Dog bad breath can be a major cause of headaches as a dog owner. Our dog is known for many memorable attributes – his charming personality, his cute looks, his lopsided grin, and his earthquake-inducing snoring. But one much less charming thing is his bad breath. In fact we often joke that the US Army is going to recruit him for their chemical warfare laboratory.
Causes of Dog Bad Breath
Bad dog breath is caused by the accumulation of bacteria in the mouth.
OK, dogs are never going to have perfect breath. They wash their private parts with their tongue and eat anything they see on the ground. They also sniff other dog’s unmentionables. Plus there is no such thing as a breath mint for dogs and they don’t care about oral health.
But there are different degrees of bad breath when it comes to dog breath. There is “slight inoffensive odour” followed by “testicle cologne” followed by the nuclear option “open dog mouth leading to instant blindness of the person standing in front”. When it gets to the nuclear stage, it’s time to take your dog to the vet for a professional tooth cleaning because invariably it’s the teeth and gums which are the root cause.
Our dog, Schlumpf, has had two such professional cleanings which I would not recommend if you can remotely avoid it. First because it is very expensive, and second, the dog gets an anesthetic which has them spinning in cartwheels for the next 24 hours when you get them home. On the first occasion, the drugs made him lose control of his bladder and bowels and he was a total mess. Obviously gum disease, periodontal disease, kidney disease and losing teeth is much worse, but it was still distressing to see him like that.
This means you need to make dental health and oral care a major priority in the care of your dog – look after their mouth. And that means brushing their teeth.
Brushing a Dog’s Teeth – An Exercise In Patience
If you’ve ever brushed a dog’s teeth before, I’m sure you will agree that it is quite similar to brushing the teeth of a human child. They don’t want to do it and they will do anything to get out of it. Indeed, when we say the T word to the dog, he runs under the dining room table and doesn’t want to come out.
In the case of a dog, brushing their teeth requires two people. One to hold the dog still (usually my unenviable job!) and one person to do the actual brushing.
There are three possibilities for cleaning dog teeth –
- using a condom-type cotton sheath for your finger, which you then use to rub against the dog’s teeth. For a small dog, this is fine but for a bigger dog with sharper teeth, you could easily end up getting bitten.
- Using a regular human toothbrush, which gets the job done well enough, but it can be hard to navigate it around the awkward corners of the mouth.
- Using an ultrasonic toothbrush which is the best of all, but it is not cheap.
My wife and I have tried all three methods over the years and for a long time we used the cotton sheath over the index finger. Since Schlumpf is a small dog, his teeth are not that sharp and he has never been a biting kind of dog anyway. There’s more danger of him accidentally headbutting me to try and get away from the toothbrush.
After brushing, the bad breath in dogs tends to improve at least for a few hours before the bad dog breath comes back.
Which Method Of Tooth Cleaning Is The Best?
The cotton sheath and the human toothbrush were OK, and more or less did the job. You can get special dog toothpaste from the vet or from pet shops, and off you go. Do NOT use human toothpaste as it can be harmful to a dog, especially if they swallow any. One dog website even recommends using coconut oil.
But Schlumpf still needed those two professional cleanings from the vet. After the second time, we decided we needed something more radical, which was when we heard about the ultrasonic toothbrush.
The ultrasonic toothbrush looks exactly the same as a human’s electric toothbrush. The advantages are that it is silent, it does not vibrate, and you don’t have to scrub hard against the dog’s teeth and gums. Merely place the bristles against their teeth and hold it there for a few seconds, then move on to the next area of the mouth. The ultrasonic waves takes care of the bacteria. The lack of scrubbing calms the dog a bit and makes them less stressed.
We have the Emmi-Pet brush, but you can also get the Mira-Pet brush as well. Even though they will cost you around $200, I highly recommend them. One visit to the vet for a professional cleaning was just under $200. So by using this brush and avoiding the vet, you are already recouping your money. Look upon it as a worthy long-term investment.
Other Ways To Improve Your Dog’s Breath
Apart from brushing, there are other ways you can help your dog keep a fresher smelling mouth.
Change Their Diet
This should be the first thing you should take a serious look at. What are they eating?
I would say supermarket brand dog food should be avoided at all costs. I am not being a snob when I say this. I say it purely from the perspective of not knowing what is in that “meat”. There’s a reason it is so cheap.
Either pay a bit more and get the dog a better dog food, or get them raw food from the butcher. Schlumpf gets steak for his birthday as a treat and the rest of the year, he gets dry food for dinner and wet tinned food for lunch. This can be anything from beef to lamb to even limited edition reindeer!
In fact my research has shown countless recommendations for raw food diets as the extra chewing is good for the teeth and gums. Raw food didn’t work out too well for Schlumpf (a whole other unrelated story) but you should consider it for your dog.
Give Them Bones & Dental Chews
One way to help a dog break down plaque and bacteria on their teeth is to help them produce more saliva. Saliva has an enzyme called amylase which helps to break down carbohydrates and sugar in the mouth. Dogs don’t produce as much saliva as humans do which means they need some help. So give them a bone to chew.
You can also buy dental chews from the pet shop or the vet. These are chewy snacks, specially designed to clean the teeth. Some friends recommend OraVet but almost all major dog food brands carry their own versions.
Chew toys also help promote good oral health.
Stop Them Eating Stuff Off The Ground
Schlumpf is not too guilty of this anymore, mainly because we have trained him not to. But many dogs eat everything they find on the ground, and that is not good. At worst, it can be toxic, but at best, it can make their breath downright smelly. Especially if it is poop of the dog, cat or horse variety.
If your dog is guilty of this, train them to stop it. You don’t know what they are eating and what is in it. Or whether it is going to have any negative effect on them or not.
If All Else Fails…..They Might Be Sick
If you have tried all of these methods – and your dog still has bad breath and oral health problems – then you have to consider that there may be an underlying health problem causing the bad breath in dogs. This obviously requires an immediate visit to the vet.
Some dog breeds may be more prone to bad dog breath, gum disease and generally poorer dental health. For example, small dogs are prone to accumulation of plague and tartar. Bad breath could be the result of a tumor, liver problems, kidney problems, or something else insidious. If this is the case for your dog, get them to the vet right away because bad breath should be the least of their problems at that stage.