Dogs can have many typical “doggy” smells, including “Frito Paws” and “Popcorn Ears.” These smells, though very doggily distinctive, are usually not offensive. Dog breath usually takes on the smell of whatever object or substance on which the dog has been recently chewing, quite literally. Tennis ball breath, dog food breath, rawhide breath, and (unfortunately) poop breath are not uncommon smells. However, potently foul-smelling breath or a sudden worsening of normal breath can be an early sign of a problem like one of those mentioned below, and it is really important to take your dog to your veterinarian if you notice these changes.
Dental Disease: This is one of the most common causes of halitosis in dogs. The build-up of food and saliva can result in dental plaque and tartar, similar to that seen in human dentistry. This plaque and tartar can lead to periodontal disease and gum inflammation (gingivitis). Along with halitosis, you might notice that your dog is reluctant to chew or to have his mouth touched or manipulated. It’s important to ask your veterinarian about a routine preventative dental health program that includes brushing teeth (with special pet toothpaste, not human toothpaste which may contain ingredients toxic to your dog), dental treats, and possibly a dental diet to get those teeth sparkling clean and freshen that breath. Untreated dental disease can also lead to other medical issues, including oral pain, difficulty chewing food, abscesses of the teeth and salivary glands, tooth loss, and infection of other organs or systems in the body, including the heart and kidneys.
Diet: Smelly diets, such as fish or liver-based foods, may contribute to halitosis.
Foreign Body in the Mouth: Dogs are known for attempting to indiscriminately swallow anything that they can get their mouth on. Oral foreign bodies in dogs can include sticks, balls, strings, rubber bands, bones, and other small objects. A stick wedged between the teeth in the upper roof of the mouth is one of the most common foreign objects. If these objects are not removed quickly they can contribute to halitosis. Foreign bodies can also be swallowed and lead to dangerous obstructions in the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.
Excess Salivation (Hypersalivation or Ptyalism): This usually occurs secondary to dental, neurologic, or metabolic disease and can result in significant halitosis. Dried and matted fur can collect around the mouth after excessive drooling, which can contribute to the foul smell. Lip fold pyodermas (infections around the lips) can form and contribute to the halitosis.
Neurological Disease: The cranial nerves control movements of the mouth and tongue. Any cranial nerve problem can affect the ability to open and close the mouth and control the tongue, resulting in hypersalivation (see above) and halitosis. In addition, food and debris can collect in the mouth since the dog can’t properly swallow or remove the excess food, contributing to some potent and terrible breath.
Gingivitis/Stomatitis/Inflammatory Oral Disease: Dogs can develop inflammation of the mouth tissues. Gingivitis is gum inflammation, and stomatitis is inflammation of the mucous linings of the mouth tissues. These conditions in dogs are most commonly due to chewing cords, eating corrosive plants or materials, bacterial or viral infections, immune processes, or allergies. Dogs can also develop inflammation of the salivary glands that can cause halitosis.
Abscesses, Tumors, or Ulcers: Abscesses of the tooth roots, mouth structures, nasal cavity, or areas behind the eyes can cause halitosis, as can tumors in the same locations. Ulcers secondary to trauma, infection, tumors, or metabolic disease can also cause foul breath.
Conformational Abnormalities: Tooth misalignment, cleft palates (split palate), or oronasal fistulas (holes between the oral and nasal cavity) can all cause bad breath.
Metabolic Disease: Diseases of the kidneys or liver can cause halitosis due to toxin build-up in the blood. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause bad breath due to abnormal accumulated molecules. Diseases of the stomach and intestines can also cause halitosis due to inflammation and bacterial overgrowth.
It is very important to see your veterinarian to identify the cause of halitosis and facilitate treatment. Some of these conditions can be very serious, and early diagnosis and treatment can fix both the halitosis and its underlying cause.
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