If you live with a dog, you’ve been there. Your dog gazing at your adoringly while you’re in bed — and then it happens. Your dog kisses you. And you almost pass out. Your dog has a bad case of terrible doggy breath.
This is not normal. Your dog’s breath is trying to tell you something. There’s a problem, and it’s not just the awful stink; it’s a sign of health problems. And it can mean something serious. Untreated, these issues can lead to serious disease and even shorten your dog’s life.
These are some of the possible causes of your dog’s bad breath.
1. Periodontal Disease
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, periodontal disease is the most common condition in dogs, and by the time you dog is 3 years old, she probably has the beginnings of periodontal (dental) disease.
Periodontal disease starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. When the tartar and plaque get below the gumline, it can lead to infection, damage to the jawbone and surrounding tissues, and tooth loss. It can also be extremely painful. If left untreated, it may lead to heart, liver and kidney disease.
Red or inflamed gums
To avoid periodontal disease, get your dog on an at-home dental plan. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly (daily, if possible), using a tooth brush and tooth paste made specifically for dogs. Other solutions to keep your dog’s teeth in tip-top-condition, include dental sticks, dental powder, water additives and dental supplements that are added to the food.
Depending on the size of the dog and the breed, professional cleaning at the veterinarian should be done every year to every two or three years. Smaller dogs usually need more frequent cleaning. The cleaning is done under anesthesia to allow for a safer cleaning and to reduce stress and pain. Sometimes x-rays are necessary in advance. It can be expensive, but lower cost options are available through the Humane Society clinics, and various other organizations, in your city.
2. Kidney Disease
If your dog’s breath smells like ammonia, it may indicate kidney disease. This happens when the kidneys are unable to eliminate waste, and the buildup in the bloodstream affects the breath. The two types of kidney disease are chronic and acute. Acute kidney failure usually happens suddenly and progresses rapidly. Chronic kidney failure happens over a much longer period of time.
Bad breath that smells like urine
Increased water consumption
Loss of appetite
In late stages, little or no urination
Treatment usually starts with intravenous and subcutaneous fluids. Fluid treatment will make your dog feel much better quickly, but it often has to be repeated frequently (which can be administered at home). Other treatment may include a special diet, continued fluid therapy and medication.
Diabetes can make your dog’s breath smell funny: a sickly sweet with a fruity smell. The reason being is that diabetes can compromise the immune system, resulting in prolific bacterial growth in your dog’s mouth. This disease prevents sugar from effectively breaking down to be used as fuel, so the body begins to break down fat instead. This produces ketones that accumulate in the blood. The dog’s body will attempt to eliminate these ketones through the breath, which results in the cloying, sweet smell.
Unusual fruity or overly sweet breath
Increased thirst and drinking
Sudden weight loss
Weakness or fatigue
Thinning or dull hair
Treatment depends on the severity of the disease. If the dog is already very sick when he is diagnosed, he may be hospitalized for several days to regulate his blood sugar. Dogs who are more stable may be treated with oral medication and a special diet. Most dogs will need regular insulin shots, which you can give at home (it’s easier than it sounds!).
4. Oral Tumors
Tumors in the mouth can grow from the gum, cheek, palate, tonsil or periodontal tissue. One of the most common symptoms is terrible breath. These tumors will outgrow their blood supply and cause areas of dead tissue. Bacteria then invades the mouth and causes the bad breath. These tumors can be malignant or benign.
Pawing the mouth
Blood from the mouth
Swelling in the mouth
Swelling in the face
Oral tumors are removed by surgery. Benign growths are usually easy to remove, because they don’t invade the bone. Cancerous growths are more complicated and may involve removal of some of the surrounding tissue in the mouth; sometimes, radiation or chemotherapy will be recommended after surgery.
Now that you’ve read all this — don’t freak out. Bad breath in dogs usually points to periodontal disease, which is preventable. If your dog does have oral disease, just take him in for a cleaning. He may lose some teeth, but if you take care of the problem in a timely manner, your dog should be just fine.