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Why Your Dog Has Bad Breath—and How to Get Rid of It

Updated: Jan. 19, 2023

Find out what your dog's breath might be telling you—and what you can do about it.

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Close-up of a small dog, mouth open, tongue out with blurred background

Causes of dog bad breath

You love your dog. Sure. But even the best dog-owners have times when you’d rather not be the recipient of a slobbery kiss. (Let’s just say those are times when you want to Google “are there doggie Altoids?”) Yet bedside nuisance aside, dog bad breath can also be a sign of something deeper. “You always want to try and diagnose the reason behind it, so you can rule out anything serious,” says Laurie Coger, DVM, in Albany, New York.

As it turns out, there are a variety of causes of dog bad breath…find out what your furry friend’s less-than-fresh breath may be telling you.

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Funny English bulldog playing on table.

Periodontal disease

Eight out of ten dogs over age three have periodontal disease to some degree, reports Judy Morgan, DVM, in New Jersey. “Most dog-owners don’t ever look in their dog’s mouth and don’t pay attention, then by the time they do, it’s because there are problems there, which can cause dog bad breath,” she says. “That’s why I always advise dog owners to take one minute a day to brush their dog’s teeth. Coconut oil, chicken broth, beef broth…rub them on their gums and see what they take to, get them used to having something in their mouth and then graduate to brushing.” You don’t need to use a brush just for dogs, either, Dr. Morgan uses an infant toothbrush, which she says is nice and soft. She formulates her own dental drops for just such occasions. “My dogs line up for it, they love it,” she laughs. Here’s how to clean your dog’s teeth, how often you should be brushing your dog’s teeth and the best dog toothbrushes, according to vets.

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Brown Spanish Water Dog with lovely face and big brown eyes playing at home on the bed. Indoor portrait
Lucia Romero/Shutterstock


“Stomatitis is an inflammation in the mouth and it can be hard to diagnose because the teeth may look fine but it’s an autoimmune reaction against their own gum tissue, where the gums are really red and painful, and it results in bad dog breath,” says Dr. Morgan. “It is treatable, though.”

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Happy dog in dunes

Digestion issues

“Some dogs don’t digest their food as quickly or as well, and it will cause fermentation in the stomach which results in really weird breath,” says Dr. Morgan. One remedy is to feed your dog a natural supplement designed to not only soothe digestion issues but also targets dog bad breath. Speaking of digestion, these are the 11 foods you should never, ever feed your dog.

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Dog in spring. Samoyed dog on a walk

Underlying diseases

Ailments such as kidney disease can also be a dog bad-breath culprit, reports Dr. Coger. “It’s not usually as pungent, but it’s a distinct odor,” she says. Dr. Morgan calls it uremic breath, she says. “It means that waste products are in the bloodstream, and are not filtered through the kidneys,” she explains.

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Various breeds of dogs sitting on autumn meadow

Certain breeds

“Smaller breeds tend to have more dental disease, and there are genetic reasons for it,” says Dr. Morgan. “The enamel on their teeth isn’t as hard nor as protective, which sets them up for dental problems later in life.” If you’re a pet parent to a smaller breed, you need to be vigilant early on.” Other breeds, such as standard Poodles, are also known to have bad breath. Simply sprinkling nature breath-fresheners like a little parsley or coconut oil on their food can do the trick, or try an herbal remedy designed to clear up the issue.

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labrador eating
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock


“People think that dry food cleans the teeth when the opposite is true,” says Dr. Coger. “Dogs don’t have grinding molars like we do, their teeth are sharp and made to tear off a piece of meat and swallow it. So dry food actually contributes more to dental disease by contributing to tartar buildup.” Help your dog clean his choppers naturally by giving him a breath-freshening bone instead, suggests Dr. Coger. Discover the very best diet for dogs.

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Yellow lab rolls over outside

Licking behaviors

One overlooked but important dog bad-breath culprit is a mental one: licking behaviors. “Your dog will always indicate an issue they’re having,” says Dr. Coger. If your dog is licking her behind repeatedly, for example, that could reveal a medical issue and would result in foul breath. If he longs to lick the cushions, there could be some mental disorder that needs attention. “It doesn’t have to be bad-smelling breath, but any different scent could be an indication of a deeper issue, something that your dog is licking excessively, for example,” she says.

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Two dogs staring at each other with curiosity

Fur length

Sometimes, dog bad breath can be as simple as longer hair, explains Dr. Coger. “The little ones or breeds with hairy faces and chins, like a sheepdog, can wind up with moisture and food around their mouth that gives an odor, so pet owners just need to be more vigilant about washing and trimming longer hair around the mouth.” Keep in mind that dog bad breath can be a silent sign your dog is sick and if it’s persistent, you should check in with your vet.