5 Facts and Fixes for Doggy Breath

Have you ever leaned in to snuggle with your canine companion only to recoil in horror over the halitosis? I’m not talking about youthful, endearing “puppy breath,” but rather a more pungent, offensive odor that can make them difficult to be near. Ever wonder how they came to have such unpleasant “doggy breath?”
1. Doggy Breath is Not Normal
Some dogs may have an unpleasant mouth odor from something they have eaten, such as a tasty morsel snuck from the trash bin or back yard, or perhaps from digestion of their regular diet. Most lasting cases of doggy breath stem from periodontal disease, bacteria deposited in a film on the teeth (plaque) that develops into a mineralized layer of debris (tartar). These bacteria often contain substances toxic to gum tissue. Unchecked, it leads to gum irritation, infection, pain, and eventually tooth loss. Long-term dental disease also can contribute to cardiovascular disease. By the time you can small bad breath, periodontal disease has already started!
2. A Clean Start Can Make a Huge Difference
A thorough dental cleaning by a veterinarian is the best way to quickly achieve a clean, healthy mouth. Brushing alone cannot treat periodontal disease. Sometimes, removal of the tartar and disinfecting the mouth is all that is needed to restore oral health. Quite often, however, tooth decay under the gum line is sufficient enough to warrant pulling teeth in order to reestablish a healthy mouth.
3. Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth is the Best Way to Maintain Oral Health
Let’s face it, most of us don’t brush our dog’s teeth. Kudos to pet parents who do—for this is the absolute best way to maintain oral health. I encourage you to try to brush your pet’s teeth on a regular basis. Start small, only 15-30 seconds at first with a small pediatric or finger toothbrush. Gradually work up to 2 minutes if possible. Try toothpaste if possible, but don’t use the human stuff! The fluoride content in human toothpaste can be toxic to pets (we spit out excess toothpaste, they swallow it), so use a type specifically formulated for pets. This may seem like a silly luxury item, but the flavoring (Poultry! Beef! Malt! Vanilla!) makes brushing more tolerable for pets and the enzyme action in the paste can increase the effectiveness of brushing as well.
4. Choose Safe Dental Chews to Complement Brushing
In addition to regular brushing, many products on the market can complement a brushing regime. Water additives have anti-plaque ingredients and can help slow down redevelopment of bacteria on teeth. Flavored pastes designed to be squeezed into specifically designed toys also help with mechanical removal of tartar and plaque when chewing. But perhaps the easiest way to augment teeth brushing for dental health is by providing chew bones designed for oral health. While rawhide chews and bones are great at scraping the teeth as a dog chews, caution must be used. Some breeds don’t take the time to chew properly and swallow large, indigestible hunks. I have seen rib and soup bones break my patients’ teeth as well. I prefer products like Zuke’s Z-Bones, which are highly digestible and textured to scrape tartar off as a dog chews. They contain odor-neutralizing ingredients like fennel, parsley, and alfalfa, while also mechanically removing potential tartar and plaque. As long as a dog takes their time and chews these types of bones—always supervise a dog when chewing on any type of bone—they address both causes of dreaded doggy breath!
5. Genetics Play a Role in Dental Health
While any dog can potentially develop dental disease, certain breeds are particularly susceptible to mouth problems. Toy breeds like miniature Dachshunds, Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, and Pomeranians are commonly affected, as are longer-nosed breeds like Shelties and Collies. Your veterinarian will assess the oral health of your furry friend at your annual checkup and determine if oral intervention is required. If you ever notice difficulty chewing, bleeding from the gums, loose teeth, or nasal discharge, take your dog to your vet as soon as possible.
Typically, with a little at-home care and perhaps some dental treats or dental toys, maintaining a happy mouth in your dog can be easy. You can go back to joyful doggy kisses in no time!