Ask Doctor Chopper: Bad Breath in Dogs and Cats


What Is Halitosis?

Halitosis the medical term for bad breath. It is almost always caused but the products produced by bacteria as they digest food particles left in your pet’s mouth as well as the products produced by bacterial infections surrounding the bases of your pet’s teeth.

Tooth and gum problems are the most common medical condition. Because bad breath in dogs and cats go hand in hand with other health problems, it is important to treat this problem.

All dogs and cats eventually suffer from some form of dental disease. This is because of the soft diets we feed them, canine and feline genetics, as well as the fact that our pets now live very long lives.

Dogs and cats, unlike people, rarely suffer from tooth enamel decay, infection, inflammation and receding of the margins of the gums (gingival) where they abut (touch) the teeth as well as tartar accumulation on the teeth, and just below the gum line surrounding the teeth. A combination of these two problems is the number one causes of strong breath in your pet, drooling and discomfort. Dental Disease can also be a primary cause of the kidney and heart disease I see in older pets. This may be because the bacteria that live in the infected tissue surrounding the teeth enter the blood stream and lodge in the other organs.

Why Does My Pet Have Bad Breath?
The most common cause of bad breath is tartar buildup surrounding the teeth.  Small particles of food remain in the mouth after eating. These particles decompose creating conditions where oral bacteria thrive. These bacterial grow to form plaque which is a combination of bacteria, mineral and decomposed food. Plaque and associated oral infections give the pet’s breath an objectionable odor. Plaque also clings to the base of teeth causing the gums to become inflamed and recede. Inflamed gums leak blood serum with combines with and increase the amount of plaque. This plaque, or calculus, is visible as a hard yellowish coating on the outer base of your pet’s teeth.

Remarkably, pets with this condition rarely eat less. Early in the disease, the plaque is no more than a thin brownish or yellowish coating on the sides of the teeth. It is most noticeable on the outer (lateral) surface of the larger molar teeth – the side adjacent to the cheeks and lips. In severe cases the margins where teeth and gums meet become highly inflamed and bleed when they are touched. These problems are most severe in toy and smaller breeds of dogs and in purebred cats. Maltese have the highest rate of tooth and gum disease of all breeds.

This buildup of calculus causes the gum margins to recede past the tooth enamel, exposing the softer dentine material that covers the tooth roots. Dentine is much more porous and rougher than enamel and so holds infection in place. Once dentine is exposed, periodic tooth care must be done more frequently, and the teeth are eventually lost. This is why successful tooth care and good dental hygiene needs to begin early before these processes are advanced.

Other Causes of Bad Breath:
Puppies that are in the process of shedding their “baby” teeth often drool and have bad breath. This is a transient problem. Some times it is accompanied by fever. Brushing these pets’ mouths with a dilute baking soda solution gives them relief and minimizes the odor.

In older pets, disease of the kidneys and liver often affect the mouth. These pets are often thin and frail.  Pets with organ damage require extra special care when tending to their teeth. Anesthesia during dental prophylaxis must be administered lightly and with special care.  Place these pets on antibiotics after their teeth are cleaned as well as on special diets engineered to help failing organs.

What Problems Associated With Tooth and Gum Disease?
Just as kidney and liver disease can lead to dental disease, dental disease can lead to disease of the kidney and liver. Tartar accumulation around the teeth allows harmful bacteria to proliferate. These bacteria occasionally break loose and enter the pet’s circulation. Once in the blood stream, they lodge in crevices with the kidneys and liver and on the valves of the heart. Liver inflammation as well as scarred, poorly functioning kidneys are the result of bacteria lodging in these organs. When the heart valves are attacked by bacteria they shrink and scar causing blood to flow in the wrong direction. This is why it is common for dogs and cats with severe dental disease to have heart murmurs. It is not unusual for these murmurs to go away once the pet’s dental problems are treated.

Dogs and cats with chronic dental problems often drool. This wetness and the infection associated with tooth infections may cause the lips and the skin folds surrounding the lips to become inflamed. Once the teeth are cleaned, these problems resolve.

How Can We Treat Bad Breath In Your Pet?

1) Yearly Checkups
Even if you do not give yearly booster vaccinations, it is wise to take your pet to a veterinarian yearly to get a general checkup that includes a dental exam. The older your pet is, the more important early exams become.

2) Diet
To retard the formation of plaque, feed your pet a name brand dry commercial pet food. The crunchy biscuits help massage gums and wear away tartar  One of the worst things you can do to your pet’s teeth is to feed canned diets. The build-up of plaque in pets fed soft, canned diets is very rapid.

3) Treats and Foods
Feeding chewy treats, bones, rawhide and treats impregnated with enzymes minimize dental plaque. Nylon bones work equally as well if the pet accepts them. Dog biscuits are of no value in preventing tartar buildup

If you give your pet real bones, be sure they are heavy shin and shank bones. Dogs and cats do better chewing on bones if they start when they are puppies and kittens. Do not give your pet chicken bones.

4) Brushing Teeth
Brushing your pet’s teeth is the most important thing you can do to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Use a child’s toothbrush and meat or malt favored toothpaste designed for animals. Use a very small amount of toothpaste – it is the brushing that is important – and concentrate on the gum margins. If you start when your pet is a puppy or kitten, the pet will not dislike the procedure. Even older pets learn to accept the toothbrush.

5) Mouth washes And Sprays
Veterinary hospitals and pet supply outlets sell chlorhexidine sprays and mouthwashes that contain enzymes that dissolve plaque and help reduce bacteria. They are not nearly as effective as brushing the teeth, but are better than no home care at all.

Manual Tartar Removal
If your pet has a placid temperament, it is not difficult to scrap the tartar from the teeth and clean under the margins of the gums at home. Many pet professionals perform excellent tooth cleaning at home, eliminating the need to have their pet anesthetized at a veterinary clinic. Your veterinarian or a pet supply catalog is a good source for a tartar-scraping tool. The best ones are double ended, one end suitable for the right, and the other for the left hand side of the mouth.

Ultrasonic Cleaning
This procedure is performed with general anesthetic or heavy tranquilization. Since it is often older patients, many of whom have heart disease, that need the procedure, I keep them under very light anesthetic.

Removal Of Diseased And Loose Teeth
Once the ligaments that fasten teeth to the bone of the jaw have been damaged by periodontal disease, ultrasonic cleaning will not heal them. Mildly loose teeth can sometimes be preserved by cleaning. Severely loose teeth are best removed. Dogs and cats do very well with few remaining teeth. Problems are more in the minds of owners due to fear than to any difficulties experienced by the pets.

Tooth Restorations
Some veterinarians and dentists specialize in crowns for damaged pet teeth. Other than for attack dogs, this is a purely cosmetic procedure satisfying the owner, not the pet. I suggest you spend the money on your pets in other ways – such as a trip with your pet to the country or the park and contributions to your local Humane Society.


5 responses to “Ask Doctor Chopper: Bad Breath in Dogs and Cats

  1. Twinkle & Skye

    Excellent!! Twink and Skye get their teeth brushed every day ~our vet says their teeth are the best he has seen!

  2. Thanks for the info guys it was a great read! xoxox



  4. Liberty and Justice

    Great info!

  5. Bubbles, Tusche, Che and Jodene

    Thanks for the info!

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