In this blog post from our “From the Vet” series, we dive into the world of bad breath – in pups! Find out the potential cause of your dog’s horrible halitosis and how to treat it.
What happens when the puppy breath we all love fades away and is replaced by something that smells like it should be coming from a sewer? The most common reason I examine pets for bad breath is dental disease. Evaluation of teeth are done during all routine physical exams. I typically start to advise owners to consider dental cleaning prior to significant disease that requires surgical intervention. This is when gingivitis is the initial, reversible, problem. At this stage there is inflammation that is localized to the gingiva only. This is when dental prophylaxis (routine dental cleanings like we get every 6 months) are most helpful in preventing further disease. If disease is left uncheck the next stage is periodontitis and involves inflammation and infection of gum tissue and supporting structures of the tooth. When disease is severe tooth extraction is typically done to relieve pain and the source of infection. A big question I get is why a dental procedure needs to be done if the pet is still eating well? Dental disease is painful but dogs need food to live, they will suffer through the pain to eat despite how bad dental disease is. To that same point dogs do every well even when there are no teeth left, some even still eat dry kibble although softened food or canned food is recommended in these cases.
The gold standard of preventing dental disease in dogs is daily teeth brushing just like in people (use the dog toothpaste though not the human stuff!). Most clients do not do this so expect that at some point in your pets life a dental cleaning will be recommended. The American Veterinary Dental College is a group of board certified dental specialists that develop recommendations and standards of veterinary care. They also do advanced dental work your regular veterinarian may not be able to do. Their website has great information for pet owners (https://avdc.org/animal-owner-resources/).
Dental disease is not the only reason dogs develop bad breath. See below for other causes of stinky breath (halitosis):
- Nose and sinuses- foreign bodies, chronic inflammation, and cancer can cause an odor that appears to come from the mouth.
- Tonsils- infections or inflammation.
- Lungs- chronic bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Megaesophagus is a disorder that causes an enlargement of the esophagus with a reduction in normal motility. This causes chronic regurgitation that can lead to an odor
- Diabetes- the loss of proper glucose regulation can let to the formation of ketones, used for energy production. A breakdown product of ketones causes a “rotten apple” smell to the breath.
- Kidney disease- leads to increased uric acid levels in the blood, which is exhaled and usually described as “fish odor”
- Liver disease- causes ammonia to accumulate in the blood and is exhaled. Odor caused by end stage liver disease has a sweet odor, which some describe as “dead mice”