Bad Breath in Pets- The Lowdown6 min read

 In Cats, Dogs, Medical



Bad breath in pets is more common than you think. Outside of the smell produced when a dog or cat empties their anal glands all over the place there is no smell worse than that of a dog or cat with horrible bad breath (halitosis).  The thought or even the smell of that rotten oral cavity is enough to make even the most devoted pet owner squeamish.  Just after you get a whiff of that odor the dog wants to lick your hand and or “give you a kiss”.  Yuck!  Matters are made even worse when the pet shares the same bed with you.  Maybe a surgical mask at night might cure the problem.  Most people immediately think that there is a dental problem.  They are right but that is only one of the many causes of bad breath in pets.




This is the most common type of foul odor that emanates from a pet’s mouth.  Periodontal disease is a common cause of bad breath in pets. Dogs and cats can’t brush their teeth everyday, floss or even use a Water-Pik® spray device under high pressure that dislodges food particles and debris from the mouth.  This allows foods that have not been swallowed to be broken down by bacteria found in the mouth.  This metabolism leads to bad breath in pets.  Something needs to be cleared up regarding oral bacteria.  Dogs and cats have LESS bacterial populations in their oral cavities than humans. Many people freak out when a dog licks them and its tongue even touches their own lips.  Dogs and cats have always taken the fall for this but not now since the secret has just been revealed.

Periodontal disease is usually staged four ways, with the fourth being the worst.  Animals also develop plaque and calculus (stoney grit) over their upper molars and canine teeth in particular.  This also leads to bad breath in pets.  The cure for all this is frequent dental cleanings.  Antibiotics and chlorhexidine rinses are also prescribed to keep the oral flora under control which controls bad breath.  If the pet allows it or tolerates it, brushing its teeth with an appropriate pet toothpaste is helpful.  The question here is the IF the animal will tolerate it.




The same look of horror appears on people’s faces when they bring a pet into an office thinking it is dental disease.  Many times the teeth are fine but the animal is suffering from an ear infection (otitis externa).  Similar bacteria will be metabolizing detritus and wax in the ear canal leading to that same foul odor noticed with dental problems.  This is easily diagnosed due to other clinical signs being present with ear infections plus smelling the external ear canal orifice.  Treatment of ear infections is with the use of antibiotics and anti-fungal agents.




Bad breath in pets is caused frequently by tumors found on the tongue. Many of these are located at the back part of the top of the tongue or where the tongue hooks up to the back of the oral cavity (frenulum).  Bacteria and food debris accumulate around the growth causing an infection and ulceration of the tumor surface.  This then leads to halitosis.  Big breeds of dogs love chewing on sticks.  Problem is, is that a small segment can easily get lodged between the upper molars.  Undetected, mouth tissue starts to get infected which then leads to bad breath.  Many of these dogs are diagnosed under a muscle relaxant since it is too painful to open their mouths while awake.  The key to noticing any foreign body in the mouth is the dog or cat that constantly paws at its mouth. If you see this seek professional veterinary care.

Tumors in the oral cavity are usually removed by surgical laser and the tree sticks from the dog’s oral cavity are removed under sedation and in both cases dogs and cats are put on an appropriate antibiotic and soft diet for a few weeks.




Christmas time is a common time of year for dogs to get mouth burns due to chewing on electrical cords that are used to keep Christmas tree lights ablaze during the holidays.  Chewing on any electrical cord usually will cause mouth burns around the oral fissures and pockets. The tongue may also be involved.  The skin surface is broken and an infection and subsequent odor are noticed.  Cats can develop the same thing on their lower paws by jumping up on to an electric range element that is turned on.  Treatment for these cases involves clearing away the dead tissue, antibiotics and other supportive measures.




Internal diseases are also indirectly capable of producing bad breath in pets. Diabetes mellitus is a disease caused by the lack of insulin production in the body.  Due to several medical factors such as insulin resistance blood sugar readings climb way above normal.  When the body cannot utilize sugars it metabolizes fats.  One of the end by products of fat metabolism is acetone.  This buildup will cause a sweet odor to the dog or cat’s breath.  Treatment is geared to switching insulin types and lowering blood glucose readings to a more acceptable level.

One of the common ailments of older dogs and cats is renal (kidney) failure.  Due to various physiological mechanisms urea wastes build up in the blood which would normally pass in the animal’s urine.  Urea is partly made up of ammonia ions.  A dog or cat in renal failure will have an ammonia smell on it’s breath.  If you smell this immediately take your pet to a veterinarian.  Eliminating the smell is by attempting to jump start renal function.  In the process the goal is to decrease urea waste products in the blood with their eventual elimination in the urine.

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