What Causes Bad Breath In Dogs

What Causes Bad Breath In Dogs

Numerous factors can contribute to a dog's bad breath. Among the most common causes are poor diet, plaque and tartar build up on the teeth, gum, and dental issues. Yet, beyond these common culprits, additional conditions like gastrointestinal issues and diabetes can also play a role in causing your dog’s breath to smell less than pleasant.

Table of Contents

Common causes of bad breath in dogs

Mouth Bacteria

Dogs don’t brush their teeth, floss and use mouthwash in the same way that humans do. Although owners can brush their dogs teeth with toothpaste that has been made specifically for dogs, we can sometimes forget to do this (guilty as charged). Consequently, some dogs may develop bad breath simply due to lack of recent dental cleaning – akin to what would happen if we neglected our own dental care.

Dental Disease or Tooth Decay

Dental Disease is when there is a noticeable amount of gum inflammation and tartar buildup on the teeth, often accompanied by tooth decay. This occurs when a dog’s teeth haven't been cleaned for an extended amount of time. This causes a dog to have bad breath, and they may exhibit other symptoms such as noticeable pain in the mouth, sneezing, irritability, bleeding, and a reduced appetite.

Dental disease is also more common in older dogs. As dogs age, they are more prone to dental issues due to a lifetime of wear and tear on their teeth and gums. 

Something they ate

If your dog’s bad breath is short lived, the chances are they ate something revolting such as another animal’s poo (cat poo anyone?), a rotting carcass or, if raw fed, they ate green tripe! Thankfully this sort of bad breath is temporary and resolves itself after an hour or two (avoid the facelicks during this time).

Stomach Issues

Bad breath in dogs can stem from an imbalance of bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract. Alongside foul-smelling breath, dogs experiencing such issues may have smelly gas and loose stools (although not always).  Rebalancing the gut bacteria with probiotics and perhaps a change of diet can resolve this issue quite easily.


Diabetes can be the culprit of strange breath odour which has been reported to smell bad but also sweet or fruity, and it is a sign that you need to take your pet to the vet as soon as possible.

In addition to this strange smell on their breath diabetic dogs may experience:

  • Increased urination and thirst
  • Increased appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Cloudy eyes and vision loss
  • A dull coat
  • Skin problems
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy

How to prevent bad breath in dogs

As with everything, prevention is better than cure, so ensure you are keeping an eye on your dog’s teeth - particularly as they age.

Steer clear of Dentastix and manufactured ‘dental chews’ - these products will do nothing to help clean your dog’s teeth.

Chewing on natural treats and chews such as fish jerky, pizzles, lamb horns, raw meaty bones and deer antlers (to name a few) will help to mechanically remove plaque and tartar build up.

Brush your dog’s teeth regularly (if you wish) using dog friendly toothpaste or choose to have their teeth cleaned by a local grooming salon. Many groomers offer Emmi-Pet Teeth Cleaning which is an ultrasonic toothbrush that will help to keep those teeth pearly white and the breath fresh.

How to treat bad breath in dogs

Dependent on the cause, there are a few ways to fix bad breath - some of which are very simple solutions that owners can do themselves whilst other issues, such as dental disease, requires the intervention of a veterinarian.

Mouth Bacteria
Use a dog friendly toothpaste and brush to clean the teeth or get someone (a local groomer) to do it for you. Give your dog natural dental chews to help keep the mouth in tip top shape.

Dental Disease or Tooth Decay
There is no quick fix to this problem and requires a vet. Bear in mind that it isn’t just the smell of bad breath that is inconvenient, a dog experiencing dental disease or tooth decay is likely to be uncomfortable or, in extreme cases, in pain. A vet can assess the extent of the problem and advise on the best course of action.

Something they ate
If your dog is prone to eating stinky things, such as poo, then use behaviour techniques to distract them away from the offending item. Offering something tastier, such as a natural treat, is likely to draw them away from the item you don’t want them eating.

Stomach Issues
If your dog is eating a poor or low quality kibble, it would be worth switching to something better as this will help to settle the stomach and, in turn, help alleviate potential bad breath.

If your dog is already eating a high quality diet, it may be that they need an extra boost of probiotics adding to their food such as kefir. This magical liquid will help to balance the gut bacteria which will lessen the bad breath.

If you suspect that your dog’s bad breath is a result of something more than just dental or stomach issues, a vet visit is imperative to halt the progress of any disease such as diabetes.

When to seek vet advice for a dog's bad breath

As discussed, although bad breath in dogs does not always need to be treated by a vet, there are some instances where bad breath in dogs definitely warrants a vet visit. Here are some situations where you should definitely take your dog to the vet as soon as you can.

  • If your dog’s bad breath is paired with other strange or troubling symptoms (this could indicate diabetes or another medical condition)
  • If your dog’s breath smells sweet or fruity (indicative of diabetes)
  • If their bad breath is not improving with teeth cleanings and dietary changes
  • If you notice bleeding or pus coming from the mouth
  • If you notice missing or rotted teeth
  • If your dog has inflamed, red gums

What can I give my dog for bad breath

There are many natural ways to treat a dog’s bad breath, from natural, healthy treats and chews to kefir probiotics. Choosing a reputable supplier and one that is able to offer additional advice and guidance is really important. We have recommended some products below that may help your dog and their stinky breath.

Kefir Water

Unlike fresh kefir that has to be kept refrigerated or frozen, Kefir Water can be kept at room temperature until it is opened. Packed with millions of ‘good bacteria’ and cultures, we liken this to ‘Yakult for dogs’ and have seen really amazing results with many of our doggy customers when given with their food on a daily basis.

Natural Dental Treats & Chews

With the emphasis being ‘natural’, we have handpicked a selection of dog dental chews which will not only occupy your dog but will also mechanically remove tartar and build up as they chew. Even more importantly, these treats and chews are free from artificial flavourings, preservatives, gluten and grain.

High Quality Kibble and Dry Food

Ensuring your dog is fed a high quality diet free from cereals and fillers is often the easiest way to fix bad breath (and gas). Look for food with a minimum of 50% meat content (even better - go for 65%) and see the difference that it makes to your dog.

Dog Friendly Toothpaste

If you want to start brushing your dog’s teeth yourself, use a dog friendly toothpaste on a standard tooth brush and give the teeth a good once over. This is easiest to start from an early age so that your dog is used to the experience but it’s never to late to give it a go!

Hopefully you found this guide useful and here is to fresh breath for dogs everywhere.

With wags and woofs,
Laura, Dolly & Reggie

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