Dog Bad Breath - More Than Meets the Nose
By Angelo Ioanides
Take any five dogs off the street and chances are four of them will ‘bite you on the nose’ with their dog bad breath. Being such a common condition it’s understandable why so many dog owners accept it as normal… and why so few do anything about it. Yet dog bad breath (formally called canine halitosis) can be an early alarm-bell alerting you of a more sinister hidden disease.
Do an online search for causes of dog bad breath and you could be forgiven for thinking that all halitosis arises from one fundamental source - poor oral hygiene. True… 90% of cases are due to oral-bacteria and yes, these bacterial infections (in the form of tooth decay and gum disease) can give rise to more serious conditions. Yet, for 1 in 10 dogs with bad breath the source of foul-odor arises beyond their mouth. Consequently, by applying this blanket diagnosis to your dogs’ bad breath you run the risk of overlooking a potentially harmful underlying condition and in the process inadvertently delay critical early diagnosis and treatment.
So what can cause bad breath other than the usual dental diseases?
In essence, there are two broad categories of non-dental causes for bad-breath: gastro-intestinal conditions and non-gastro-intestinal causes.
Gastro-intestinal conditions comprise the most common non-dental causes of bad breath. Of these the most common odor-producing diseases include:
- Foreign bodies lodged in the oro-pharynx;
- Food allergies;
- Stomach ulcers;
- Esophageal / stomach cancer.
As for non-gastro-intestinal conditions, while these are much rarer causes of bad breath they are definitely the more serious conditions to diagnose early and accurately. The most common of these conditions include:
- Kidney failure;
- Liver failure;
- Lung cancer.
Looking at this broad list of conditions it should be clear that dog bad breath is not simply a reflection of poor oral hygiene. Rather, dog bad breath is a non-specific symptom of a wide range of harmful and even potentially fatal conditions. In essence dog bad breath is Natures’ way of telling you that your dog is unwell without telling you exactly what’s wrong with them.
This raises the question, "How can I tell if my dogs’ bad breath is due to poor oral hygiene or if it’s due to something much more serious?"
Unfortunately there is no simple way to diagnose the cause of dog bad breath. However, there are two (albeit crude) at-home diagnostic tests that can help you determine whether or not the odor warrants further investigation.
The first test involves eliminating the mouth as the source of odor. Simply look inside your dogs’ mouth and look evidence of gum disease (chalky cement-like build up on teeth; red, puffy bleeding gums (as opposed to healthy firm pink gums) or tooth decay. If you see none of these signs and after instigating a stringent oral hygiene regimen (involving daily brushing of teeth for a week) and the odor persists then that raises suspicion that the cause is non-dental.
Next, close your dogs’ mouth and smell the breath they exhale through their nose. If this nasally-exhaled breath carries the same odor as their mouth-breath then that further raises suspicions that you are dealing with a non-dental cause of bad breath.
In both these cases an urgent visit to your vet is warranted to eliminate a non-dental, potentially fatal underlying medical condition.
Dog Bad Breath Expert