Has your pet got smelly breath?

Pete Wedderburn
31st March 2020 - 3 min read

Halitosis, or foul-smelling breath, is a common problem in the animal world. Dogs, in particular, are prone to having smelly mouths, partly because they are scavengers by nature.

Dogs investigate the world with their mouths, and they often try to eat all sorts of strange objects, from rubbish to rotting vegetation, decaying rabbit carcasses, or even animal droppings.

It is no wonder that the expression “dog breath” is a term that has entered the English language to describe humans who have less-than-sweet smelling breath. Nobody likes foul-smelling breath so what is the answer?

The Main Cause Of Halitosis

The first thing is to think about which part of the mouth is the source of the problem, and then to work out how to keep those areas clean. The main reason for halitosis is gum disease, caused by the accumulation of dental tartar, the hard brown substance that accumulates on the outside of teeth.

Tartar pushes against the gums, causing them to become red, sore, infected, and foul-smelling. Tartar can be prevented by regularly applying an abrasive substance to the tooth surface, and this is the principle behind tooth brushing.

In dogs and cats, tartar develops mostly in two areas: the large cheek teeth (molars and pre-molars) at the back of the mouth, and on the outside of the front teeth (the incisors and canines).

How To Prevent Tartar Build Up

So how can tartar be prevented from gathering in these areas? Tooth-brushing is the gold standard for keeping teeth clean. The front teeth of pets are easy enough to reach with a toothbrush but to brush the cheek teeth effectively, you need to open your pet’s mouth wide, like a circus lion-tamer. 

Very few animals will allow their owners to give them this type of attention. And this is where some “convenient” products can come in handy. Pets use their cheek teeth for chewing and grinding hard foodstuffs. If you watch a dog chewing anything hard, you will see that they push the object to the back of their mouths, and crunch it using the large, cube-shaped cheek teeth.

There is more mechanical pressure at the back of the jaw because the teeth are closer to the “hinge” of the lower jaw. The products designed to keep pets’ teeth clean are mostly hard objects that are designed to be chewed. Some are made from hard rubber, some are made from raw-hide, and others are made from carefully designed combinations of nutritious food-stuffs.

Many of these products have reasonable effectiveness for cleaning the cheek teeth of pets, which is handy since this is the most difficult part of a pet’s mouth for tooth brushing.

Tooth Brushing Is Essential

However, the chewing process has very little impact on the outer surfaces of the front teeth, and this is where tooth brushing is the only effective answer. This is not as onerous as it may sound. If you take thirty seconds, once a day, before you feed your pet, you will be able to rapidly clean this area. You are only talking about brushing an area measuring three inches wide, even in a large dog.

The main problem is training a dog or cat to accept this type of attention. It is best to start to handle a pet’s mouth from when they are very young so that they do not mind you poking about in their mouths. Most older pets need an initial tooth-cleaning session at the vet, under anaesthesia, to make their mouths sparkly clean in the first place.

But after that, chew-products combined with some tooth-brushing is probably the best answer. If you don’t want your dog or cat to have “dog breath”, now you know what to do!


  • Gum disease is the most common cause of bad breath in dogs
  • Daily tooth brushing combined with dental chews are the best way to keep the breath fresh
  • Some dogs need a full veterinary dental clean and polish as well