Living With Animals: Stinky Breath

I have a friend who jokes that his dog’s breath can kill spiders climbing walls across the room, and having spent time with them both I’m not sure it’s an exaggeration. Stinky breath can of course mean something stinky was eaten (dogs who like to “clean” litterboxes is a topic for a future column) but it can also mean a more serious problem with our pet’s health.

You and I floss and brush our teeth several times every day (well at least I know I do!) and we see the dentist even when there’s no toothache. We do this so that people will not back away from us in horror, and we also do so as part of our preventive health regimen. Imagine the potential for gum disease and other possibly more serious illness if we simply chose to ignore our mouths. Periodontal (gum) disease is the primary cause of bad breath in our dogs and cats, and an estimated 75% of our pets suffer from plaque build-up spreading first to the teeth and eventually below the gumline. Pets’ teeth need brushing just like our own, and there are various special toothbrushes and toothpastes (steak flavored – yum!) available; less wet food and more dry kibble can also help. Whether or not you can keep the problem at bay on your own or if it also requires a veterinarian’s periodic expertise depends on how much a habit you can make of this as well as your pet’s own health and genetics.

Other causes of pet bad breath can include diabetes (a diabetic pet’s breath reportedly smells like nail polish remover), kidney disease (breath smells like urine), liver disease, gastrointestinal disease, and sinus infections. But not only can bad breath be itself a sign of disease, it can also lead to – or, more accurately, dirty teeth and gums can lead to – serious illnesses such as heart disease. So if your pet’s kisses are icky, don’t just hold your nose: See your vet!

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