Treating Bad Dog Breath

Last updated NOVEMBER 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian Dr Teagan Lever BVSc and last updated by Dr Jenny Eales BVSc (Hons).

Don't let foul breath stop you from getting up close and personal with your pooch. If your doggo's kisses are starting to smell less than appealing, it's important to look further to find and address the underlying cause.

Skip to - 4 simple steps to banish bad dog breath

Skip to - Frequently asked questions about bad dog breath

What causes bad breath in dogs?

1. Dental disease

Without a doubt dental disease is the most common cause of bad breath in our canine companions. Inflammation of the gums and bacteria growing in the mouth can leave your pooch with foul smelling or fishy breath. The bacteria creates smelly sulfur compounds. With at least 80% of dogs over the age of 3 having some degree of dental disease present, your first step to banishing bad dog breath is a dental check with your vet.

2. Medical problems

  • Diabetes: If a diabetic animal is untreated or unregulated, the body produces ketones which can make their breath smell sweet or like acetone.
  • Liver disease: Because the liver acts as a filter for toxins, if a dog's liver is not functioning properly, toxins can build up, causing bad breath.
  • Kidney disease: The kidneys are another filter organ and if they are not working correctly to filter and process toxins, urea can build up in the blood stream. Urea in the blood can make the breath smell like urine or ammonia.
  • Oral tumours: As tumours in the mouth grow they become infected, the tissue becomes necrotic and breaks down. Necrotic (dead) tissue is very smelly and causes bad breath. This is more common in older dogs.
  • Foreign bodies: Dogs who chew on bones, sticks and toys may get part of them wedged between their teeth. This can cause infection or inflammation as the foreign body presses on the gums, resulting in smelly breath. The foreign body that is stuck may also rot causing a foul smell. Just another reason to head to the vet for a check up if your pet's breath is starting to smell nasty!
  • Inflammation or Infection: Infection in the mouth such as an abscess or inflammation due to tonsilitis or a traumatic injury can cause foul smelling breath.
  • Bleeding in the mouth: Ever heard of puppy breath? It is caused by bleeding and inflammation in the mouth as their baby teeth fall out and their adult teeth emerge. A more serious form of bleeding in the mouth may be caused by a clotting disorder. If you notice any blood in your dogs mouth which is not due to puppy teeth, then it is best to get your dog checked by a veterinarian immediately.

3. A smelly diet

Diets high in smelly ingredients, like fish oil, can sometimes leave your pet with unpleasant breath. Fish oil is an excellent source of the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which can help manage a range of health conditions such as skin irritations, arthritis, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease, so it may be worth putting up with the smell to let your dog reap the benefits.

Raw or home cooked diets can also cause bad breath. This is because they disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in the dogs mouth and are more likely to cause salmonella (or other "bad" bacteria) overgrowth in the dog's gut. Dietry deficiencies caused by these types of diets may cause digestive problems leading to bad breath. To help counter these problems speak to a veterinary nutritionist if you wish to feed a home made diet to ensure you are feeding a complete and balanced diet to your pooch.

Wet dog food can get caught between your dog's teeth and cause a build up of bacteria. If you feed wet food to your dog, it is good idea to brush their teeth straight after so bacteria doesnt get a chance to buildup on the food stuck in their teeth. While wet food has it's good points, it does nothing for the dental health of your dog.

Excess sugar in the diet promotes the bacteria that cause bad breath, so if you feed a lot of dog treats to your pooch it may be time to cut down. Instead you can give dental treats for dogs like Greenies

Dietary indescretion (a fancy way of saying they have eaten someting they shouldn't) is also a cause of bad breath. One example is coprophagia or faeces ingestion, which is quite a common behaviour in dogs and puppies.

4 simple steps to banish bad dog breath

1. Brush your dog's teeth daily

While at first the idea can sound pretty daunting, working toothbrushing into your dog's daily routine is the best way to keep their breath fresh and prevent dental disease. Brushing every day helps to remove the build up of plaque and food particles which cause stinky breath.

By starting brushing at an early age, you can train your dog to accept having their teeth cleaned. Even older dogs can be easily trained. Be sure to usa a dog friendly toothpaste as human ones are not suitable. It can take several weeks for them to accept tooth brushing so dont give up! Start slowly with short sessions to get them used to the sensation of having their teeth brushed and get used to the taste of the pet toothpaste.

