, and especially foul smells could be coming from the toxins of the

A lack of appetite or whimpering when eating may also indicate periodontal disease. Swollen gums
and tooth pain can make it difficult to chew. Sometimes you can visibly see these mouth issues. If you
look at the dog’s gums and notice inflammation and tartar build up on the teeth, it is time for a
thorough dental cleaning.

Keep in mind that some issues aren’t visible such as injuries or cavities
below the gum line. Even if your dog does not seem to be in pain, foul breath might just be symptom
you need to seek professional care.

How to Treat Bad Breath in Dogs?

Since bad breath is usually more of a sign of an underlying condition rather than a health issue itself, it
should become more bearable once the issue is treated. The reason for your pet’s mouth odor will help
determine treatment. While it is likely that your pet simply needs better oral hygiene, more serious
issues may require medications, special diets, or possibly surgery.

Humans brush their teeth starting at a very young age. This mentality should be applied to our four
legged friends as well. While it certainly is easier to form good habits starting in puppy hood, with
practice and patience, dogs of all ages can be taught to accept the experience.

Most dogs love the extra attention so think of brushing as bonding time with your dog.

All you really need is a special dog toothbrush (or a soft bristle human toothbrush) with or without dog toothpaste. Use a circular motion and brush each tooth, including the back teeth. Try to brush at least twice a week. If you can’t fit in a full brushing, wiping your dog’s teeth and gum line will help remove some of that bacteria.

Dog with a fresh teeth cleaning


Good oral hygiene is the first line of defense for preventing bad breath. Beyond cleanings and chewies,
watch their diet. Feed your pup a quality, well-balanced diet. Discourage unapproved snacking, seal
your trash, keep the litter box away, and carefully watch your dog on walks and at dog parks. Dogs can
be sneaky so keep them away from toilet waste and water.

In order to determine the cause of any smelly breath, your dog should have a thorough physical
examination by a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. Since two-thirds of dogs have some
form of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old, it is important to start early and keep
up with your dog’s oral hygiene. Start brushing, visit your vet regularly, and most importantly, listen to
what your dog’s breath might be trying to tell you.

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About Buffalo Grove Animal Hospital

Buffalo Grove Animal Hospital has been a part of the Buffalo Grove community since 1969. Our veterinarians serve Buffalo Grove, Arlington Heights, Palatine, and the surrounding areas with the best veterinary medicine year after year. Our commitment to pet health runs deep, and we’ve proven our skill and compassion by becoming an AAHA-accredited Animal Hospital, the highest accreditation veterinary practices can receive.