Of course kisses from your pup are welcome no matter what—but those licks ‘o love can be even better if you just knew how to get rid of your dog’s bad breath.
According to veterinarian Dr. Danielle Bernal, BVSc, MRCVs, and global director of vet nutrition at WellPet, LLC, dog parents shouldn’t just grin and bear their pet’s less-than-fresh breath: “A lot of pet parents will overlook stinky dog breath and consider it ‘normal,’” she says. “But bad breath can actually signal dental disease or other serious health concerns.”
To keep your dog healthy and their kisses at their most pleasant, here’s everything you need to know about bad breath in dogs, including why it happens, how to fix it and how to prevent it in the first place.
What Causes Bad Breath in Dogs?
That stinky smell coming from your fur baby’s mouth is likely caused by one of five reasons, our experts tell us.
Plaque and Tartar Buildup
Just like humans, dogs can get plaque and tartar buildup on their teeth, too—and it’s the most common reason why dogs have bad breath. Dr. Sarah Dougherty, DVM, explains that the buildup of bacteria on a dog’s teeth releases byproducts that contain stinky sulfur, causing the smell you may notice when your fur baby kisses your face.
If you do detect bad breath from your dog, give your vet a call. They can inspect their teeth for plaque and tartar buildup and help you prevent it in the future.
If plaque and tartar continue to grow on a dog’s teeth, it may lead to periodontal disease.
“Plaque and tartar push gums away from their teeth, which leaves their mouth susceptible to holding on to bacteria in the newly exposed areas and inflaming the gums,” explains Dr. Katie Billmaier, DVM, shelter veterinarian at Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch in Jupiter, Florida. “Cavities, infection, tissue destruction and pus can form.”
All of these things can cause stinky breath—and worse: They can cause discomfort to your pet and, in severe cases of periodontal disease, lead to tooth extractions.
Again, if you catch a waft of bad breath from your dog, or if your notice that their gums look red or inflamed, talk to your vet. Dr. Billmaier says to keep an especially close eye on small and flat-faced dog breeds, like Boston Terriers and French Bulldogs, who are more prone to developing periodontal disease due to their teeth being closer together.
Something Stuck in Their Teeth
Unless you’re brushing your dog’s teeth every day (more on that later!), it’s quite possible your pup may have gotten something caught in between their teeth or gums.
When a piece of food or another foreign object gets stuck, bacterial infection may begin to set in, causing your dog’s bad breath, says Annette Louviere, DVM, technical support veterinarian at Wisdom Health in Vancouver, Washington.
“If you suspect your pup has a foreign body stuck in their mouth, you should consult your veterinarian immediately,” says Dr. Louviere.
Curious Habits like Eating Trash
A lot of dogs have the habit of getting into questionable things throughout the day, and this mischief can actually have an impact on how their breath smells, says Dr. Bernal.
“If a dog rummages through the garbage for scraps or … is inclined to eat poop—whether it be their own, another dog’s, or a cat’s—their breath may stink,” she says. Obviously, you may think, but what can you do about it?
Another Potential Health Issue
Unfortunately, sometimes bad dog breath can be a sign of a serious health issue, like diabetes, kidney disease or liver disease, Dr. Billmaier says.
“A sweet or fruity smell [on your dog’s breath] could be a sign that your dog is diabetic. A urine odor could mean your dog is suffering from a kidney problem. And if your pooch is vomiting, or has loss of appetite, gums with a yellow tinge or extremely foul breath, it could be a sign of liver disease,” she says.
If you notice anything like what Dr. Billmaier describes, be sure to call your vet ASAP to schedule an exam.
How to Get Rid of Your Dog’s Bad Breath
How to get rid of your dog’s bad breath is dependent on what’s causing it, according to Dr. Dougherty, so it’s important to work with your vet to determine the underlying reason for your poor pet’s stinky breath.
Your veterinarian may determine a specific health issue (like the ones described above) is at play and may recommend appropriate medications, such as antibiotics and supplements, to properly treat it and prevent it from progressing.
If your dog’s bad breath is caused by plaque and tartar buildup, or if that buildup has progressed to periodontal disease, your vet may want to schedule a thorough teeth cleaning.
It’s worth noting that having your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned usually requires anesthesia, says Dr. Billmaier, although some clinics may offer non-anesthetic dental cleanings. Be sure to talk to your vet about what they offer and what’s right for your pup.
Brush Your Pup’s Teeth Daily
You wouldn’t go a day without brushing your own teeth, right? Well, your pet’s daily dental routine is just as important: It’s actually recommended that pet parents brush their pup’s teeth every day.
“Daily brushing is the best way to reduce the amount of plaque build-up and keep food particles from sitting on the teeth,” Dr. Dougherty says.
To get started, stock up on supplies: You’ll want to use a toothbrush and toothpaste specifically designed for dogs—so no sharing your own toothpaste with your pup! (It most likely contains ingredients that are unsafe to dogs.) Consider the Virbac C.E.T. Dual Ended Dog & Cat Toothbrush (its long handle and dual angled ends are specially designed to help you reach each and every tooth) or the Vet's Best Enzymatic Toothpaste and Toothbrush Dog Dental Care Kit, which comes complete with everything you need to clean your pet’s teeth.
Let Your Dog Chow Down on Dental Chews
While it’s best to brush your dog’s teeth every day, Dr. Dougherty suggests buying enzymatically coated dental chews as a supplemental way to better their dental health. These teeth-cleaning treats can help remove plaque from your dog’s teeth, keeping their breath smelling beautifully fresh.
“These chews are coated with the same types of enzymes that are in the toothpaste,” Dr. Dougherty explains. “This gives the benefit not only of mechanical breakdown of the tartar, but enzymatic breakdown of tartar and reducing bacterial counts on the teeth.”
For example, OraVet Dental Hygiene Chews for Dogs are formulated with delmopinol, which helps form a barrier against the bad-breath-causing bacteria, while WHIMZEES Variety Pack Grain-Free Dental Dog Treats contain powdered cellulose to help polish your pup’s teeth.
Use a Water Additive
Water additives can also help prevent bad breath by fighting off plaque, tartar and the resulting bacteria growth, according to Stephanie Liff, DVM, of Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York City.
Like dental treats, these supplemental solutions contain plaque and bacteria-fighting ingredients, but in liquid form. They can be added to your dog’s water for an easy way to help boost their dental health. Try Virbac C.E.T Aquadent Dog & Cat Dental Solution, which contains pomegranate (a natural antioxidant that helps combat odor-causing bacteria) and TropiClean Fresh Breath Water Additive, which helps fight tartar build-up with green tea leaf extract.
Schedule Your Pup for an Annual Checkup
Your dog’s veterinarian is actually their dentist, too, so regular vet checkups are important in keeping their teeth and mouth healthy and key in keeping bad breath away, Dr. Bernal says.
“If your pup is consistently showering you in smelly kisses, clears a room with their yawns or has morning breath that lasts all day, I suggest connecting with your veterinarian for an evaluation,” she says.
“Their annual checkup can help your veterinarian pick up on the underlying cause of your dog’s bad breath before it gets serious.”
Treating bad dog breath at the source (and preventing it in the future) helps keep your furry pal at their healthiest—and their kisses smelling delightful!