Bad breath in dogs

Bad or smelly breath, known medically as ‘halitosis’, is a common but unpleasant problem. It can affect dogs of any age or breed. And it can spoil everyone’s quality of life, especially your dog’s. 

Bacterial infection and decay are the most common causes of your best friend’s bad breath. And bad breath can also be a warning signal for a painful mouth problem or illness elsewhere in their body.


What to do

What to do if your dog has bad breath

The cause won’t always be clear, but there are a few simple checks you can do at home to investigate bad or smelly breath:

Check your dog’s teeth and gums.

  • Healthy teeth are white. Signs of tooth decay include brown discolouration at the base of the tooth (by the gum) and accumulation of a  hard material called ‘scale’ or ‘tartar’ around the teeth or even burying them completely!
  • Healthy teeth are not wobbly or loose.
  • Healthy gum is pink. Inflamed and infected gums will be red and may even be ulcerated.
  • Around 80% of dogs in the UK have some level of dental disease

Check inside your dog’s mouth if they will let you do this safely.

  • Dogs with shorter faces or dogs who chew sticks may get things trapped between their teeth

Check your dog’s lips and the skin around them.

  • Red inflamed skin around your dog’s mouth may be a cause of the smell you notice



Common causes of bad breath in dogs

Bacterial infection and decay are the most common causes of your best friend’s smelly breath.

These can result from one or more of the following problems:

  • Tooth and gum disease
  • Decaying pieces of food or stick trapped in their mouth or teeth
  • Illnesses such as kidney disease, liver disease or sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus)
  • Eating or licking faeces (poo) or scent gland secretions from under the tail
  • Lots of fish oils in your dog’s diet or in supplements
  • Inflamed, infected lip folds
  • Mouth tumours


When to worry

When to worry about bad breath in your dog

Bad breath can be a warning that something is wrong with your dog’s mouth or general health.

Seek help from  a vet if your dog is:

  • Rubbing or pawing their face
  • Gagging or retching
  • Eating on one side of their mouth
  • Drooling saliva
  • Preferring wet food or stopping eating altogether
  • Eating or drinking more or less than usual
  • Losing weight
  • Looking as if their face may be swollen on one side

Joii can help if you want to discuss:

  • How to check your dog’s mouth and teeth
  • Any aspect of your dog’s dental health
  • General health concerns, including any that don’t immediately seem related to their breath
  • Anything else about bad breath and its possible cause in your dog.
  • The best diets for your dog’s dental and general health
  • Safe alternative chew toys if your dog loves to chew sticks or stones
  • How to discourage your dog from eating their own poo
  • Brush your dog’s teeth if they don’t cooperate!
  • Choose the best toothpaste or mouthwash for your dog
  • Choose the best diet for your dog
  • Choose the best toys and treats for a healthy mouth and teeth
  • Peace of mind!



Tips on how to prevent your dog from developing bad breath

  • Brush their teeth daily using a toothpaste for dogs that’s designed to remove scale and bacteria from teeth and gums.
  • Use a dog-friendly mouthwash
  • Clean lip folds daily using cleansing wipes or warm salt water. Dry them carefully afterwards
  • Feed a balanced diet and avoid sugary human treats and biscuits
  • Dental diets, like ‘Hills Science Plan Oral Care’, are ideal
  • Regularly check your dog’s weight and health for early signs of change
  • Avoid throwing sticks for your dog to chase and discourage them from chewing and splintering sticks or bones
  • Offer your dog special ‘dental’ chews and treats.



How to tell if your dog is developing bad breath and where the smell is coming from

Chances are, you’ll be the first to know if your dog develops bad breath, when those daily cuddles become a challenge of how long you can hold your breath for. And if you don’t notice, your visitors certainly will!