First you need to get them used to you touching their lips, opening their mouth and lifting their lips. Then start running your fingers over their teeth and gums, followed by introducing a toothbrush or finger brush. Once they have accepted this try rubbing pet safe toothpaste over their teeth and gums, and finally, use the toothbrush and toothpaste together.

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2. Switch to a dental diet

Oral Health Diets

Aside from brushing, dental diets are one of the most effective ways to help maintain good dental health and keep your dog's breath smelling fresh.

If your dog doesnt have a history of dental disease, but you want to help prevent it, oral health diets are the way to go. They are formulated to reduce plaque levels and are complete and balanced. Dental kibble is bigger than regular kibble to ensure that the dog chews it rather than swallows it whole. Generally these foods have two modes of action: some have kibble which helps to mechanically clean your pooch's teeth as they chew, while others contain a specialised active ingredient called sodium tripolyphosphate, which binds salivary calcium to help prevent the formation of dental tartar.

Prescription Dental Diets

If your dog has a history of dental disease they may need a prescription dental diet like Hills Prescription Diet Dental Care t/d or Royal Canin Dental. These diets are highly specialised especially for dogs with signs of dental disease.

*Hill's Prescription Diet and Royal Canin Veterinary Diet products are highly specialised therapeutic diets, so it's important to check with your vet that they are suitable for your dog's individual circumstances before feeding.

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3. Incorporate dental treats into your routine

Regular use of dental treats and chews can be a simple way to help reduce dental plaque and tartar build up which in turn supports better smelling breath. When used correctly they can do a lot for your dog's dental health. With oral hygiene in pets, it isn't just a matter of chewing on hard foods, but chewing and salivating and "rubbing" the surfaces of the teeth, whilst also creating an environment that minimises bacteria build up. If your dog eats the treat too quickly this action wont happen and there will be no dental benefit at all. The longer they chew and grind their teeth on a dental chew, the more benefit they are getting. Therefore it is important to follow the guidelines on the packet for the correct size and feeding frequency, and to not cut up dental chews and treats

When choosing a dental treat, look for products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance and pick products with lower levels of fat and calories to prevent obesity.

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4. Water additives and plaque control supplements might help (but they won't solve the problem)

It may be tempting to think that adding a water additive or powder to your pet's bowl will solve all their stinky breath problems, however they do need to be used in combination with one or more other dental health prevention management strategies to be effective. They can be a quick way to freshen your dogs breath without brushing their teeth, but ultimately you will need to use them as an additional product in your dog's dental heath regieme, rather than as the sole solution.

Each water additive works a little differently, some contain mint extracts for fresher breath, while others can also help to slow down the growth of bacteria on the teeth. If you do use water additives, be sure to follow the packaging directions closely as most require you to change the water daily.

Dental powders contain products that help fight the bacteria that cause dental plaque and can be sprinkled on food. They need to be used in conjunction with other dental health prevention strategies like regular brushing.

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By checking in with your vet and taking some steps to support your dog's dental health, you can get their breath back to smelling fresh and clean - ready for lots of slobbery doggy kisses!

Frequently asked questions about bad dog breath

What foods cause bad breath in dogs?

Anything that has strong smelling ingredients (like fish oils), wet food, raw food, and home made diets can cause bad breath in dogs.

How do you fix digestive bad breath in dogs?

Digestive bad breath can be caused by home made diets and raw food diets. This is because they disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in the dogs mouth and are more likely to cause bacterial overgrowth (of "bad" bacteria) in the dog's gut. To combat this, firstly it is important to ensure that you are feeding your dog a complete and balanced diet, consider switching to cooked foods or kibble or wet dog food, and consider adding in a probiotic.

Does wet food help with bad breath?

Unfortunately wet food does nothing to help bad breath and can even make it worse if it gets stuck in your dogs teeth!

How can I freshen my dogs breath without brushing?

You can use dental treats, water additives and dental powders for a quick breath freshener, but be aware that these should be used in conjunction with other dental hygiene products for complete protection.

Further Reading

Want to know more? Check out some more of our articles below:

Dental Care for Dogs

Kidney Disease in Pets

The Best Treats for Your Dog

Why Do Dogs Roll in Smelly Things?