Posted by Pet Honesty on

Dog Bad Breath: What Causes It and How to Freshen Things Up

Table of Contents
Let's face it: Your dog's breath probably won't ever smell like a field of daisies. Our canine companions aren't exactly known for having minty-fresh breath. They're animals, after all, and aren't going to brush their own teeth morning and night or chew a breath mint when they'd like to freshen up. 

With that being said, your dog's breath shouldn't be revolting, either. If you find yourself reeling after your dog breathes on you or after they've planted a slobbery kiss on your cheek, something might be amiss. And, it's not uncommon. Many dog owners complain of bad breath in dogs. Medically, it's known as halitosis. 

In some cases, a dog's bad breath is caused by a medical issue that requires prompt care. Most of the time, though, a little attention in the oral health department is all that it takes to get your dog's smelly breath under control. 

Read on to learn more about dog bad breath and what you can do to turn things around. Then, you'll be able to love up on your pet whenever you want without pinching your nose.

Causes of Bad Dog Breath

Dog bad breath: dog showing tongue and teeth

There are numerous possible causes of your dog's less-than-ideal breath. Some are more serious than others. And, sometimes dogs eat things they aren't supposed to that could make their breath smell bad: trash or cat poop from the litter box, for example. 

Aside from eating something gross, the most common reasons for bad breath in dogs are … 

Plaque and Tartar Build-up

Plaque is a film of bacteria and leftover food particles that builds up on your dog's tooth surfaces over time. Plaque causes "bad" bacteria to start populating in the mouth, which causes foul odors. And if plaque isn't removed regularly, it can harden into calculus, more commonly known as tartar. Tartar build-up can lead to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), and then on to periodontal disease. 

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, often simply called dental disease, occurs when a case of gingivitis isn't addressed soon enough, leading to infection of the roots inside your dog's teeth. In severe cases, a tooth can rot from the inside out and will have to be pulled by your veterinarian. As you might imagine, rotting teeth will lead to bad breath. 

Microbiome Imbalance

Sometimes, the cause of your pooch's bad breath doesn't involve your dog's mouth at all. The microbiome in your dog's gut must be balanced for optimal health — this means that there needs to be enough "good" bacteria in the gut to balance out the "bad" bacteria, which can cause odors. If that balance is thrown off, your pup could experience halitosis. 


When a dog has diabetes and they aren’t eating a specialized food to help manage it, their body breaks down fat instead of glucose, which results in a build-up of an organic compound called ketones. That process makes the breath smell sweet or fruity. So, while it doesn't exactly cause horrible breath, diabetes directly affects the way your dog's breath smells. 

Liver Disease 

A dog suffering from liver disease will often have bad breath because the liver has stopped functioning properly. Therefore, it can't filter out toxins, allowing things like sulfur compounds to cause bad odors. Those compounds can be released into the lungs, causing your dog to expel the odor when he or she breathes. 

Kidney Disease

Much like liver disease, a dog experiencing kidney failure will often have bad breath because the kidney is another important organ for filtering toxins. When it stops working, toxin levels rise in the body and start to affect your dog's breath. 

These aren't the only medical conditions that could affect a dog's breath, but they tend to be the most common. Again, poor dental health and a resulting build-up of plaque and tartar is by far the most common cause. Still, as soon as you're concerned that your dog's foul breath could be caused by something more than poor oral hygiene, it's time to talk to your veterinarian. 

Treating Your Dog's Bad Breath

As you can probably guess, treating bad breath in dogs will involve resolving the underlying condition that's causing the odors. 

When a serious health problem like kidney or liver disease is the root cause of your dog's halitosis, you'll need to work closely with your veterinarian to get your dog back to full health. Medication, blood transfusions, and prolonged hospitalization might be necessary in the severe cases. A case of diabetes will be managed with regular insulin injections, as well as a close monitoring of your dog's diet and exercise routine. 

If an imbalanced gut microbiome is thought to be the cause of your dog's stinky breath, a change in diet and the addition of dietary supplements can help. Probiotics are especially helpful, as they help to restore the balance of "good" bacteria in the gut. 

If your dog's oral hygiene has regressed to the point that he or she is experiencing full-fledged periodontal disease, a professional dental cleaning at the vet's office will probably be in order. 

Hopefully, it hasn't gotten that far, though. If it’s implemented early enough, a proper oral care routine that includes regular tooth brushing can help prevent plaque and tartar build-up and keep your dog's mouth in good shape. 

Preventing Bad Breath in Dogs

Dog bad breath: cute puppy nibbling with toy

You'll want to do everything in your power as a dog owner to make sure your four-legged friend's teeth and gums are well-cared for. It's simply the best way to prevent any oral health issues ahead of time. Here's how to do it:

  • Brush your dog's teeth regularly. Always use a toothpaste made specifically for dogs (never use human toothpaste, which could contain substances like xylitol that are toxic to dogs), as well as a toothbrush designed for use on pets. Veterinarians recommend brushing your dog's teeth every day for maximum effectiveness. This process removes plaque before it can harden into tartar, preventing the growth of odor-causing bacteria. 
  • Give your dog chew toys and dental chews. A simple chew toy can do a lot for your dog's dental health because the act of chewing helps to scrape away a lot of the loose plaque on your dog's teeth and along the gum line. Dental chews are also effective in this way, and they help to freshen your dog's breath with a little minty boost. 
  • Feed a well-balanced diet. What your dog eats has a lot to do with his or her dental hygiene. When they don't get the right nutrition, teeth and gum health suffers. That can quickly lead to bad breath. Your vet might also recommend an additional dietary supplement to ensure your pup gets good nutrition. 
  • Check on your dog's mouth regularly. Examine your dog's teeth and gums on a regular basis to make sure nothing looks amiss. If you see redness or inflammation, excessive brown-colored plaque build-up, bleeding, or anything else that concerns you, call your vet.

These simple steps will help ensure your dog's oral health stays in tip-top shape as time goes on. As long as you brush regularly, provide chew toys and dental chews, keep up with your dog's good nutrition, and examine the mouth every now and then, your dog's mouth should stay perfectly healthy. 

The Best Approach for Dog Bad Breath 

While serious health issues can be the cause of bad breath in dogs, the most common cause of bad breath by far is poor dental health. 

Keeping up with regular brushing and other standard dental care practices like those described above is the easiest and most effective way to prevent dog bad breath. If these routine steps don't make Fido's breath smell better, it's time to check in with your vet to make sure everything is okay. 

Want more advice on your dog's care? Visit the Pet Honesty blog.