My Dog’s Breath Stinks: What Are the Causes of Bad Breath?

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dog bad breath causes

A foul odor coming from a dog’s mouth is a reason pet owners inquire about dog bad breath causes. Below we will review the causes of bad breath in dogs and tips on how to make the bad breath go away.

First, let’s consider what causes bad breath in dogs? Bad breath is not a disease but is considered a “symptom.” Many pet owners are confused by the difference between a disease and a symptom. So, what is a symptom?

A symptom is defined as “a physical sign or physical sensation that is evidence a disease is present.” A symptom can be caused by many different underlying diseases. To help explain what a symptom is, here is an example of the symptom limping. Limping can be caused by a torn ligament, a thorn in the paw pad, a broken nail, or from a fractured bone. Like limping, bad breath has many different possible causes.

Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs

Some pet owners notice that their dog’s breath smells like fish.  It’s more than just “doggie breath.” This foul and offensive odor can occur for multiple reasons that we will discuss below.

The medical term for bad breath is “halitosis.” Bad breath can be a warning sign of oral and dental diseases, respiratory infections, tumors of the oral or respiratory systems, digestion problems, as well as systemic diseases.

Causes of bad breath in dogs include:

  1. Oral and dental diseases. This may include gum disease, periodontal disease (disease of the tissues that surround the gums), tooth problems such as an abscess, oral ulcerations, oral infections, and/or bone or hair caught in the mouth.
  2. Oral tumors. These types of tumors can become infected as a part of the tumor begins to die. This can lead to a foul odor.
  3. Respiratory problems. Various diseases of the nose, sinus, trachea, and lungs can cause halitosis in dogs. For example, dogs with lung cancer, tumors of the nose, sinus infections, and/or respiratory infections such as pneumonia can cause bad breath.
  4. Systemic diseases. Diseases such as kidney failure or diabetes mellitus can cause bad breath.  A decline in kidney function can cause some dog’s breath to have the odor of ammonia. A severe form of uncontrolled diabetes, diabetic ketoacidosis, can cause an abnormal sweet fruity odor.
  5. Dietary indiscretion. Another cause for bad breath is some dog’s dietary indiscretion. Some dogs eat just about anything that may include other animal’s feces, garbage, compost, mulch, and dead animal carcass. Ingesting these foul things can definitely give your dog breath that smells like fish.
  6. Digestive or stomach issues. Some dogs with digestive issues can have bad breath.  Any problem that causes vomiting can also cause bad breath. Stomach ulcers, inflammatory gastrointestinal problems, or tumors involving the stomach or intestine can cause bad canine breath.

Some dog owners believe their dog’s breath has the foul odor of fish. Learn more details about possible causes of Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish?

Puppies can also have bad breath too. The causes of bad breath in puppies are often different from those of adult dogs. Adult dogs have had months or years to develop gum and tooth problems that can cause bad breath. Learn more about What Causes Bad Breath in Puppies?

How Do You Make the Bad Doggy Breath Go Away?

The best way to make bad dog breath go away is to see your veterinarian to identify the underlying cause of the bad odor and treat that cause. For example, if the cause is from gum disease or a bad tooth, then a dental cleaning is the best option to eliminate the bad breath. If the bad odor is from your dog eating trash, then minimize your dog’s exposure to trash by covering trash cans or preventing exposure in other ways such as by keeping your dog on a leash or in a fenced in yard.

There are products on the market that claim that they eliminate bad dog breath. Many are water supplements or treats. Over the years we have tested dozens of the products to find they don’t work or only mask the odor of the underlying medical problem for the short term.  There are some products that can help that I’ll share with you in these two articles- Here’s How to Cure Your Dog’s Bad Breath and Home Remedies for Your Dog’s Bad Breath.

Tips To Help Bad Dog Breath

If your dog does not have a significant medical problem causing bad breath, there are some simple things you can do that may help your dog’s’ bad breath. The following are four tips that can help bad doggy breath go away:

  1. Brush your dog’s’ teeth. Purchase a doggy toothbrush and some dog formulated and flavored toothpaste. Daily brushing can remove plaque which turns to tartar which causes a foul odor. Learn more about how to brush your dog’s teeth.  This is the best thing you can do to prevent bad breath and dental disease in your dog.
  2. Oravet dental hygiene chews.  These treats fight the source of bad breath as well as tartar and plaque. These are one the only dog treats that we have found that help with tartar and odors.
  3. Periodic dental cleanings. Allow your veterinarian to perform annual dental cleanings on your dog. This is the best way to keep your dog’s teeth and mouth healthy. February is “dental month” and often a great time to get special pricing for dental cleanings.
  4. Safe chew toys. Provide your dog with veterinary approved safe chew toys appropriately sized for your dog. Chew toys are a way to help a dog care for their teeth in a natural way. The act of chewing can prevent or eliminate plaque and tartar build-up.

We hope this article helps you learn a little more about the causes of bad breath in dogs.

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