If you’ve ever found yourself wincing when your dog yawns or pants in your general direction, you are definitely not alone. Halitosis in dogs is so common that the term “dog breath” has become an idiom for stinky, off-putting breath. But before you buy a gas mask and resign yourself to your fate, take a few moments to learn about some possible causes of—and potential solutions for—your dog’s awful breath.
The “Tooth” of the Matter
Just because something is common doesn’t mean that it is healthy, and doggy halitosis is no exception. Even though most humans know to brush their teeth twice (maybe even three times) a day, a lot of us are much more lackadaisical about our dogs’ oral hygiene. And that is bad, because dogs can develop periodontal disease and tooth decay just like humans can.
Bad breath is often one of the first signs that something is amiss with your dog’s health, so if you notice that Mitten’s burps have become unpleasant enough to wilt roses, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consult with her veterinarian. A typical health exam for a dog involves taking a peak at their teeth and gums, and the vet will be able to tell you whether or not they suspect dental issues are to blame for the foul odors your dog is exhaling. The vet might recommend a full-fledged “dental treatment,” in which your dog is placed under general anesthesia and her teeth are given a good brushing, polishing and flossing—you can even opt for x-rays, as well! If all of that seems a little excessive for a dog, please keep in mind that not taking care of your pet’s teeth can seriously impact their health and quality of life in the long-run. Gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, an increased risk of oral cancer, and diseases of the liver, kidneys, and/or heart have all been linked to poor dental hygiene.
Bottom line: your dog can’t really walk up to you and say, “This one tooth feels kinda loose,” or “My gums hurt, Mom.” Thus, you must be proactive about their oral health!
Once your dog’s vet has taken care of any underlying health problems, then you can go about treating the bad breath itself. Fortunately, there are several products on the market that can help keep smelly breath at bay. Feel free to experiment or mix and match until you find something that your dog won’t fight you on!
Meat- or sweet-flavored toothpaste.
This isn’t technically a “food” per se, but brushing your dog’s teeth is one of the best at-home treatments that you can perform to keep their mouth healthy. And unlike toothpaste designed for humans (which you should never use on dogs), doggy toothpaste comes in flavors like chicken, beef, malt, vanilla or seafood. It is also safe to swallow, so if you need to let your dog lick some off the brush or out of the tube before he will tolerate having his teeth scrubbed, then it is okay to do so.
Hard or crunchy chew toys.
Few dogs can resist the allure of a good chew toy, so why not give them one that’s entertaining and cleans their mouth? When dogs gnaw on hard toys, the material scrapes and grinds against their teeth, and this motion can assist with breaking up and removing plaque deposits—feeding your dog high-quality dry food can have a similar effect. Old-fashioned rawhide can be great for this, but most pet stores also carry treats specifically designed to freshen your dog’s breath. Rope toys can also “floss” away gunk that’s stuck between a dog’s teeth, but do NOT let Spot actually ingest the rope!
Treats containing chlorophyll, cinnamon, or cloves.
These ingredients are natural, dog-safe, and can do wonders for eliminating the odor-causing bacteria in Sparky’s mouth. And if you can give these substances to your dog in hard biscuit form, so much for the better!
Certain raw fruits and veggies.
Baby carrots, sliced apples (without the seeds), cucumbers and celery are low-calorie, rich in nutrients, safe for dogs and have that tooth-cleaning crunch that is so helpful for chasing away bad breath. Do go easy on the “people food” though—any of these treats in large amounts have the potential to upset your pooch’s stomach, especially if he is not used to eating them.
High-quality large breed kibble dog food.
If your dog is constantly having issues with her teeth and breath, your vet might recommend you start feeding her a specific kind of food—one designed with oral care in mind. Food designed specifically for large dogs with bigger kibble, like our Muenster Natural Large Breed formula, means more chewing for your dog instead of them swallowing the kibble bits whole. Much like the hard or crunchy chew toys recommended above, the food bits scrape against their teeth and help clean away plaque and build up.
The problem with trying to “cure” bad breath in dogs is that the foul odor is often just a symptom of a larger problem. You can feed Rocket as many doggy breath mints as you would like, but they are not going to fix the rotten tooth in the back of his mouth that is actually causing the odor. That is why it is imperative that any attempts to cure your dog’s halitosis start with a visit to your regular veterinarian! Once you know that the problem isn’t serious (maybe Ginger just needs to stop treating the cat’s litter box like a buffet!), then you can try a more creative solution.
Your dog’s breath may never be exactly “kissing fresh.” However, it also shouldn’t make your eyes water when he yawns in your face!
Photo courtesy of Evan Blaser on Flickr