Always having a cuddle buddy is one of the best things about having a dog. But if stinky doggy breath is coming between you and your canine companion, you might be wondering what causes bad breath in dogs — and whether it’s a sign of poor health. 

Though bad breath in dogs can sometimes signal a health condition, the good news is that it’s usually not that mysterious. And most of the time, there are plenty of easy ways to clear the air and freshen things up again. 

Debunk the misconceptions.

Many people believe that a dog’s saliva is magically clean, or that the way dogs chew cleans their teeth. And while it’s true that dog saliva has some antibacterial properties, and chew toys can help sweep food particles from your dog’s mouth, chewing alone doesn’t do the trick. 

Worse, some people think that chewing dry dog food — kibble — cleans a dog’s teeth, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Does eating chocolate chip cookies keep your teeth clean? Nope.

Contrary to what pet owners believe, kibble isn’t abrasive, like a good chew toy or bone, and doesn’t sweep away plaques. In fact, dry kibble is filled with starchy carbohydrate content that’s perfect for caking up between your dog’s teeth.

Stop the plaque attack.

All that caked-up kibble can create bad breath. Think about it. When do you have bad breath? Probably after you eat. And what do you do when you have bad breath? You brush your teeth, of course.

As your dog eats, some food particles end up sticking around in your dog’s mouth. As these particles interact with bacteria in your dog’s saliva, plaque forms. And plaque is stinky, causing the bad dog breath you smell.  

Your dog’s bad breath may be caused by the simple need for better dental care. The best thing to do for your dog’s breath, and oral health too, is to brush teeth after eating. But it’s not just about not offending your nose.

If plaque forms day after day, it can harden into tartar. And when tartar forms beneath the gum line, it can cause periodontitis. That can include bleeding gums, which create a conduit for bad bacteria to attack your dog’s organs. Today, 80% of dogs over age three suffer periodontal disease, and small dogs are especially likely to have plaque that can turn into tartar.

To avoid this fate for your dog and combat the cause of bad breath, take these steps:

  1. Invest. Be sure to get your dog a full dental cleaning once a year. Most veterinarians offer dental services, or can make a recommendation. 
  2. Brush. Brush your dog’s teeth frequently — but not with human toothpaste. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste specially formulated for dogs. Look in the dental section of your pet supply store.
  3. Wipe. No time to brush? Try covering your finger with gauze and wiping it over your dog’s teeth for a quick fix. If you have coconut oil, put a little on the gauze for extra breath freshening.
  4. Chew. Encourage your dog to chew on hard, safe toys that can help break up plaques.

Remember: You need a doggy dedicated toothpaste for your beloved pet. Human pastes can contain baking soda which isn’t good for dogs. Worse, they may contain xylitol, which is fine for you but can cause liver failure in dogs. 

Check your dog’s mouth.

If your dog’s breath suddenly smells much worse, or bad in a different way than usual, it’s time to take a closer look. Start by examining your dog’s mouth.

Sometimes, bad breath in dogs can be caused by a piece of food, or even a foreign object, that’s become stuck. It is also possible that a wound or tumor could be causing your dog to have trouble swallowing.

Check your dog’s teeth, tongue, and gums for any wounds or growths. If you see anything unusual, have your dog examined by a vet right away.

Consider your dog’s whole health.

One way to combat a possible cause of bad breath in dogs is to be sure you are feeding a healthy food that agrees with your dog’s digestion. Look for a meat-forward, fresh whole food option like A Pup Above. Fresh foods that are minimally processed are easier on your dog’s digestion and promote a healthier gut.

Bad breath in dogs can be just one sign of a larger health problem with the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, or organs. If you notice your dog’s bad breath occurring in conjunction with a loss of energy or appetite, excessive drinking, drooling, or vomiting, it’s time to call your vet.  

Some symptoms can signal the need for immediate attention. Let your vet know more about what you are smelling if you detect:

  1. Sweet breath. If you notice your dog’s breath smelling fruity or sickly sweet, it could be a sign of diabetes. Let your vet know if you also notice your dog drinking and peeing more, as this is another diabetes signal. 
  2. Pee breath. If you think you smell pee on your dog’s breath, you may not be imagining things. Dogs with kidney disease can sometimes have breath that smells like urine.
  3. Foul breath. Liver problems can make a dog’s breath smell awful. Be sure to tell your vet if your dog has been vomiting, has less interest in food, or if gums or eyes seem yellowish. 

Tricks for combating bad breath in dogs

If you’re taking care of your dog’s dental, mouth, and whole system health, and feeding them a whole food diet, bad doggy breath shouldn’t be much of an issue. But, there are still a few tricks you can try to make your dog’s breath even more delightful. 

  • Probiotics for dogs. On top of feeding your dog a whole foods diet, you can add a probiotic to balance oral bacteria, a major cause of bad breath in dogs. Check with your vet to understand the best dosing and brand for your dog.  
  • Water bowl fresheners. Dump just a half teaspoon of apple cider vinegar into your dog’s water is not only good for growing good bacteria in your dog’s gut, but also keeps breath fresher between teeth brushings.
  • Mint and parsley for pets. Not just a green garnish, curly leaf parsley and mint not only help breath smell great, but add immunity-building, kidney-supporting vitamins and minerals to your dog’s diet. Dogs may find a little parsley soothing for tummy and digestive upsets, too. A Pup Above recipes all include parsley for these very reasons! You can always chop up some greens to sprinkle over your dog’s food, or juice them to add to the water bowl. Just be sure to avoid “spring parsley” — this member of the carrot family looks like parsley, but is toxic to dogs.
  • Pass the Coconut oil, please. You might think of coconut oil as good for your dog’s skin and coat — but it’s also great for your dog’s immune system and breath. Add a little to your dog’s food, or use it to wipe or brush teeth.
  • Fruits and veggies to the rescue. Chewing does help your dog sweep food particles from teeth and minimize your dog’s bad breath. Crunchy carrots or apples can keep your dog busy and break up plaques.
  • Breath-friendly dog cookies. Try combining mint or parsley and coconut oil with oats, eggs, and a little water. Bake for about 30 minutes at 325 degrees. Don’t give into any begging until the cookies are completely cooled.