What IS it with dog bad breath? It’s widespread enough that we use the term dog breath as an insult, yet a sign of potentially serious disease that is too often overlooked. It’s offensive enough that it can make your nose hairs curl, yet frequently ignored for years before something is finally done about it. When a dog has bad breath it is NOT normal, it CAN be very serious, and it is ABSOLUTELY treatable.

Normal dog breath should smell like normal human breath – it shouldn’t really smell like much at all! If your dog has bad breath, you are smelling periodontal infection. If dental hygiene is poor, bacteria in the mouth build up, forming a scum called plaque. You have probably seen the commercials on television about how plaque and tartar lead to gingivitis (inflamed gums). However, this is not the full story. Periodontal infection leads to so much more than just bad breath and bleeding gums.

When plaque is left undisturbed, it starts to spread down below the gumline, and then bad breath become the least of your dog’s problems. Toxins and inflammation, hidden from view, lead to progressive destruction of the bony sockets supporting the teeth, resulting in permanent bone loss and damage to the jaw. Eventually, the teeth may become loose and fall out, but in some poor dogs the jaw is weakened so much that it actually breaks with minimal force (even catching a ball!).

If the threat of local infection and discomfort isn’t enough, the effects of oral infection on the rest of the body are also pretty scary. When the gums become inflamed, bacteria invade the bloodstream through damaged, leaky blood vessels, and spread through the body to distant organs, such as the liver, heart and kidneys. In people, periodontal disease is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and premature birth of low-weight babies. While no large scale studies have been performed to prove the link between oral infection and other diseases in dogs (funding can be harder to find in canine than human research), it’s arguable that systemic spread of bacteria is having harmful effects on our pets as well.

So what can I do if my dog has bad breath? See your vet! Most vets have training in dentistry, and can determine the cause of your dog’s bad breath and the treatment that is needed. Professional deep cleaning under general anaesthesia is usually the starting point. Dental x-rays give a very clear picture of what is happening below the gumline, where the serious action is. Finally, badly affected teeth may require extraction or periodontal surgery, which is not as bad as it might at first sound, if it is the only way to return the mouth to a healthy, pain-free state. Which, as we believe, is what every pet deserves!