Jocelynn Jacobs DVM, CVC

Wondering about your pet’s bad breath? How often do you say, “Wow, your breath smells terrible” to your dog when they innocently come to give you a kiss to show you how much they love you? Well, if you say it frequently, then they probably need to have their teeth and gums examined by a veterinarian.

We all know that we as humans should brush and floss our teeth on a regular basis and make twice yearly visits to our dentist. What about our pets?


Cause Of Pet's Bad Breath

Dentistry is a very important part of the overall health of all our pets – cats, dogs, rabbits, horses and other small animals. Many pet owners don’t think much about their pets’ oral health, but in the veterinary research community each year there are more and more articles published demonstrating how important this is in helping to live long, healthy lives.

Most bad breath issues come from a build-up of tartar on the teeth. Dogs and cats don’t brush their own teeth like we do, and because they are eating kibble or canned food, they don’t get the natural abrasion to their teeth from eating hunks of skeletal meat, cartilage and bone like their wild-counterparts like wolves or lions do. This can cause tartar to build up on their teeth which eventually will cause gum recession and loosen teeth.

Other things that can cause bad breath in our pets are masses (tumors), cavities, and sores on the gums and tongue. Some pets may be reluctant to eat when they have mouth pain, so anytime they act like they want to eat but are reluctant to, a mouth issue may be the cause.


Your Pet's Teeth Cleaning

Most pets should have their first prophylactic teeth cleaning done around two years of age. Some dogs that are big chewers of bones and toys, may not need to have their first dental done until 4 years of age, but your veterinarian should be consulted on when the first dental should be performed.

When your pet gets their teeth cleaned, they will be sedated (most pets don’t cooperate with all the dental equipment in their mouths) and put under generalized anesthesia (like some humans do when they have dental work done). Some of the instruments make noise and have water spurting out of them which can concern a dog and cat that is not sedated.

Most veterinarians have an ultrasonic scaler to remove the plaque (tartar) on the teeth. After the tartar is removed, hand-held manual instruments are used just like in human dentistry to remove additional plaque or calculi around the gum line or just under it. This is also when teeth are evaluated for cavities, if they are loose or other abnormalities with the teeth. Then the teeth are polished with a tooth polisher as in human dentistry.

pet's bad breath

Cavities and Loose Teeth

If there are loose teeth, veterinarians will remove the teeth (pull them). If there are cavities, those teeth too will be pulled. Unlike human teeth, dog and cat teeth are very thin so drilling and putting cavity filling material in them won’t work. Dog also chew on bones or other hard materials and filling material is not strong enough to survive the high chewing/impact forces of the canine mouth.

We now have “sealants” for dogs and cats that can be applied after the dental is completed. These will help the teeth stay cleaner longer. However, it is important that you as the owner of your pet do certain things that will help control or eliminate future build- up of tartar on their teeth too. There are many different products available now that your veterinarian can recommend to help your pet’s teeth stay as healthy as possible.

So, go give your pet a big hug now, and smell their breath for me. Does it smell great or did you say, “boy, you have bad breath!”?

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