Simple chronic halitosis. Whether we’re talking humans or pets, bad breath is a big deal. It’s a stinky problem, but take heart. In most cases there’s a lot you can do to keep bad breath at bay.


There are a variety of causes for bad breath in pets, these include:

1. Periodontal disease. It’s by far the most common cause of bad breath in pets. Studies show that after the age of 3 years, 80 percent of dogs and cats will have signs of periodontal disease. The cause of the offensive odor in these cases is the bacteria that coalesce as plaque and cause irritating gingivitis. As plaque matures and periodontal disease progresses, more destructive bacteria come into play. Periodontal disease is a painful condition that can lead to tooth loss and damage to organs like the heart and kidneys.

2. Teething. Kittens and puppies often have ick breath when they are teething. Kittens, especially, seem prone to the problem, which typically lasts only a couple of months. What happens is that bacteria collects at the gumline as baby teeth are edged out by budding adult teeth.

3. Oral disease. In addition to gum disease a host of other oral diseases can cause bad breath. These include stomatitis, a common feline condition that causes painful inflammation of the gums and mouth tissues; oral masses, which include both cancerous and benign growths; and gingival hyperplasia, a condition in which the gums overgrow, creating bumps and deep crevices where bacteria proliferate.

4. Gastrointestinal disease. If the esophagus, stomach, or intestines are sick, they can make for stinky breath. It’s a far less common reason for halitosis than periodontal disease, however.

5. Metabolic disease. Diseases that affect the body’s metabolic balance or allow for the presence of abnormal levels of certain toxins in the blood can yield impressive mouth odors. Kidney disease is the most well-known of these. The end-stage process called uremia causes a characteristically sour-smelling breath.

What To Do at Home

Taking an active role in your pet’s dental care can help keep foul breath under control.

1. Brush your pets teeth. All pets — dogs and cats alike — should be trained early on to accept simple tooth brushing as part of their daily (at the very least, weekly) routine.

2. Plaque-reducing treats can be helpful, but they are not all created equal. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

3. Water additives promise fresh breath, but do they deliver? It seems some do. Ask your veterinarian for advice before buying the first kind you spy in the pet store.

What Your Veterinarian May Do

When you take your pet to the vet, here are things the doctor may do:

1. History. Most veterinarians will start by asking a few questions to understand the history of the bad breath. When did you first notice it? Has it changed? How has you pet been otherwise?

2. Physical examination. Examining the whole body, not just the mouth, is a crucial part of the process. The oral examination, however, is by far the most important aspect of bad breath assessment.

3. Anesthetic evaluation. Unfortunately, a thorough assessment of a pet’s oral cavity is almost always impossible without sedation or anesthesia. Once the pet is sedated, each individual tooth can be probed, x-rays can be taken, and other structures in the mouth can be examined.

4. Dental cleaning. Dental cleaning is indispensable when combatting bad breath. That’s because ridding the teeth (and area under the gumline) of plaque bacteria goes a long way toward improving the health of the teeth and gums, and therefore treating bad breath.

5. Biopsy. It may sometimes be necessary to obtain a sample of apparently abnormal tissue to determine its origins before definitive treatment can be initiated. This tends to be the case when oral masses are involved.


Treatment of halitosis depends wholly on the underlying cause. Because most halitosis is born of periodontal disease, treatment for bad breath tends to rely heavily on at-home care in addition to professional dental cleanings. Talk with your vet about what is the best action plan for your pet.

This article was written by a Veterinarian.