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Your Dog’s Breath is a Sign of Its Health


No one expects a dog’s breath to be minty fresh, but when a dog has chronic halitosis, or bad breath, it may be a sign of something else. Bad breath is caused by a build-up of bacteria in the gut, lungs or mouth, and occasional bad breath is not necessarily a concern.

However, according to the ASPCA, a persistent foul odor from your pooch’s mouth could be a red flag pointing to a more serious health problem. In some cases, changes in diet or oral care can fix the problem, but if bad breath persists in spite of good habits it may be time to call the veterinarian. Only a thorough examination can determine the cause and treatment of chronic halitosis.

Breath Emergencies

Sometimes bad breath is a sign of a health emergency that requires immediate attention. Don’t delay professional treatment if your dog suddenly has breath that meets one of the following descriptions:

  • An unusually fruity or sweet smell, especially if your dog is also drinking and urinating more than usual. These could be indicators of canine diabetes.
  • Foul breathe in a dog that also has yellowed eyes or gums, an unexplained decrease in appetite or vomiting. These may be signs of a liver problem.
  • Breath that smells like strong urine. The scent of urine in a dog’s breath may indicate kidney disease.
  • A strong garlic smell, especially if accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea. A garlicky smell may be a sign the dog has ingested phosphorous, found in household poisons, fireworks or matches.

Expect your veterinarian to run several tests, including laboratory work and a physical examination, to determine the cause of sudden and severe halitosis. It’s possible your dog may even need to stay overnight at the medical center for close observation. Some diseases that cause bad breath, such as diabetes, liver and kidney disease, can be fatal if not treated properly.

Oral Health and Bad Breath

When bad breath is a sign of poor oral health in an otherwise healthy dog, there are many steps a dog’s guardian can take to improve the situation. Gum disease occurs when food gets caught between the teeth and forms bacteria, also called plaque. Eventually plaque hardens and becomes tartar which irritates the gums and causes inflammation.

When gums are inflamed they’re even more susceptible to bacteria, exposing tooth roots to infection and decay. According to Dog Health Guide, severe cases of gum disease may result in an abscess, causing a discharge to drip from the dog’s nose.

In addition to bad breath, a dog with gum disease may have trouble eating and might favor one side of the mouth. Watch for changes in the way your dog chews or handles its food as these may also be signs of poor oral health. Other signs of gum disease include brown, gray or yellow discoloration on the teeth and red, swollen gums.
To prevent gingivitis and improve oral health follow the recommendations of the ASPCA:

  • Provide regular checkups for your dog;
  • Feed your dog a high-quality food that’s easy to digest;
  • Brush your dog’s teeth regularly with a toothpaste formulated for canines;
  • Provide safe chew toys and hard treats that help the dog naturally clean its teeth by chewing;
  • Ask your veterinarian what further steps you can take to improve bad breath and prevent gum disease.

Your dog may not be bothered by occasional bad breath, but it can be a sign that your best friend needs serious medical care. If you notice a change in your dog’s breath don’t discount it as normal or accept it as a natural consequence of aging.

Prevent more serious health problems by recognizing bad breath as a sign of bad health and get your dog proper care. That way, if your dog wants to thank you with big sloppy dog kisses, at least his breath won’t smell bad.

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