Why does my dog's breath smell?

5 Reasons Why Your Dog’s Breath Smells Bad

You’re having a delightful romp on the floor with your dog, but suddenly he opens his mouth and you recoil in horror at the stench. “Why does my dog’s breath smell?” you cry as he pants obliviously into your face.

Dog breath is notorious for being stinky, but believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be! In fact, it’s possible for your dog’s breath to be downright inoffensive — you just need to figure out why it smells in the first place.

Here are five reasons why your dog’s breath stinks, and some tips for curing that dreadful halitosis once and for all!

Five Reasons Why Your Dog’s Breath Smells Bad

1. Your Dog Has Dental or Gum Disease

Dog has dental or gum disease

Dogs need dental care just like we do. If their teeth and gums aren’t kept clean, they become breeding grounds for all kinds of nasty bacteria — and that means bad breath.

When your dog eats, little bits of food get left behind in his mouth after he chews. These food particles become plaque, which hardens into tartar, which causes the teeth to separate from the gums.

Before long, bacteria will find their way into the gums using these newly-formed passages. There, they cause inflammation, pain, redness and bad breath.

Left unchecked, gum infection can lead to cavities and tooth decay. These in turn contribute to you dog’s bad breath as well.

If you suspect that your dog has periodontal disease, tooth decay or other dental problems, see a vet as soon as possible. Severe oral infection can cause tooth loss and may even spread to the brain.

Your vet will be able to treat the infection and show you how to brush your dog’s teeth at home. Regular brushing will help prevent the buildup of bacteria and keep your dog’s breath fresh.

2. Canine Diabetes Can Cause Bad Breath

Diabetes is a serious condition that’s becoming increasingly common in canines, affecting around 1 in 400 dogs. A diabetic dog’s body lacks or doesn’t respond to insulin, a hormone that helps the body absorb glucose (sugar) from food.

As a result, diabetic dogs have high levels of blood sugar, which has a noticeable effect on their breath. Dogs with diabetes often have breath that smells fruity, sugary, or sickly sweet.

This strange breath is usually accompanied by increased thirst, lethargy, weight loss despite increased appetite, excessive urination and tremors.

And diabetes also suppresses the immune system, leaving your dog’s mouth more vulnerable to bacterial infection and periodontal disease. These are not only painful, they also contribute to bad breath.

Diabetes can’t be cured, but it can be managed and the symptoms can be treated. If you suspect that your dog has diabetes, see a vet for diagnosis.

Managing diabetes may involve a special diet, a new exercise regimen, routine glucose testing, supplemental insulin and regular vet visits. But once the condition is under control, your dog’s bad breath should get noticeably better.

3. Your Dog’s Kidneys May Be in Bad Shape

Strong dogs teeth

Kidneys are essential in removing waste from your dog’s bloodstream. They’re responsible for the production of urine, so when they stop working properly, it’s a serious problem.

Most canine kidney disease goes unnoticed until it’s already reached an advanced stage. Symptoms of advanced kidney disease include increased thirst, appetite loss, vomiting, weakness, diarrhea and extremely bad breath.

The bad breath associated with kidney disease usually smells like ammonia. That’s because the kidneys can no longer remove waste from the bloodstream and convert it to urine, so it remains in the blood and causes a horrible ammonia-like stench.

See a vet if your dog’s breath smells like ammonia, as kidney disease is fatal if not treated. Treatment will involve flushing toxins from the kidneys, a special diet, IV fluids and drugs to help the body compensate for the reduced kidney function.

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4. Oral Tumors Could Be Making Your Dog’s Breath Stink

Oral tumors can be benign or malignant, but either way, they’re never something you want to find in your dog’s mouth. They can appear on the gums, palates or tongue, and when they do, they cause all sorts of nasty symptoms.

Pain is the most common symptom, followed by excessive drooling or panting, swelling, and difficulty eating. Dogs with oral tumors may lose teeth or refuse to be touched on the head.

And because oral tumors tend to grow quickly, the blood vessels in the mouth simply can’t handle the increased workload, causing areas of dead tissue around the tumor. These dead cells are extremely odorous, making your dog’s breath smell like rotting flesh — because that’s what it is.

Oral tumors need to be examined and removed by a vet. If you see a tumor in your dog’s mouth or think he may have one, make an appointment immediately for diagnosis.

Treatment will involve surgery to remove the tumor, antibiotic and pain medication, CT scans to check for metastasis and potentially more surgeries if more tumors are found.

5. Your Dog’s Food May Be Causing Bad Breath

Dog playing with rope

If your dog gets a clean bill of health but you still can’t stand his breath, his food may be to blame.

Dog food isn’t the most pleasant-smelling stuff to begin with, but certain varieties are more likely to cause bad breath. In particular, dry kibble doesn’t contain the moisture your dog’s mouth needs, and dry mouths are often accompanied by bad breath.

But even wet dog food and food formulated for dental hygiene can make your dog’s breath reek. Every dog has his own unique mouth chemistry, and the ingredients in dog food react with it in different ways.

You can try switching dog food brands or types, or ask your vet for food recommendations that may improve your dog’s breath. Most pet stores also carry treats designed to freshen your dog’s breath.

And whether or not a new diet cures your dog’s halitosis, brushing his teeth more frequently will definitely make his breath more pleasant. It’s a chore, but it’s worth it to be able to get those sweet doggy kisses without gagging!

"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret

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