The first time my new rescue dog licked my face, I couldn’t help but gag – PU, his breath stank! I did some research in desperate search of a quick-fix.
The short answers
What causes bad breath (halitosis) in dogs?
Most often, bad breath is caused by bacteria living in the plaque build-up on your dog’s teeth. Taking your dog to the vet for a cleaning (semi-annual) and brushing his/her teeth at least 3-times a week is the quickest fix for bad breath.
Will switching my dog to a raw diet fix his/her bad breath (halitosis)?
In the short-term, no – cleaning your dog’s teeth will have a more immediate impact on your dog’s bad breath. In the long-term, absolutely – dry-kibble is a leading cause of plaque build-up and bacteria in your dog’s mouth.
Besides plaque build-up, are there any other causes for my dog’s bad breath (halitosis)?
Yes, here are the other leading causes:
- Gum disease & oral cancer
- Kidney disease
- Consumption of a toxic substance or foreign object
*If your dog’s breath does not clear after cleaning his/her teeth and switching to a raw-food diet – seek the professional advice of a holistic veterinarian.
Now you can stop holding your breath – let’s dive into this in more detail.
Why dry kibble makes your dog’s breath smell terrible
When I picked up Gotti, my rescue Pit Bull, I was handed a bag of dog food and instructed not switch him to any other food because he had health issues – including, itchiness, yeast infections, and of course stinky breath.
I already feed my other two dogs raw – and I know the health benefits of a raw diet over kibble – so I crossed my fingers when I signed the paperwork and threw the bag of kibble in a trashcan on my way out.
There are two culprits causing plaque build-up on your dog’s teeth – sugar and simple carbohydrates.
Just like humans, dogs have an enzyme, amylase, which breaks down certain carbohydrates for digestion. From a dietary point of view, this is the single biggest difference between wolves and dogs. The mechanisms dogs developed to process starchy foods runs parallel to the mechanisms humans developed at the beginning of the agricultural revolution.
Except, one caveat – where humans produce amylase in their saliva, dogs secrete amylase from their pancreas as an aid to digest the carbohydrates in their stomachs.
In humans, amylase breaks down starchy foods before the molecules have a chance to attach to our teeth. This is important because once starch gets stuck on a tooth, saliva will harden over it forming yellow tartar – which, is a feasting ground for bacteria.
As effective as amylase is in the saliva – about 50% of humans have periodontal disease. And that’s with many of us brush our teeth daily!
Dogs, on the other hand, can’t break down those carbohydrates with just their saliva; and, seeing as dry kibble has up to 50% carbohydrates, and dogs can’t brush their own teeth – our furry friends are f*cked.
In fact, the American Veterinary Dental College put out a study confirming 9 of 10 dogs develop gum disease by the age of three.
90 PERCENT! We have to do better.
So, what does this have to do with your dog’s bad breath?
Well, if your dog eats dry kibble and is not regularly taken to the vet for teeth cleanings, then there’s a 90% chance the horrendous smell coming out of your dog’s mouth is caused by bacteria farts.
Bacteria attach itself to your dog’s plaque build-up by the billions and then proceeds to all fart directly into their mouth.
What you can do about your dog’s plaque build-up and bad breath
1 – Brush your dog’s teeth, immediately.
Go to the store, pick up a dog toothbrush (or your own), and scrub your dog’s teeth at least three times a week.
For an easy homemade solution, simply blend coconut oil and mint – which, will help remove trapped plaque and smell minty fresh.
Last, take your dog for a professional cleaning with your vet at least twice a year. In my case, I took my rescue for a cleaning the first week I had him and his breath was instantly much better.
2 – Switch to a raw food diet.
There’s a saying in a raw dog food Facebook group I belong to: “anything but kibble”
In some sense, dogs evolved with humans to eat carbohydrates out of necessity. Becoming man’s best friend was a survival strategy that forced ancient dogs to tolerate carbohydrates.
TOLERATE is the keyword here. Dogs are scavenging carnivores, and while they may survive without raw meat, their health will suffer over a long period of time without it.
If you prepare raw food at home it can be very similarly priced to kibble – if you buy commercial raw it’s substantially more expensive.
If you don’t have the time or resources to go raw, then buy wet dog food (just check for no BPA) – or do a part kibble, part raw diet, and keep up the brushing three times a week.
What’s so frustrating about switching from a kibble diet to a raw diet is you probably won’t have the support of any mainstream veterinarian. I’m not conspiratorial by nature, but in this case, just follow the money – the American Veterinarian Association is heavily influenced by the same companies selling you dry kibble.
Check out my other article for help finding a vet who will support your decision to go raw.
3 – Feed raw bone as a treat
Once a week I feed Gotti a raw cow femur and he goes crazy for it. But, even better, raw bone is nature’s way of cleaning your dog’s teeth.
Now, there are a few things you absolutely need to keep in mind before giving your dog a raw bone:
- Only serve bones raw – never cook or microwave them, because they will become dry & brittle and could potentially kill your dog
- Serve recreational bones for teeth cleaning – some bones, like chicken, are meant for eating. Other bones, like cow femur or hip, are meant for chewing
- Supervise your dog – especially if they’ve never done it before – although rare, dogs of all sizes can choke on bone fragments
What if your dog’s bad breath isn’t caused by gum disease?
So, worst-case scenario, you’ve followed the above steps and your dog’s breath still stinks like nothing else.
Here are a few other possibilities (all which you’ll want to visit your veterinarian):
1 – Your dog has diabetes – if your dog’s breath smells sweet (like nectar) and he/she is peeing more frequently, then it’s a tall tail (pun intended) sign of diabetes.
2 – liver or kidney disease – again, see your veterinarian as soon as possible for blood work.
3 – Unhealthy gut – if your dog has a week microbiome (the bacteria that make up the gut) then he/she’ll have trouble fighting off dangerous bacteria. Same as the plaque build-up, you’re still smelling bacteria farts, but it’s now coming from the gut. Before heading the vet, try probiotics and low glycemic indexed vegetables as it will promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your dog’s stomach.
Otherwise, get those toothbrushes out and start scrubbing!