Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is one of the more frequent complaints we hear from pet owners. Bad breath usually occurs from build-up of odor causing bacteria in the mouth but can also occur from gastrointestinal and respiratory disease. Bad breath is not just annoying. It can be a sentinel for serious disease.  A thorough oral exam should be performed if your pet’s bad breath persists more than a few days. Often, sedation is required so don’t feed your pet before the exam. Ask your veterinarian about his or her preferred protocol if a sedated exam is needed.

How Your Pet Develops Bad Breath

Just as in people, bits of food particles may remain in the mouth after eating. If trapped in small pockets of gum tissue, bacteria will grow causing odor. The bacteria form a film on the teeth called dental plaque. If not removed in a short period, the plaque will harden into tartar. The rough surface of the tartar will attract more plaque to grow. Eventually, the large amount of tartar will cause the gums to become infected and inflamed. In time, this will lead to infected pockets under the gum line. This infection will damage the ligaments that hold the tooth in place. This is called periodontal disease. With enough ligament damage the tooth will loosen and fall out.

How to help your pets bad breath

Most of us brush our teeth once or twice per day and get our teeth professionally cleaned every 6 to 12 months. Only a small percent of my clients have mastered the art of brushing their pet’s teeth on a regular basis. Fortunately, there are many products on the market to assist in keeping the plaque to a minimum. There are a few great dry kibble diets that can be added to your pet’s normal meal that can help gently scrape the surface of the tooth and remove dangerous plaque. T/D by Hill’s is my favorite. When it comes to treats and chew toys, ask your veterinarian for their opinion. Not all breeds do well with every size and type of chew. Individuals that are prone to upset stomach and pancreatitis should avoid heavily flavored treats, for example. Most of these treats and chews will have calories so be mindful in pets that are overweight and adjust regular feedings accordingly.

Products that have the acceptance seal of the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) have been shown to be effective in retarding plaque and tartar build-up. Their web site is In addition to a list of products, the site includes good information about oral health in pets.

Cats and Dog Animal Hospital Can Help

Virtually all pets will need a professional oral hygiene visit, often referred to as a dental cleaning, at some point. Most dogs and cats will need their first cleaning by age 3 or 4 years. As a general rule, smaller dogs and pets with short snouts, such as Persian cats or pug dogs, will need more frequent cleanings. A dental prophylactic hygiene treatment involves much more than cleaning and must be performed under anesthesia. Each tooth is examined with a probe looking for pockets. The entire oral cavity including the glottis and tonsils are examined for disease. Biopsies can be obtained if a suspicious mass is discovered. Radiographs may be taken and unfortunately some teeth have to be extracted.  Prior to a dental cleaning, a thorough exam should be performed and preoperative lab work may be recommended. Modern anesthetic protocols can minimize risk by tailoring medication to the individual patient. The risk associated with anesthesia is far less than that of failing to prevent dental disease.

February is traditionally dental month but your pet’s dental health is important all year round so celebrate dental month every month with us.

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