Why Does My Dog Or Cat Have Bad Breath?
There are natural ways to prevent many of the causes of bad breath. Read about them here.
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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What Is Halitosis?
Halitosis the the medical term for bad breath. It is almost always caused but the products produced by bacteria as they digest food particles left in your pet's mouth as well as the products produced by bacterial infections surrounding the bases of your pet's teeth.
Tooth and gum problems are the most common medical condition I see in pets. Because bad breath in dogs and cats go hand in hand with other health problems it is important to treat this problem even if the pet's breath is not objectionable to you.
All dogs cats eventually suffer from some form of dental disease. This is because of the soft diets we feed them, canine and feline genetics, as well as the fact that our pets now live very long lives.
Dogs and cats , unlike people, rarely suffer from tooth enamel decay. What I do generally find is infection, inflammation and receding of the margins of the gums (gingival) where they abut (touch) the teeth as well as tartar accumulation on the teeth and just below the gum line surrounding the teeth. A combination of these two problems is the number one causes of strong breathe in your pet, drooling and discomfort. I also suspect that Dental Disease is a primary cause of the kidney and heart disease I see in older pets. This may be because the bacteria that live in the infected tissue surrounding the teeth enter the blood stream and lodge in thse other organs.
Why Does My Pet Have Bad Breath?
Remarkably, pets with this condition rarely eat less. Early in the disease, the plaque is no more than a thin brownish or yellowish coating on the sides of the teeth. It is most noticeable on the outer (lateral) surface of the larger molar teeth – the side adjacent to the cheeks and lips. In severe cases the margins where teeth and gums meet become highly inflamed and bleed when they are touched. For reasons we do not understand, these problems are most severe in toy and smaller breeds of dogs and in purebred cats. Maltese have the highest rate of tooth and gum disease of all breeds.
This buildup of calculus causes the gum margins to recedes past the tooth enamel exposing the softer dentine material that covers the tooth roots. Dentine is much more porous and rougher than enamel and so holds infection in place. Once dentine is exposed periodic tooth care must be done more frequently and the teeth are eventually lost. This is why successful tooth care and good dental hygiene needs to begin early before these processes are advanced.
Other Causes of Bad Breath:
In older pets, disease of the kidneys and liver (see the tests) often affect the mouth. These pets are often thin and frail. When I suspect that a pet with halitosis has major organ failure I run diagnostic liver enzyme levels as well as blood urea nitrogen and creatinine levels to check kidney function. Pets with organ damage require extra special care when tending to their teeth. Anesthesia during dental prophylaxis must be administered lightly and with special care. Often I place these pets on antibiotics after I clean their teeth as well as on special diets engineered to help failing organs.
When I see young cats with strong breaths and dental disease I screen them for feline leukemia as well as feline immunodifficiency disease (feline aids). When they are negative for these diseases, they often have resorptive dental disease in which deep cavities form in many teeth simultaneously for no apparent reason. In resorptive dental disease, the roots of the canine teeth are often exposed. Often incisor teeth in these cats drop out for no apparent reason. It is unclear if these cats are born with soft susceptible teeth or if another undescribed form of dental disease is present. Cleaning the teeth of cats with resorptive dental disease is not very effective. Eventually, these teeth need to be extracted. When this is done these cats go on to lead happy and healthy lives.
What Problems Associated With Tooth and Gum Disease?
Dogs and cats with chronic dental problems often drool. This wetness and the infection associated with tooth infections may cause the lips and the skin folds surrounding the lips to become inflamed. Once the teeth are cleaned these problems resolve.
How Can We Treat Bad Breath In Your Pet?
Treats and Foods
If you give your pet real bones be sure they are heavy shin and shank bones. Dogs and cats do better chewing on bones if they start when they are puppies and kittens. Do not give your pet chicken bones.
Mouth washes And Sprays
Of Diseased And Loose Teeth
A organism call Bartonella has been implicated in chronic oral infections in cats. The diagnosis of Bartonella infection is made using laboratory tests. When cats are positive for this organism it can be sucessfully treated using azithromycin, doxycycline or rifampin.