Imagine this, your pup leans in for a big lick, and you suddenly get a whiff of his breath. WHOA. You might be wondering, why does it smell like that? Did he get into the garbage?
Is It Normal For Dogs To Have Bad Breath?
Here’s the thing, a dog’s breath isn’t always going to smell like peppermint and rose petals. Dogs are known for eating things they shouldn’t … often very smelly things (think cat poop, dead animals, baby diapers, etc).
But when a dog has bad breath all the time, that’s not normal. Chronic bad breath can indicate a deeper underlying issue.
Here are some of the most common doggy breath issues, their causes, and some dog bad breath home remedy options.
What Different Breath Smells Mean
Assessing your dog’s breath smell can give you a clue to what is going on. Sometimes you may need help from your holistic veterinarian to figure out the cause.
Sweet-Smelling Breath can be a warning sign for diabetes … especially if paired with excess drinking and peeing.
Urine-Smelling Breath can indicate kidney disease … especially if accompanied by decreased appetite, and excess drinking and peeing.
Foul-Smelling Breath can be harder to identify. It can sometimes be a warning sign for liver disease. Other signs of liver disease include yellowing of the whites of the eyes, vomiting, and reduced appetite.
Does Bad Breath In Dogs Mean Infection?
Bad breath doesn’t always mean an infection … but it can. Here are several conditions that can cause foul-smelling breath.
Dental Or Gum Disease
When you think about bad breath, dental disease might be one of the first things that come to mind. And with good reason. Periodontal disease (dental and gum disease) is one of the most prevalent health issues in dogs.
One study showed it affected at least 80% of dogs over 3 years of age (1).
This percentage might even be underestimated. Another study in 2018 found dental disease in 100% of the dogs they studied. They used a more accurate detection test that showed disease markers not visible under regular examination (2).
Here are some other problems that indicate dental or gum problems:
- Bad breath
- Red, inflamed gums (gingivitis)
- Tartar buildup or discolored teeth
- Tenderness in the mouth or when eating
- Excessive drooling
- Dropping food or loss of appetite
- Loose teeth
Gut Imbalance And Bacterial Overgrowth
An imbalance in gut bacteria is another often overlooked cause of bad breath. Your dog’s gut microbiome can become unbalanced for many reasons (including poor diet, medications, vaccines or stress). This imbalance is called dysbiosis, and when friendly bacteria become depleted, bad breath can result.
SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, is a slightly different gut problem.
Most gut bacteria live in your dog’s large intestine and colon. They help with food absorption, vitamin absorption & waste elimination. Your dog’s small intestine is only supposed to house a small amount of these gut bacteria. SIBO occurs when too many bacteria live there. These bacteria can create foul-smelling gasses like hydrogen and methane, which can cause bad breath.
SIBO causes are not completely understood. But heavily processed diets, chemical exposure, and stress are likely major contributing factors.
Daily probiotics, especially soil-based probiotics, can help balance your dog’s gut bacteria. Soil-based probiotics are especially effective because they have a protective coating that helps them travel to the colon, where they’re needed.
Find more detail about SIBO at the link below.
RELATED: Natural options for SIBO in dogs …
Acid reflux is when intestinal or gastric fluid comes up from the stomach and flows into the esophagus. The sphincter where the esophagus connects at the stomach should be closed to stop acid flow. But with acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the sphincter is open and allows acid to flow into the esophagus.
This can create a foul-smelling mixture when combined with any undigested stomach contents. As a result, bad breath from acid reflux can cause foul-smelling belches.
RELATED: Acid reflux in dogs …
Megaesophagus is a congenital condition that stops dogs from being able to swallow properly. It happens when the muscles lose tone and the esophagus gets larger. It loses its ability to move food from the esophagus to the stomach. Dogs with megaesophagus will often regurgitate food. Often food and liquid accumulates in the esophagus, so bad breath is very common with this condition.
Other signs of megaesophagus include:
- Lack of growth (in puppies)
- Significant weight loss (in adults)
- “Gurgling” sound while swallowing from excess saliva
- Muscle weakness and wasting from slow starvation (3)
Sudden Bad Breath in Dogs
While chronic bad breath in dogs is worrisome, a sudden change for the worse in your dog’s breath can be extra alarming.
You’ll need to play detective or work with your vet to determine what’s happening. Here are some common causes of sudden bad breath in dogs:
He ate something gross
It’s best to rule this one out first. Most dogs love eating gross contraband, and yours might too.
He has something stuck in his mouth
You’ll want to thoroughly look inside your dog’s mouth to make sure nothing’s stuck there. Foreign bodies can cause sores or infections that can create unpleasant smells. Things like sticks, bone shards, and small kids’ toys can all be culprits. Pieces of food can also get stuck in the teeth and begin to decay and smell. Once you’ve checked that there are no injuries, you can try gently brushing your dog’s teeth to dislodge anything in the teeth.
Caution: Don’t use human dental floss on your dog. They’re often coated with sweeteners and flavorings that are toxic to dogs, like xylitol.
He has a broken or infected tooth
If your dog has a broken or infected tooth, it can form an abscess. Abscesses are pockets of pus caused by bacterial infections. You may need your vet’s help on this, but a holistic vet can recommend a home remedy like herbs or homeopathy that can help.
Can You Cure Bad Breath?
The only way to cure your dog’s bad breath is to treat the underlying issue causing it. But, there are some great ways to help prevent it from worsening.
Here are some natural ways to keep your dog’s teeth clean:
Feed A Species-Appropriate, Raw Food Diet
Starchy foods like kibble can contribute to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the mouth. They do not support the immune system and can cause inflammation throughout the body, including in the gums.
RELATED: How raw food benefits your dog’s oral health …
Give Raw Bones
There’s a reason that raw bones are often called “nature’s toothbrush.” A study in 2016 found that chewing raw bones was extremely effective at removing plaque on dogs’ teeth. The plaque reduction during the observation period ranged from 35% after 3 days of chewing up to 87.8% after chewing bones for 20 days (4).
Brush His Teeth
Regular brushing can help maintain your dog’s oral health. Use a natural dog toothpaste … or make your own.
Caution: Don’t use human toothpaste on your dog. It can contain fluoride as well as toxic sweeteners like xylitol.
Kibble And Dental Chews Don’t Clean Teeth
Many pet owners believe that kibble can help to clean their dog’s teeth. In fact, they think they have to feed kibble for its dental cleaning properties. Many conventional vets and large pet food companies perpetuate this myth.
Kibble does not clean teeth and it significantly contributes to tartar and plaque buildup.
Dental treats and chews are also not the most effective way to clean your dog’s teeth. They’re full of carbs, starches, and synthetic vitamins and minerals. Raw bones are a much healthier option for your pup.
- Enlund, Karolina Brunius, et al. “Dog Owners’ Perspectives on Canine Dental Health-A Questionnaire Study in Sweden.” Frontiers. 1 Jan 2020.
- Queck KE, Chapman A, Herzog LJ, et al. Oral-fluid thiol-detection test identifies underlying active periodontal disease not detected by the visual awake examination. JAAHA 2018;54(3):132-137.
- “Megaesophagus.” VCA Canada Corporate.
- Marx F, et al. Raw beef bones as chewing items to reduce dental calculus in Beagle dogs. Aust Vet J 2016 Jan-Feb;94(1-2):18-23.