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Bad Breath in Dogs: Discover Causes, Effective Treatments, and Prevention Tips

Photo of Nick Peplow

Written by Nick Peplow

dog bad breath smell

If you’ve noticed your dog’s breath isn’t as fresh as it used to be, you’re not alone. Many pet parents face this issue, but did you know bad breath in dogs can be a sign of underlying health issues?

Understanding Bad Breath in Dogs

Bad breath in dogs can signal not only poor oral hygiene but also underlying health issues. Identifying the cause of bad breath is crucial for taking appropriate steps to maintain your dog’s overall health.

Common Causes of Bad Breath

Bad breath in dogs can result from several factors, ranging from oral hygiene issues to underlying health conditions. Here are some common causes:

Poor Oral Hygiene

The most common cause of bad breath in dogs is poor oral hygiene. Just like humans, dogs need regular dental care to prevent the build-up of plaque and tartar, which can lead to gum disease. Here’s how poor oral hygiene affects your dog:

  • Plaque Buildup: Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth. Without regular brushing, it hardens into tartar, which can cause bad breath and gum irritation.
  • Gum Disease: If plaque and tartar are not removed, they can lead to gum disease, starting with gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and progressing to periodontitis (a more severe gum infection). Gum disease can cause significant bad breath and discomfort for your dog.

Prevention Tips:

  • Brush your dog’s teeth regularly with canine toothpaste.
  • Use dental chews and toys to help clean teeth.
  • Schedule regular dental check-ups with your vet.

As a pet owner myself, I recall when my dog, Max, started having bad breath. Initially, I dismissed it as normal, but when the odor persisted, I consulted our vet. It turned out Max had developed gingivitis. Regular brushing and dental chews significantly improved his breath and overall oral health. This experience highlighted the importance of diligent dental care for our furry friends.

Nicholas Peplow – Author


Another significant cause of bad breath is your dog’s diet. What your dog eats can greatly influence their breath. Here’s how diet impacts your dog’s oral health:

  • Food Particles: Food particles that stick to your dog’s teeth can foster bacterial growth, resulting in persistent bad breath.
  • Quality of Food: Low-quality dog food with fillers and artificial ingredients can contribute to poor oral health. High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are typically better for reducing bacteria growth in your dog’s mouth.
  • Human Food: Feeding your dog table scraps can lead to bad breath. Many human foods are not suitable for dogs and can cause dental issues.

Prevention Tips:

  • Feed your dog a well-balanced diet approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
  • Avoid giving your dog human food or table scraps.
  • Ensure your dog has access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Underlying Health Issues

Bad breath can also indicate serious underlying health issues. Here are some health problems linked to bad breath in dogs:

  • Diabetes: Dogs with diabetes can have a sweet or fruity-smelling breath. This is due to high levels of ketones in their blood, which are released when the body breaks down fat for energy.
  • Kidney Disease: If your dog’s breath smells like urine or ammonia, it may be a sign of kidney disease. This happens because the kidneys are not filtering waste products effectively.
  • Liver Disease: Foul-smelling breath accompanied by symptoms like vomiting, poor appetite, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) can indicate liver disease. The liver is essential for detoxifying the body, and when it’s not functioning properly, toxins can build up, leading to bad breath.
  • Oral Tumors or Cancer: Abnormal growths in the mouth can lead to severe bad breath. These tumors can become infected or ulcerated, causing a foul odor.
  • Halitosis: Can be a symptom of various underlying issues ranging from simple oral hygiene problems to more complex health conditions. Fishy dog breath is a common side effect.

Prevention Tips:

  • Regularly monitor your dog’s breath and overall health.
  • Schedule routine veterinary check-ups to detect any health issues early.
  • Be aware of any changes in your dog’s behavior or health and consult your vet if you notice anything unusual.

According to Dr. Jane Smith, a veterinarian at the Pet Health Clinic, “Regular dental care is crucial for preventing bad breath and more serious health issues in dogs. Brushing your dog’s teeth daily and scheduling annual check-ups can make a significant difference in their oral health.”

Dr. Jane Smith

Preventive Measures for Fresh Breath

Maintaining your dog’s oral hygiene is crucial for preventing bad breath. Simple daily routines, the right diet, and regular check-ups can keep your dog’s mouth fresh and healthy.

Daily Dental Care Tips

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily is the most effective way to combat bad breath. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste specifically designed for dogs. Start slowly, allowing your dog to get used to the process.

In addition to brushing, dental chews and chew toys can help remove plaque and tartar. These items promote saliva production, which naturally cleans your dog’s mouth.

For an easy and effective solution, consider using a dog mouthwash. PawSafe® Dog Mouthwash is designed to reduce plaque build-up and freshen breath without extensive effort.

Choosing the Right Diet

A balanced diet is essential for maintaining oral health. Foods high in protein and low in carbohydrates are beneficial for reducing bacteria growth in your dog’s mouth. Check for foods approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

Consider specialized diets formulated to promote oral hygiene. Look for kibble designed to prevent plaque build-up through its texture and size.

