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6 Surprising Things That May Be Causing Stinky Dog Breath

Jane Harrell specializes in helping pet-focused businesses connect to their clients, enhance customer loyalty and become industry leaders – all while making a tangible difference for pets and their families. Prior to becoming President o...

If your pup's breath is smelling a little less sweet lately, we may know why

Have you ever woken up to Saturday morning puppy kisses and ended up with more “ick, that stinks!” than “awwww, that’s cute”? You’re not alone. “Certainly 'eau de doggie breath' isn’t going to make it as a cologne any time soon,” jokes veterinarian Dr. Christie Long in her tips for assessing your dog’s health at home, “but it should smell mostly benign." When that breath veers off into the “eww, that stinks" range, you’re likely missing a problem.

“Almost without exception there is a cause for the bad breath,” Dr. Jennifer Quammen, a veterinarian and coach from High Performance Living LLC, told us. “Although it isn’t always the teeth and/or gums.” In fact, while only a few non-medical things might lead to bad breath, a number of hidden and hard-to-detect conditions can cause bad breath in otherwise healthy-seeming dogs.

1. If what goes in stinks…

Perhaps easiest to handle is what your dog is eating. “Some things dogs eat that make their breath bad include feces (visiting the cat’s litter box) and dead animals/carrion. Some diets (especially fish-based diets) can cause unpleasant odors in the mouth,” notes Quammen, but other causes can be much more sinister. Also important to note is this isn’t a hard and fast rule — my own Italian greyhound, Fiona, is an avid poop eater and her breath is roses compared to our terrier mix Liza who has a major underbite.

More: Leaky Gut Syndrome Doesn't Just Occur in Humans — Your Dog Is Affected Too

2. Follow the teeth…

I know, thinking about dental issues in your dog makes you about as excited as Ron was to “follow the spiders.” Unfortunately, the likelihood of smell being a sign of dental disease is pretty high. It’s estimated that 80 percent of dogs develop a form of dental disease by age 3. (Source: DVMmultimedia.com medical handout)

“It’s probably actually more correct to say that when your dog’s breath smells like an open sewer, he has needed a dental cleaning and examination for quite some time, notes Long’s "5 Signs That Your Dog Needs Dental Work." So don’t forget to brush your pup’s teeth and schedule regular checkups with your veterinarian, even when everything seems great. Your vet can tell you how often Fido should be getting cleanings and the exam looks for other hard-to-spot problems that can cause bad breath. (Don’t miss PetCoach’s "6 Things Every Dog Owner Should Know About Dental Care.")

3. When the wrong end smells of urine…

Kidney disease is hard to detect in most dogs and many of its symptoms are easy to overlook. Dogs that are in kidney failure often have the odor of urine on their breath, Long told us. That’s because the waste products that the kidneys should be filtering are building up in the bloodstream. You’ll very likely notice other signs as well, including increased thirst, increased urination, decreased appetite and vomiting. If you detect this odor on your dog’s breath or notice these signs, take him in to your veterinarian immediately.

4. Your dog’s suddenly a mouth-breather…

Dogs that experience sinus and breathing challenges may be more likely to breathe through their mouths, notes Long. While this doesn’t exactly cause bad breath, it may make underlying dental issues and halitosis more obvious to those close by.

More: Do You Need to Worry About BPA Levels in Dogs?

5. Something is getting stuck where it shouldn’t…

Puppies and dogs explore the world with their mouths, which can sometimes cause challenges — or make existing ones more obvious. “I have come across dogs who have had pieces of toys, sticks or hair caught in their mouth, teeth and gums,” says Quammen. “One (somewhat common) problem is hair caught in the teeth secondary to skin itching or irritation (caused by fleas or allergies): The dog is chewing itself because its skin is inflamed and simply getting the hair caught in the teeth secondary to this chewing. The pet comes in because the ‘breath is bad’ and we wind up finding allergies as the underlying cause.”

Of course, sometimes a foreign body or toxin is the underlying issue, not just a symptom. (Mouth injuries caused by sticks are fairly commonplace and can be severe.) So be sure to give your veterinarian a call if you think your dog’s eaten or played with something that could cause injury.

6. An odor of acetone could spell ketoacidosis

This last one is the least likely to appear with a “healthy-seeming” dog, but is an important and notable change to your pup’s breath that could spell big trouble. The first signs of diabetes, including increased thirst and urination, can look like several other problems in dogs or may not be noticed at all. Unfortunately, this means that diabetes may not be diagnosed until it’s severe without regular checkups and blood work. If diabetes goes undiagnosed for a period of time, complications of diabetes might cause changes to your pup's breath. If you smell a sweet odor that reminds you of acetone nail polish remover, your dog may be experiencing a serious complication of diabetes known as ketoacidosis. “If you notice this in your dog, seek veterinary care immediately,” warns Long.

If you’re one of those pet parents who avoid smelling their dog’s breath at all costs, maybe it’s time to change that. Go ahead, inhale deeply. If you smell something undeniably repulsive, congratulations! You may just be helping your vet catch a problem a lot earlier than they otherwise would have — which is your best shot of keeping your dog happy and healthy with you as long as possible.

Do you have a question about your dog’s breath? Ask the experts at PetCoach below!

More: 9 of Your Most Pressing Dog Health Questions Answered

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