“Doggy breath” is a very common complaint with peoples’ dogs. We also encounter the same complaint with cats, but not to the same degree. This is probably because our feline companions do not pant in our faces, but we have to expect that bad breath, also known has halitosis, is as common in cats as it is in dogs.
Some people are led to expect that dogs and cats just have bad breath and that it’s normal. This is certainly not the case. Offensive breath is not normal. In the veterinary world, we consider halitosis to be a clinical sign of disease.
The most common cause of bad breath in your pet is periodontal disease. This is where the bacteria that attaches itself to the teeth and gums start to destroy the fibres and supporting bone that hold the teeth in the mouth. Just like us, when teeth are not regularly cleaned, a film of bacteria forms on the surface of the teeth, producing plaque. As the plaque mineralises, the types of bacteria transform into those that destroy bone. This produces hydrogen sulphide, which causes the terrible smell that emanates from the mouth.
When teeth have reached this stage, the only treatment is a professional dental clean and scale. This will involve subgingival scaling (i.e. cleaning up under the gum line) and possible extraction of teeth that no longer have sufficient support in the mouth. After a professional clean by the veterinarian, homecare will be implemented, which usually involves daily brushing and an oral chlorhexidine rinse to keep the numbers of bacteria low.
Yet what if your dog or cat has a perfect mouth and they still have bad breath? This is definitely possible.
Other causes of bad breath include diseases that affect metabolism like diabetes and kidney disease, gastrointestinal diseases (gastritis, reflux, tumours in the gastrointestinal tract, Helicobacter), skin conditions like lip fold pyoderma (mainly in dogs with lots of skin around their mouth), foreign material stuck in the mouth or nose, or dietary considerations (e.g. dogs that eat poo). Blood tests and thorough physical examinations are required to determine whether most of these possible causes are at fault in producing bad breath.
So just remember – bad breath in your dog or cat is not normal. If you cringe every time your fur-baby wants to give you a big lovable lick on the cheek, then start investigating!