Just like people, some dogs and cats have stinky breath. Here’s how to recognize if the stench signals a serious health problem — and how to say bye-bye to bad pet breath.
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Bad dog breath or cat breath can certainly be unpleasant — but more importantly, it could also be an indication of a pet health problem.
“Bad breath in pets is most commonly due to dental disease, including gingivitis, periodontitis, and decayed or abscessed teeth,” warns Jean Hofve, DVM, former editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and president of the Rocky Mountain Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
There are other all-too-common factors that can cause bad breath in pets, adds Susan Nelson, DVM, an assistant professor of clinical sciences at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Non-medical causes include eating malodorous foods or coprophagy (eating feces),” she says.
When Bad Breath Becomes a Problem
In rarer instances, bad dog or cat breath could be an indicator of a more serious health problem. “An ammonia odor may be due to kidney disease, while an acetone-type odor can be a sign of diabetes,” says Dr. Hofve.
Other pet illnesses that include bad breath as a possible symptom are sinusitis, rhinitis, neoplasia, autoimmune disease, FeLV and FIV in cats, foreign bodies, and open fractures, says Dr. Nelson. Considering all these possibilities, it’s best to see your veterinarian if the bad breath is lingering and persistent. “You should always have your veterinarian examine your pet if you notice any odor coming from its mouth, as many of these causes are potentially life-threatening conditions,” says Nelson. “At the minimum, most of these will cause discomfort for your pet.”
The Basics of Brushing Cat and Dog Teeth
For bad breath that’s not related to a more chronic condition, brushing your pet’s teeth is the simplest way to remedy the situation. To do this, Dr. Nelson recommends purchasing a pet-specific toothbrush. There are brushes with longer handles for big dogs and brushes that fit over your finger for small dogs and cats.
If you’ve never brushed dog teeth or cat teeth before, you may want to start with a damp washcloth or gauze passed over their teeth to get them used to the sensation. Then you can switch to the toothbrush. “Concentrate on the outside surfaces of the teeth. Place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle at the gum line and use short back-and-forth, circular motions along the base of the tooth and in between teeth,” says Nelson. “You may only be able to do a few teeth during these early sessions, but don’t get discouraged. Most pets can be taught to accept tooth brushing if you are patient and take it slowly.”
More Ways to Banish Bad Cat Breath and Dog Breath
Brushing your cat’s and dog’s teeth isn’t the only way to alleviate their bad breath. Here are other tips that our experts recommend:
Don’t ignore it. Since bad breath might be hiding a more serious medical condition, have a vet check it out first, says Nelson.
Have necessary dental work done. In some instances, dental work on your pet’s teeth or gums may be necessary to eliminate the problem, so don’t be surprised if this is what your vet recommends.
Rely on brushing. Once your vet has given the okay, you can incorporate pet teeth brushing based on the techniques explained above.
Consider rinses. Certain additives to your pet’s drinking water and oral rinses may be effective at reducing bad breath. “Speak with your veterinarian as to which ones may be best for your pet,” says Nelson.
Choose the right chew. Dental chews claim to clean your pet’s teeth, but Hofve is skeptical of many of them. “Most ‘dental’ treats are not effective, but I have found CET Chews and Feline Greenies to be the best at actually getting existing plaque off,” she says.