Dogs show a lot of affection with their mouths. After all, we all know that when a dog licks you, it probably means she likes you. But dog mouths are kind of…gross. Even if you work to give your dog dental bones and brush her teeth regularly, she still might end up with halitosis—really bad breath—so stinky it makes you push her away when she wants to lick you. Dogs with halitosis need an extra oomph of help from their human companions. It’s likely that their bad breath is caused by a particularly stubborn set of “bacteria, infection and inflammation,” according to Dr. William Craig, formerly of the Texas Academy of Veterinary Practice.
When Sweet Doggy Breath…Isn’t So Sweet
Is Eira excited about her dental hygiene products, or is she trying to run away from them? Photo credit: Anita Strawn de Ojeda
Take Eira, for example. When she was a puppy, I brushed Eira’s teeth regularly. My toddler even brushed her tiny puppy teeth. Just as humans can get that nasty combination of inflammation and bacteria, dogs can, too (albeit different bacteria, specific to the canine species).
I’d purchased somewhat of a cheap toothbrush and generic puppy toothpaste, and I regret it. I left the tiniest trace of toothpaste on the brush and when I went to grab it a week later, the whole head of the toothbrush was covered in mold. Disgusting! I’ll spare you a photo of that.
I halfheartedly used the rubber finger brush after that, but it didn’t do much. Before long, Eira’s breath began to stink. We started wrinkling our noses at the thought of receiving doggy kisses from her, which was sad. She loves giving us doggy kisses. That’s when we started researching different products that could help relieve her (and us) of the halitosis that threatened to come between our affection for each other.
The Best Water Additives
Consider water additives the mouthwash for dogs, but without the need to swish and spit. The best water additives should do three things: freshen breath, remove plaque, and halt tartar buildup. Throughout the day as your dog eats, plays, and gets into icky things in the yard, those things deposit bacteria into her mouth. You need to brush that bacteria away before it hardens into tartar, which is more difficult to remove and can lead to rotten teeth and gum disease.
Here are our favorite water additives for dogs.
TropiClean Fresh Breath Plaque Remover Pet Water
Add this to your pet’s water for a month and see what happens. It’s almost guaranteed that the plaque and tartar buildup on his teeth will fade—and best of all, the light peppermint scent just about eliminates nasty dog breath. While the bottle says you don’t need to brush your dog’s teeth if you use this pet water, it’s always a good idea to brush your dog’s teeth. The bristles of a special dog toothbrush (which I’ll show you in a little bit!) directly rub against a dog’s tooth, scraping away the nasties. Combine this head-on action with additive water, and you’re likely to notice a big difference in your dog’s breath and overall mouth health.
Nylabone Advanced Oral Liquid Tartar Remover for Dogs
Remember Nylabone? That company with all the fantastic dog chews? They make a water additive, too, that modifies the chemical composition of your dog’s saliva. This helps your pup fight plaque and tartar buildup while also freshening that stinky doggy breath.
Paws & Pals Natural Water Additive for Dogs
This water additive does the same thing as the other two, but with two differences: first, it uses all-natural ingredients like purified water, aloe, and peppermint to fight plaque and improve breath health. Second, this water additive makes it clear that it’s to be used in addition to regular brushing.
The Most Effective Toothbrushes
Dogs, like humans, benefit from daily tooth-brushing. I confess that I haven’t always lived by this rule, but since Eira’s breath really started stinking, I’ve made it a point to brush her teeth daily. The typical human-like toothbrush “for dogs” doesn’t work so well for us. Neither do finger toothbrushes because Eira ends up chewing on my finger—she thinks it’s a toy.
Instead, we use a special toothbrush with a round head.
Eira’s not so sure if she likes her round toothbrush, but it sure gets the job done better and faster than a regular one.
