A dog with bad breath licking his lips

Bad Breath in Dogs. Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell? 

What does your dog’s bad breath mean?

Are your dog’s loving licks more offensive than affectionate?

Dogs lick their pet parents for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because they love them! Licking is an important way that dogs communicate with each other. From the mother licking her newborn pup to the submissive dog licking a dominant one… licks have different meanings.

But when your dog shares a lick-of-love… and you recoil in a fit of coughing because of their poor oral hygiene, then it’s time to face facts and ask: Why does my dog’s breath smell?


What does Normal Dog Breath Smell Like?

A good starting point is to realise that a healthy dog breath doesn’t have a particular smell. If your dog’s breath can clear the room just by breathing, there’s a good chance their breath is genuinely rancid and, more seriously, they have an oral health problem.

Think of bad breath in dogs in the same way as in people: There shouldn’t be a strong odour. In fact, just as you wouldn’t tolerate bad breath in the family, neither should you from the fur-family. All dog owners need to recognize that bad dog breath is a heavy hint that their dental health leaves a lot to be desired.

The trick with your four-legger is to work out ‘Why does my dog’s breath smell?’ and identify the underlying cause, which provides the means by way to fix it.

There are many causes of bad breath in dogs, some minor and others more significant.

Here are some of the most common causes and the most important causes of bad breath in dogs:

  • Effect of food
  • Worms
  • Fish-breath
  • Dental disease and bad breath
  • Ill Health as a cause of canine halitosis

All of which we will now cover in more detail below.

The Effect of Food

The old saying ‘You are what you eat’, applies just as much to dog breath. The dog that scavenges rubbish is going to have breath that smells like a sewer. Likewise, a dog fed on spicy table scraps or given large amounts of garlic (NB Garlic is a bad idea for dogs as it can damage their red blood cells) is going to have stinky breath.

The same goes for cheap dog foods. These contain a lot of filler ingredients that are harder to digest. This leads to fermentation in the gut and a double whammy of not just bad breath, but flatulence and soft poop to boot. Also, strong flavours, especially fish, tend to linger on the breath.

Stick to bland foods if their breath is a problem.

Indeed, if in doubt about the part doos plays in your dog’s bad breath, pop them into a bland diet for a few days. Detox with chicken and rice for a week and see if their breath improves.

Could it be Worms?

Intestinal worms are never a good thing as they cause diarrhoea, ill thrift, poor appetite, and vomiting. It stands to reason that a dog with an upset stomach is going to have bad breath.

Be sure to keep on top of regular deworming, for the sake of their general health and to promote fresh breath kisses.


What if your dog’s breath has a peculiarly fishy-odour to it, and yet they don’t eat fish?

The answer could well lie with their anal glands. These small sacs that sit either side of the anus, produce a particularly offensive secretion reminiscent of rancid fish. The purpose of this substance is to mark the dog’s faeces with a unique scent signature.

But there are circumstances where a dog licks their own butt, only to contaminate their mouth with anal sac secretion. The result is ‘oh-so-yewh breath’, with a pungent fishy aroma. The worst part is that the smell really sticks, so once it gets up your nose you’ll smell it for the rest of the day.

If your suspect anal glands are a source of your pet’s fishy breath, then pay a visit to the vet for regular checkups (Or a good dog groomer). They can express the gland and drain out the stinky contents, whilst also checking no infection is present.

Dental Disease and Bad Breath

Now for a big cause of bad breath – dental disease!

The inside of a mouth is a warm, moist place, which makes it a favoured breeding ground for bacteria. Then throw into the mix that a dog can’t brush their own teeth, and you’re likely to be left with unpleasant dog breath.

Dental disease can, however, vary in severity from mild plaque buildup to serious periodontal disease which can cause a dog’s tooth to loosen and fall out.

At the lowest end of the scale is the dog with plaque (a sticky residue of food debris, bacteria, and minerals coating the enamel) whilst at the top end are tooth root infections that discharge pus into the mouth.

To check if dental disease is the answer to ‘Why does my dog’s breath smell?’, lift their lip. The inside of a dog’s mouth should be much like ours, with clean white dental crowns and nice pink gums.

If what you see is an angry red line where the gum line meets the teeth, then the dog may have gingivitis which is a form of dental disease. If the teeth look yellow or brown, rather than white, the chances are they are coated in plaque or mineralized plaque which is known as tartar.

Dental disease should be assessed by your vet. A smelly mouth has a lot of bacteria in it, which you don’t want to get into the dog’s bloodstream. Speak to your vet about the safest and best way of getting those gnashers pearly white again.

Ill Health as a Cause of Canine Halitosis

Sadly, canine halitosis can be a sign the pet is unwell or has health issues. Certain conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease, are linked to the peculiar smelly breath.

In the case of kidney disease, the classic smell is one of ammonia. Whilst in the case of diabetes the dog may have a sickly sweet breath reminiscent of acetone-based nail polish remover. Pet owners should take their pooch to a vet if they detect either of these odours.

The signs don’t occur in isolation, and if the dog’s kidneys are so poorly that their breath smells, then they will also show other signs of ill health.

Typically, keep an eye out for greater thirst and the increased peeing that goes with it. Also, be vigilant for other telltale signs because it’s important not to miss, such as changed appetite, and weight loss. If in doubt, always see a vet and get the dog checked out.

Why Does my Dog’s Breath Smell?

There are many reasons for a dog to have bad breath. Some are easily fixable by a simple change of diet or giving a deworming pill. Other causes require dental attention from the vet or for an underlying health problem to be managed.

Whatever the cause, be aware that bad breath may be ‘normal’ but it’s not right. A healthy dog’s mouth shouldn’t smell. And whilst their licks will never be the equivalent of fairy dew, neither should they be offensive.

Dental Cleaning

The good news is that you can take control. Feed a good quality diet, regularly de-worm the dog, and brush their teeth every day and you’re a lot closer to a healthy mouth and banishing bad breath.

Improve your dog’s oral care with daily teeth brushing. However, never use human toothpaste as it contains fluoride, which is harmful to dogs if swallowed. Instead, use special pet toothpastes along with a soft toothbrush, and you’ll be well on the way to fresh smelling breath and gum disease will be a thing of the past.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.