What is causing my pet's bad breath, and what can I do about it?

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Published: August 20, 2015

By Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Few things rival the sensation of being awoken from a deep sleep by the noxious odor of a pet breathing heavy doggie-breath into your face. Halitosis is one of the most common complaints owners have about their pets. So what causes it?

Most of the time, bad breath is a result of periodontal disease- which is found in about 85% of all dogs and cats! As bacteria build up on the teeth and form plaque, the resulting smell can get very noticeable indeed. As untreated periodontal disease progresses, the smell only worsens.

In these cases, treating the periodontal disease helps the symptoms resolve. The most beneficial treatment is a full cleaning at the veterinarian, though home care such as toothbrushing and dental chews can help preserve dental health in between cleanings.

Aside from the periodontal disease, halitosis can also result from other medical conditions. Conditions of the mouth and throat such as bacterial infections, fungal overgrowth, or cancer can create bad breath. Systemic diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease are also known for affecting the breath. An experienced veterinarian can often differentiate the uremic breath of kidney disease from the ketone breath of diabetes, but for most of us that diagnosis requires bloodwork.

Lastly, bad breath can be diet related, especially if the pet is on a strong-smelling fish based diet or has a habit of eating poop (a condition we call coprophagia.)

If the breath is bad enough to bother you, it’s probably something that will need a vet exam to solve. The good news is, most cases of halitosis are highly treatable.