Learn about what causes bad breath in dogs and how to remedy it

Why does my dog have bad breath?


Quick takeaways about dog bad breath

  • Bad dog breath is usually caused by a build-up of plaque on their teeth.
  • It could also be down to a poor diet, or if they ate something smelly.
  • Regular brushing (with a special dog toothbrush and toothpaste) and raw bones can help.


Ever leant in for a cuddle and realised your dog’s breath smells really bad?

You’re not alone. Bad breath or ‘canine halitosis’ is common and can be caused by anything from your dog’s diet to poor dental hygiene.

And don’t worry, there are steps you can take to remedy it if your pooch’s breath is seriously off-putting – plus we share our vet’s advice for tooth-brushing.


Understanding dog bad breath (canine halitosis)

Like humans, dog breath shouldn’t smell of anything in particular. But, also like us, it can sometimes smell off. Whether it’s fishy, sour or rotten, the smell can range from light to pungent.

It’s usually caused by whatever your dog has eaten – bad news if they’re a poo eater. Or, halitosis in dogs is most commonly caused by a build-up of plaque and tartar.

However, there are lots of different causes for smelly breath.


Key causes of dog bad breath

1. Tartar and plaque build-up

Halitosis in dogs is commonly caused by periodontal disease. This is a result of the build-up of plaque and tartar.

Plaque forms a sticky film over the teeth. When plaque builds up, it becomes tartar, which can cause gum infections and tooth loss over time.

Poor oral hygiene also leads to foul-smelling bacteria in their mouth.

The build-up can also push your dog’s gums back and away from the teeth. This creates further spots for bacteria to thrive and add to the smell.


2. Dietary problems

As with humans, diet has a big impact on your dog’s oral hygiene.

What’s maybe not so obvious is that many dog foods contain sugar and ingredients that can also cause plaque to build up on your dog’s teeth – causing dog bad breath.

If the ingredients list is long and has lots of unpronounceable ingredients, the chances are there are some not-so-wholesome additives in the mix.

Additionally, if your dog is having more carbohydrates than they should, that can lead to more tartar, causing smellier breath.


3. Eating something smelly

If you’ve noticed your dog suddenly has bad breath, they may have just eaten something a bit gross like poo.

There are lots of reasons why dogs eat poo, but if you’re worried, you can always speak to your vet.


4. An underlying health issue

In rare cases, bad dog breath might be a sign of something more serious. Diabetes, kidney issues and liver issues can all cause bad breath as a symptom.

Diabetes is usually associated with breath that smells sweet, along with excessive weeing and drinking.

Liver disease can reduce the liver’s ability to function, so it might not be able to get rid of toxins – this can lead to terribly smelly breath.

Similarly, if the kidneys aren’t working properly because of kidney disease, toxins can build up in the blood, causing your dog’s breath to smell like ammonia or pee.

If you’re worried and your dog has other symptoms, it’s always worth getting it checked out by a vet.


How to prevent dog bad breath

Regular brushing

Brushing your dog's teeth is the best way to prevent plaque build-up.

“Ideally, you should try and brush your dog’s teeth every week to help prevent excessive build-up of nasty bacteria and plaque,” says a veterinary nurse and educator for Natures Menu, Melanie Sainsbury.

“However, if you can see your dog already has a yellowy-brown coating on some of their teeth (usually most noticeable near their gums on their front pointed teeth or far back teeth), you should get them professionally cleaned at your vet practice.”

“Then make sure you maintain a good oral hygiene routine afterwards.”

Make checking and cleaning your dog’s teeth part of their routine from a young age, and they’ll be more likely to accept it without a fuss.

If you have an older dog who’s not used to having their teeth cleaned, it may take a little patience and gentle persistence.

To clean your dog’s teeth, you’ll need a dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste, as human toothpaste is not suitable.


Try breath-freshening treats

If your dog has occasional bad breath, you can now buy breath-freshening treats. They usually contain neutralising natural herbs like mint or parsley.

However, be mindful that this isn’t a long-term solution if your dog’s teeth need a proper clean.


Opt for raw dog food

Processed foods can add to plaque and tartar build-up over time. Raw dog food tends to be less processed and made with natural ingredients like raw meat, offal and certain vegetables.

Try our personalised raw food meal plans to find the right option for your dog.

Giving your dog raw meaty bones as a treat can also help to remove and prevent tartar build-up as they gnaw.

But always make sure you follow our bone guidance on the pack to see which ones are most suitable for your dog.


Dog bad breath FAQs

What home remedy can I give my dog for bad breath?

Chop up some fresh parsley leaves and add them to your dog's meals. The chlorophyll in the leaves of parsley works against the odour in your dog’s mouth to help deal with bad breath.


How can I clean my dog's mouth naturally?

The best way to clean your dog’s mouth naturally is with a special toothbrush that goes over your finger and a specialised toothpaste. You can also use a rubber fingerbrush with dog toothpaste if your dog doesn’t like the feel of a hard toothbrush.


Is it normal for puppies to have bad breath?

Puppies don’t usually have bad breath. Once they hit around 6 months they should have all of their adult teeth.

“But beware if their breath starts getting smelly at this age as this can be a sign of an adult tooth growing on top of a baby tooth,” says Melanie. “This can trap bits of food, which can rot and cause bad breath.”

If you’re ever worried about your puppy, then head to the vet.


Can certain foods cause bad breath in dogs?

Yes, foods that are high in artificial flavours and sugars can cause bad breath in dogs. This is because plaque can build up and turn into tartar, which leads to smelly breath.


What are the signs of dental problems in dogs?

Signs of dental problems in dogs include:

  • Bad breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unusual mood or behavioural changes (potentially caused by pain)
  • Loose teeth
  • Bleeding or discolouration of gums
  • Teeth changing colour to yellow or brown
  • Excessive drooling or pawing at the mouth

If you notice any of these symptoms, always speak to a vet.


Can bad breath in dogs be cured?

This depends on the core reason for your dog’s bad breath. If it’s caused by poor oral hygiene or a build-up of tartar, you can clean your dog’s teeth or get them cleaned at the vet.

If it’s caused by an underlying health issue, this needs to be checked by a vet.


What are the best products to combat dog bad breath?

If you’re worried about your dog’s teeth and gums, you can buy a special toothbrush and dog toothpaste to clean them properly.

“There are also powders and liquids available that you can add to your dog’s food and/or water to help combat the bacteria that causes plaque and tartar,” says Melanie.

This will help remove plaque and tartar from your dog’s teeth. Raw dog treats can also be a great way to combat bad breath.

Try our personalised meal plans with high-quality raw ingredients to help keep your dog healthy and happy.