Keeping Your Pet's Bad Breath at Bay

Halitosis, or bad breath, in dogs and cats is a common complaint from many pet owners. It can be caused by a myriad of underlying conditions, the most common being dental disease. Good dog dental care can help prevent this.

Bad breath itself is very easily identified. A malodorous smell emanating from the oral cavity is very obvious to most people. However the diagnosis of the underlying cause/s may require the assistance of a veterinarian.

Whilst some systemic diseases can cause halitosis, the first step in diagnosing its cause is a thorough oral examination.

Symptoms of dental disease in addition to bad breath which may be obvious to the owner may include an animal's reluctance to eat, reluctance to chew on one particular side of the mouth, excessive salivation, smelly exudates from the oral cavity, or none of the above.

The signs commonly seen in the oral cavity of animals with halitosis associated with dental disease may include reddening and/or bleeding of the gum line, brownish tartar attached to the teeth, dental staining, possibly swellings within the oral cavity (abscesses), damage to the tongue or direct damage to teeth such as slab fractures.

The development and progression of dental disease begins with bacterial infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth. This causes infection and inflammation of the gingivae (gums), periodontal ligament, cementum and alveolar bone. These are the supporting structures of the teeth. The progression from gingivitis to periodontitis causes tooth loss. The accumulation of bacterial plaques at the gum margin is in part due to poor oral hygiene. The metabolic products of these bacteria contribute to tissue necrosis and the production of the malodorous smell noticed by the owner. The progression to painful tooth root abscesses can occur.

Treatment of dental disease requires the animal undergo a veterinary dental procedure. These are done under a general anaesthetic and involve the cleaning of the teeth and gums. Commonly a scale and polish will be undertaken, any required extractions will be performed, and the animal will often be prescribed a course of antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatories depending on the nature of the treatment. Continuing proper oral hygiene at home is essential to keep the problem under control.

Home based preventative pet supplies for dental disease and bad breath in dogs and cats are readily available. The success of daily teeth cleaning in your dog and cat is dependent upon the tolerance level of the animal involved and the compliance rate of the owner to implement this regime. Regular brushing of your pet's teeth is a very effective tool in reducing dental disease and the associated bad breath it brings. Pet toothbrushes are available, one of the most convenient is the thimble-style brush which attaches over the owner's finger and can then be inserted into the animal's mouth. Do not use human toothpastes and oral preparations in dogs or cats. "Oral cleaning products present a danger to pets, especially dogs. The fatal dose of sodium fluoride is 5-10 mg/kg and toxic effects occur below 1 mg/kg". The use of veterinary toothpastes and oral care products is therefore recommended. If the thought of brushing your pet's teeth seems overwhelming, there are oral cleansing products available for use in pets which only involve placing a small quantity into the pet's mouth daily. For example Aristopet Toothpaste used with the Aristopet Oral Hygiene Kit (toothbrush and gum massager) which makes it very easy.

Water additives such as Virbac's Aquadent may also be useful in reducing bad breath in pets by helping maintain oral hygiene after veterinary dental procedures.

Ensuring optimal nutrition of your pet is essential. The use of abrasives such as dry pet food and chew treats can also help reduce plaque and tartar build-up. These produce a mechanical effect by removing plaque and calculus before it hardens on the teeth. Some products are specifically marketed as dental hygiene products. Examples include Hills diet (canine and feline), Greenies Dental Treats. Other dog food and cat food products are made especially for pets with dental problems.

Dental disease as a cause of bad breath in dogs and cats will return if regular home-based preventative care is not taken. Dental disease can also progress to systemic disease if not treated.

Whilst dental disease is the most common cause of bad breath in dogs and cats, systemic illnesses and injuries or malformations of the oropharyngeal region can contribute. Your veterinarian may need to undertake some further diagnostic tests to identify the causes of the halitosis in your pet. Blood tests are often recommended in pets with bad breath and no obvious signs of dental disease when other clinical signs are indicative of the presence of another illness. Various smells on the animal's breath can be associated with metabolic diseases such as diabetes, uraemia (associated with renal disease), oral tumours, skin disorders such as lip fold pyoderma, and numerous other disorders. Accurate diagnosis and specific treatments will be required to address these disorders.

Chronic feline gingivitis/stomatitis can be seen in some breeds of cats as a cause of bad breath and requires veterinary diagnosis and care. It is an immune-mediated disease of unknown aetiology, more common in highly bred cats such as Himalayans, Siamese and Abyssinians. At home cat dental care as described above can be used as an adjunct to veterinary care in these cases.

The use of breath freshening sprays in pets can help reduce the bad smell but used alone will not effectively treat or remove the underlying cause of the bad breath.

Halitosis (bad breath) in dogs and cats is a common condition encountered by many pet owners. The cause of the condition needs to be accurately identified so that it can be appropriately addressed. Masking the odour with oral cleansing/freshening products will not provide an adequate long-term solution. Any case of bad breath in your pet should be investigated by a veterinarian. Whilst poor pet dental care leading to dental disease is the most common cause of bad breath in dogs and cats other underlying systemic diseases can contribute. A combination of veterinary care and treatment and proper home oral care is required to keep bad breath under control in your pet.