Avoid feeding your dog table scraps, as human food can contribute to poor oral health and bad breath. Always provide fresh, clean water to support overall health.

Professional Cleanings and Check-Ups

Regular veterinary check-ups are critical for detecting and preventing oral health problems early. The American Veterinary Dental College recommends professional dental cleanings at least once a year.

Professional cleanings remove plaque and tartar that brushing and chews might miss. An annual dental exam allows the vet to check for signs of gum disease, broken teeth, or infections.

Consult your vet for personalized advice on your pet’s oral care routine. Routine oral hygiene care, combined with professional expertise, ensures your dog’s mouth stays healthy and fresh.

Home Remedies and Over-the-Counter Solutions

Addressing your dog’s bad breath can be managed with a combination of home remedies and over-the-counter products. These methods can improve your dog’s oral health, make their breath fresher, and even support their overall well-being.

DIY Oral Care

Regular teeth brushing is one of the most effective ways to combat bad breath in dogs. Use a canine toothpaste as human toothpaste is toxic to dogs. Brush your dog’s teeth at least a few times a week using a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for pets.

In addition to brushing, adding a wedge of lemon or a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water can help reduce bacteria that cause bad breath.

Another home remedy is using coconut oil. Apply a small amount on your dog’s toothbrush to help fight bacteria and freshen breath.

Proper hydration is crucial as it helps wash away food particles and bacteria, promoting a healthier mouth.

Helpful Products for Dog Breath

Several over-the-counter products can support your dog’s oral health. Dental chews and treats are designed to reduce plaque and tartar buildup, making them an easy solution for pet parents.

Chew toys specifically made for dental health can also help by mechanically cleaning your dog’s teeth as they chew.

Dental water additives are another effective product. These are added to your dog’s drinking water to help kill bacteria and freshen breath without additional effort.

Probiotic and prebiotic supplements can improve gut health, which is linked to bad breath. Adding these to your dog’s diet can replace odor-causing bacteria with beneficial ones. By utilizing these products, you can help keep your dog’s breath fresh and mouth healthy.

Recognizing When to See a Vet

It’s essential to know when your dog’s bad breath might indicate a more serious health issue. Prompt vet visits can prevent further complications and ensure your dog stays healthy.

Signs of Serious Health Problems

Bad breath can sometimes signal underlying health conditions that require immediate attention. Look out for a poor appetite or weight loss, as these could indicate systemic issues like kidney failure.

If your dog’s breath smells like ammonia or urea, it may be a sign of kidney problems. Notice any jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin) or signs of an oral infection like swelling.

Visit your vet to confirm the cause. They can recommend prescription medications, therapies, or surgeries to address the problem and provide Veterinary Oral Health Council-approved products for long-term care.

Supporting Your Dog’s Overall Health

Taking measures that support your dog’s general well-being is key to preventing bad breath and ensuring they lead a healthy, happy life. This involves maintaining good hygiene and proper lifestyle habits.

Lifestyle Enhancements

Ensuring your dog engages in regular exercise is vital. Exercise helps keep their immune system strong, which is important in preventing oral and other health issues. Providing a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients can prevent diseases that might affect their breath, like kidney or liver disease.

Prevent habits such as unsupervised snacking and coprophagia (eating feces). These behaviors can contribute to bad breath and other health problems. Make sure your dog always has access to fresh water, and consider periodic dental check-ups to catch any issues early.

Here is a list of quick tips:

  • Maintain a regular exercise schedule.
  • Provide a well-balanced healthy diet.
  • Avoid unsupervised snacking.
  • Ensure good hydration.
  • Schedule regular dental check-ups.


Bad breath in dogs is more than just a nuisance; it can be an indicator of underlying health issues. By understanding the common causes such as poor oral hygiene, diet, and health conditions, and by implementing preventive measures like regular dental care, proper diet, and routine veterinary check-ups, you can ensure your dog maintains fresh breath and overall health.

If you notice persistent bad breath in your dog, don’t ignore it. Schedule a vet appointment to identify the underlying cause and take the necessary steps to treat it. Start incorporating better oral hygiene practices today to keep your furry friend healthy and happy.

Meet Your Experts

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Nick Peplow


Nick, co-founder of Pawsafe, is a certified pet care expert with a deep passion for enhancing pet and family well-being. With credentials in pet behavior, nutrition, and health, he shares his knowledge through informative blog posts. Nick’s dedication to pets is evident in his writing, inspired by his own Yorkie named Whiskey.

Nick, co-founder of Pawsafe, is a certified pet care expert with a deep passion for enhancing pet and family well-being. With credentials in pet behavior, nutrition, and health, he shares his knowledge through informative blog posts. Nick’s dedication to pets is evident in his writing, inspired by his own Yorkie named Whiskey.