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Why Does My Dog Have Bad Breath?

Dogs explore the world with their mouths, whether it’s grabbing leftovers from an open garbage receptacle or hunting for lizards in the backyard. Due to boredom or curiosity, they also sometimes eat things they shouldn’t, which can result in bad breath. However, if your dog’s breath smells particularly foul, it could be a sign of trouble.

Here are some of the common reasons why dogs have bad breath and signs that may indicate a bigger health issue.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Depending on your dog’s size, he or she may be naturally more prone to dental issues. For instance, toy breeds have smaller mouths, but their teeth are still fairly large. As a result, teeth grow in closer together and at various angles, which makes it easy for food to get wedged in. Plaque builds up and turns into tarter. Over time, this can cause infection under the gumline. It can also make it painful for your dog to eat.

Interestingly, owners may never know about the struggle their pet is experiencing. Instinctually, dogs hide their pain, as it could make them prey for another animal that may see them as weak.

Larger dogs don’t have the same dental problems as smaller ones, but they have plenty of their own. They’re more likely to chew on hard objects, like bones or rocks, or to play tug of war with their owner. This can lead to tooth breakage.

To spot troubled teeth early and promote good oral hygiene, brush your dog’s teeth at least twice a week. In a perfect world, we would brush our dogs’ teeth once or twice a day. However, it’s often difficult for owners to maintain that regime over time. Set a reminder on your phones for twice a week (or more) — and do it immediately following another task you already perform, such as taking out the garbage. That helps make it a habit.

In between tooth brushing, consider giving your dog:

  • Dog dental treats or chews

  • Dog food that promotes oral health

  • Flexible chew toys

The sooner you can acclimate your dog to teeth brushing, the better. However, it’s never too late to start good habits now. They just might take a little longer to catch on.

If your dog is struggling with teeth brushing, there are also brushless teeth cleaning options, including wipes.

Additionally, every six to 12 months, schedule a dental cleaning with a veterinary dentist, who will be able to help remove plaque and prevent tarter accumulation. Dogs typically go under general anesthesia for this procedure. X-rays can also be taken to identify any underlying problems that may not be visible from the surface.

Bad Eating Habits

Dogs eat gross things. If your dog has ever gifted you a dead lizard, you know this all too well. It’s also common for dogs to get into the garbage or eat cat poop, which is both smelly and unhygienic. Some dogs also eat their own stool, which is a problem called “coprophagia.” Sometimes, coprophagia is behavioral. For instance, if you have a puppy, they may simply be curious and want to investigate, play and eventually even sample their own stool. (Hopefully, you weren’t eating lunch when you read that.) Early intervention can help to curtail this behavior and prevent it from developing into a habit.

In adult dogs, however, coprophagia is often a sign of malnutrition or a vitamin and mineral deficiency.

Some of the other reasons why adult dogs may eat their stool include:

  • A diet that’s hard to digest

  • Not enough food or enough of the right food

  • Malabsorption of nutrients due to a medical condition

All of these causes could lead to an increased appetite, which might make your dog look favorably at their own poop as a source of nutrition.

If your dog continually eats his own stool, make an appointment with your veterinarian to further investigate the underlying causes and determine a strategy to help your dog get the nutrients he or she needs elsewhere.

Underlying Health Conditions

Another reason why dogs have bad breath is because of underlying health conditions, including diabetes, kidney or liver disease.

Look for these signs:

Signs of Diabetes in Dogs

Signs of Kidney Disease in Dogs

  • Lethargy

  • Reduced appetite

  • Vomiting or diarrhea

  • Unexpected weight loss

  • Blood in pee

  • Pale gums, bad breath or mouth ulcers

Signs of Liver Disease in Dogs

  • Skipping meals

  • Unexpected weight loss

  • Vomiting or diarrhea

  • Extreme thirst

  • Increased urge to urinate

  • Confusion

  • Foul breath

  • Yellow eyes, tongue or gums

If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately.

Once the underlying health issue is addressed, your dog’s bad breath should start to improve, too.

Regardless of the cause, it’s important to establish and maintain a strong dental hygiene regime that will not only keep the bad breath at bay, but promote overall health in your dog.