Why Bad Breath in Your Pets is Not “Normal” by Dr. Beth Martin

Many people think it’s normal for your pet’s breath to smell, and just boil it down to normal “doggy breath.” But it’s not – you shouldn’t be able to smell your pet’s breath from across the room!

So my pet has bad breath – how do I know what’s causing it?

A complete oral and physical exam by your veterinarian is the place to start! Here’s a list of the most common reasons your pet has bad breath:

  1. Periodontal disease: This is by far the most common reason for bad breath in your pet and one of the biggest diseases affecting our pets today. By 3 years of age – 80% of dogs and cats will already have signs of periodontal disease! The smell that comes with periodontal disease starts with plaque buildup on the teeth. Plaque is an invisible film that sits on the surface of the teeth made up of bacteria and food particles. Plaque irritates the gums and if its not removed by regular tooth brushing, it will calcify and turn into tartar. The mouth is now a breeding place for bacteria and has a very strong odour secondary to this! Eww!!
  1. Oral disease:  Some examples of oral diseases that can affect your pets breath would be masses within the mouth, whether cancerous or benign, stomatitis, a disease that causes severe inflammation of the gums, and gingival hyperplasia, a disease where the gums severely overgrow.
  1. Teething: Puppies and kittens generally teethe from 4-6 months. During this time, bacteria collects at the inflamed gums as the adult teeth are pushing through causing some extra smelly breath!
  2. Gastrointestinal disease: Vomiting, or chronic gastrointestinal issues in your pet can understandably lead bad breath.
  1. Metabolic diseases: Two of the more common metabolic diseases that cause bad breath are advanced kidney disease due to a condition called uremia, and ketoacidosis, secondary to uncontrolled diabetes. Ketoacidosis gives the breath an acetone or “fruity” smell to it. Interestingly, quite a few people can’t recognize this smell at all, while others can smell it from across the room!

So your veterinarian will be able to distinguish what’s the underlying cause of the bad breath with a thorough oral and physical exam. After an exam, your veterinarian might recommend some bloodwork, a complete dental prophy (cleaning), or some regular preventative dental care- such as the dreaded daily tooth brushing! No pet loves to get their teeth brushed, but the majority will let you do it, especially if they know they will get a yummy treat at the end.

Getting started with tooth brushing can be a bit daunting but at Acadia Veterinary Hospital we are offering free dental exams with our lovely technicians for the months of February and March! They would be more than happy to show you how to get started with tooth brushing and go through some issues you might be having. Keep in mind that even brushing your pet’s teeth once a week is better than not doing at all! And if brushing your pet’s teeth is really not for you, we can also talk about some other options- such as water additives, dental food and/or treats.