VTurboWay 360-Degree Puppy and Small Dog Toothbrush
The rounded toothbrush works wonders because every part of its surface is working for every moment that it’s in your dog’s mouth. Dogs don’t generally love having their teeth brushed, and eliminating the job of lining up bristles with dog teeth makes the job easier to do. If the job is easier, you’re more likely to do it, and your dog’s halitosis will become less pungent.
This toothbrush features soft bristles for a small dog or puppy’s little teeth.
Petrodex 360-Degree Adult Dog Toothbrush
For a dog with bigger teeth (full-grown adult teeth), try this 360-Degree toothbrush from Petrodex.
The Tastiest Toothpastes
First and most importantly: never give your dog human toothpaste, even if you think human toothpaste will knock out that terrible halitosis. Fluoride, an essential ingredient in most human toothpastes (even child-friendly toothpaste) can be harmful to dogs. Thankfully, there are tons of dog-specific toothpastes out there.
Pura Naturals Pet Puppy Toothpaste
Puppies need a gentler toothpaste than older dogs do, so this organic puppy toothpaste is a perfect choice. Your puppy’s halitosis problems should never start if you brush his teeth daily with this toothpaste (and add that Paws & Pals Water Additive to his dish!).
Petradex Enzymatic Dog Toothpaste, Poultry Flavored
Like enzymatic spray for potty training, an enzymatic toothpaste is essential to eliminating foul odors in your dog’s mouth. This is the toothpaste Eira currently uses, and she adores the chicken flavor. It might sound gross to us to have a meat-flavored toothpaste, but for dogs? That’s heaven.
Eira licks the last droplets of toothpaste from my hand after her brushing session with Petrodex Enzymatic Toothpaste for dogs. Photo credit: Anita Strawn de Ojeda
Because of the enzymatic nature of the toothpaste, your dog’s breath doesn’t smell like chicken, thankfully. Eira’s breath smells much better since we started using this toothpaste (along with several of the other products on this page)—basically, it smells like nothing. And for humans, that’s heaven.
Breath Sprays for Dogs: Do They Really Work?
One final trick to treat your dog’s halitosis is breath spray. Or rather, a stream of smell-destroying liquid that you pump into your dog’s mouth.
We love this spray by Arm & Hammer:
You simply pump a couple squirts onto your dog’s teeth and gums and then try to keep them from drinking or eating for an hour afterward. (So don’t do this when your pet is hungry or thirsty!) Like a water additive, this spray neutralizes odors and helps fight plaque buildup.
Eira getting a dose of breath spray for her halitosis. Photo credit: Anita Strawn de Ojeda
If None of These Solutions Work…
There might be something more serious than halitosis going on with your dog. Remember, dental health is vital to your dog’s health, so if you haven’t been brushing your dog’s teeth regularly, start now. Fight that halitosis, plaque, tartar, tooth rot, and gum disease with the products in this review and you’ll hopefully never need to visit the vet on account of your dog’s teeth.
See? Brushing your pup’s teeth isn’t so bad if you just have the right tools on your side. Photo credit: Anita Strawn de Ojeda
Laura Ojeda Melchor grew up with two beloved German shepherd dogs—Clancy and her daughter, Bella. From the time her family brought Clancy home, Laura took on the duty of pooper-scooper and potty trainer. As a teenager Laura helped her mother care for Clancy during her pregnancy. She still remembers fondly the exciting, frigid winter night when the seven special puppies were born. Laura kept the youngest puppy—Bella—and potty trained her, too. She taught Bella important commands, took her for long walks, and spent hours throwing tennis balls for her.
In November, Laura brought home a sweet new puppy, Eira Violet. Eira is half Alaskan malamute and half German shepherd, and Laura loves her deeply. She chose not to use a crate to potty train Eira and was pleasantly surprised at the results. She now has a sweet, energetic dog who always uses the potty outside, plays well with Laura’s toddler, and enjoys long family walks in beautiful Alaska. If you were to meet Eira, she’d bound up to you with a wagging tail and get you running around the yard with her in no time.