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Bad Breath in Dogs and Cats
Revised: June 21, 2016
Published: February 03, 2003

Photo by Dr. Jan Bellows

What Is Halitosis?

Halitosis, also called bad breath, is as an offensive odor emanating from the oral cavity. Bad breath is a common presenting pet odor complaint. Common causes may be related to the mouth or, rarely, related to other health problems.

What Causes Halitosis?

The most common cause of halitosis is periodontal disease caused by plaque (bacteria). Bacteria is attracted to the tooth surface within hours of teeth cleaning. Within days, the plaque becomes mineralized producing calculus. As plaque ages and gingivitis develops into periodontitis (bone loss), bacteria changes from somewhat irritating strains to bone destroying types that produce hydrogen sulfide causing halitosis.

Other causes include eating malodorous food; metabolic disease (diabetes, uremia); respiratory disease (rhinitis, sinusitis, neoplasia); gastrointestinal (megaesophagus, neoplasia, foreign body); dermatologic (lip fold pyoderma); dietary (fetid foodstuffs, eating stool); non-periodontal oral disease (orthodontic, pharyngitis, tonsilitis, neoplasia); foreign bodies; trauma including electric cord injury; open fractures; caustic agents; infectious agents including bacteria, fungi, and viruses; autoimmune diseases; and eosinophilic granuloma complex.

What Are The Signs Of Halitosis?

Periodontal disease is painful. Some dogs and cats will have problems chewing hard food, others will paw at their mouths. Unfortunately most will not show any signs.

How Is Halitosis Diagnosed?

Halitosis is easily diagnosed by smelling your dog or cats breath. If there is a disagreeable odor, halitosis is present. A veterinary examination is necessary to diagnose the specific cause of bad breath. If the diagnosis is not obvious after oral examination, blood tests will be taken to check for internal disease.

How Is Halitosis Treated?

Halitosis treatment depends on the cause. There are four recognized stages of periodontal disease. The first two (early gingivitis and advanced gingivitis) are treated by professional teeth cleaning. As the disease advances bone loss occurs causing periodontitis, which may require surgery or tooth extraction.

Odor neutralization of hydrogen sulfide occurs with the use of zinc citrate.

What Is The Prognosis For Halitosis?

Once the underlying disease has been treated, halitosis will disappear. If due to periodontal disease, daily tooth brushing will help maintain good oral health and sweet breath.

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