Bad Breath

You would be insulted if someone said that you have "dog breath." But then, your dog might be insulted, too. "The breath of healthy pets should be nearly odorless," says Ira Luskin, D.V.M., a veterinary dentist in private practice in Baltimore.

Dogs and cats with bad breath nearly always have periodontal disease, a condition in which bacteria in the mouth cause infections that lead to gum problems or tooth decay, says Dr. Luskin. Veterinarians estimate that 60 to 80 percent of cats and dogs have serious periodontal disease by the time they are five years old.

Bad breath can also occur if your pet has something stuck in her teeth or under the gums. Even a grass seed, if it stays there long enough, can cause an infection, giving her breath a potent punch. A broken tooth can cause smelly breath. So can tumors or ulcers in the mouth, says Stephen A. Smith, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Pasadena, Maryland.

If your pet's breath smells odd but not exactly awful, she could have an underlying illness that is causing it, says Dr. Smith.

  • Diabetes can make the breath unpleasantly sweet.
  • Pets with kidney disease may have breath with an ammonia-like smell.
  • An intestinal blockage can make the breath smell like stool.

Bad breath isn't always caused by health problems. There is a big difference between a foul smell and a food smell. If your dog has been gnawing a meat-flavored chew toy, her breath will be a little musky. Your cat will have a pungent purr after polishing off a can of tuna. In addition, both dogs and cats will have terrible breath after licking their anal glands, which are filled with a thick liquid that has a room-clearing smell.

See Your Vet If...

  • There is a broken tooth or a sore in your pet's mouth
  • Her breath has a sickly sweet or ammonia-like smell
  • There is something stuck in your pet's teeth
  • Your pet can't open his mouth or is having trouble opening it
  • He can't close his mouth
  • He won't eat or has difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • His tongue, lips, or muzzle are swollen
  • There is a foreign object stuck in his mouth
  • His gums are red and swollen, or there is bleeding
  • Your pet is drooling or panting excessively
  • His tongue or gums are blue or pale
  • Your pet has ulcers on his tongue
  • He is gagging frequently
  • There is a lump anywhere on his face
  • He is pawing frequently at his mouth or face
  • There is a discharge from his mouth or nose that lasts two days or longer
  • His breath is consistently bad
  • Your pet's nose is dry, crusty, or bleeding
  • His mouth is foaming, or he's grinding his teeth
  • There is dried saliva around the mouth

Next Steps:

Back to Mouth, Nose, and Teeth Main Page
Back to the Symptom Solver Main Page

Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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