If your dog has a problem with their teeth or gums, you may notice them:

  • Rubbing or pawing at their face
  • Eating slowly or on one side of their mouth
  • Preferring wet food or stopping eating altogether
  • Becoming grumpy or withdrawn

If your dog’s bad breath is part of an illness elsewhere in their body, you may notice they have been:

  • Changing eating or drinking habits
  • Losing weight
  • Becoming more quiet and less interested in walks
  • Having sickness or diarrhoea
  • Licking under their tail and scooting if anal glands are infected


Home treatment

How to treat the causes of bad breath at home

There are simple steps you can take at home to treat the causes of your dog’s bad breath and to stop it coming back

For example:

  • Brush your dog’s teeth daily using a doggy toothpaste designed to remove scale and bacteria from teeth and gums. Microfibre tooth-cleaning cloths are a good alternative to toothbrushes.
  • Use a mouthwash, dental spray or dental gel suitable for dogs if brushing is impossible!
  • Feed a balanced diet and avoid sugary human treats and biscuits
  • Keep skin folds clean and dry with daily cleansing
  • Regularly check your dog’s weight and health for early signs of change
  • Avoid throwing sticks for your dog to chase, and discourage them from chewing and splintering sticks or bones

It’s never too late to start brushing your dog’s teeth. Start brushing as soon as possible to prevent the common causes of expensive dental treatments in the future.


Vet treatment

Vet treatment for bad breath

The best treatment depends on finding the cause of the problem.

Apart from a physical check, vets can carry out the following tests to investigate the cause:

  • Dental x-rays: Your dog may need x-rays to check if a tooth root has an abscess or if the bone surrounding the tooth looks unhealthy
  • Blood tests: If your vet suspects another illness is causing your dog’s bad breath, they may advise blood tests and urine samples to investigate
  • Biopsy and laboratory investigation of lumps and swellings
  • CT scan or MRI: In rare cases, your vet may recommend advanced tests to check the bones and structure of your dog’s mouth

Your vet can provide:

  • Dental surgery – an operation to remove or clean up diseased or decayed teeth while your dog is asleep under general anaesthetic
  • Antibiotics – for deep infections caused by bacteria
  • Treatment for an illness elsewhere in the body that is causing bad breath
  • Removal of inaccessible pieces of trapped stick under general anaesthetic

Other steps vets may advise to ensure the best outcome for your dog:

  • Surgery to reduce deep lip folds which get repeatedly infected
  • Referral to a dental specialist
  • Referral to a general surgeon or cancer specialist



Are some dogs more at risk of developing bad breath?

There are a number of factors that can make your dog more likely to develop bad breath:

  • Older dogs and dogs who have had a poorer start in life are more prone to smelly breath from tooth disease or other illnesses. Poor quality or incomplete diets contribute to this too.
  • Dogs with short faces, like pugs and bulldogs, have less space in their mouths for the same number of teeth. Pieces of food are more likely to get trapped between teeth. And the teeth become loose because of overcrowding.
  • Dogs with deep folds of skin around their mouths, like Spaniels and Westies, can get food and moisture trapped in the folds, causing them to become inflamed, sore and smelly.
  • Dogs who love to chase and chew sticks or bones risk getting fragments stuck in or across their mouths.

Other causes of bad breath in dogs

  • Eating a toxic substance: certain plants can make your dog’s breath rank or foul-smelling if eaten.
  • Eating cigarettes can make your dog’s breath smell of nicotine.
  • ‘Pica’: a medical term to describe when animals compulsively eat things which are not food, like soil or wet wipes. This may happen if your dog is suffering from certain vitamin and mineral imbalances.
  • Infections in your dog’s nose or throat.
Consult a vet - £28

Consult your vet online. Anyday, anytime.

Consult a Joii vet online for £28. Or free if you’re insured with one of our partners.

Developed by vets 🩺

QR code to app

How to get an

Join a practice

*It's free*

Download the app to register and become a member of Joii vets. In only a few taps you will have access to digital vet care 24/7 as well as a vet practice

Download the app

We’re writing as quick as we can

This article is currently being written by one of our expert vets. Check back soon.