Why has my senior dog got bad breath?

Photo by Alexi Ohre on Unsplash

Most of us care very deeply for our pets and we try our best to keep them in optimal health throughout their lives. As young pups that are full of energy and curiosity, it seems our dogs can get away with almost anything without suffering too many serious consequences. But as they get older, that seemingly invincible quality begins to diminish. Frailty and fragility start to take hold. As their guardians we need to learn to adapt accordingly so we can continue to give them the love and care that they deserve.

Much like with humans, as dogs get on in age they become more susceptible to numerous unwelcome health problems. Among the range of illnesses and conditions that are likely to catch up with your pooch, one of the most common is halitosis. I’m sure we have all had that moment where playtime with your adorable fluff ball is going perfectly well but then they get right up in your face and you’re hit by a wave of stinky dog breath. Sometimes the odour is slightly unpleasant, but it can often extend to something utterly unbearable. Sometimes this is just a simple fact of life. Dogs have smelly breath and it tends to only get worse as they move into their senior years. However, this isn’t necessarily unavoidable. With a little extra attention you can ensure that your hounds have the best dental hygiene you can afford.

What are the causes of bad breath in dogs?

The major cause of nasty dog breath is poor dental hygiene. Your dog is likely to be munching food at least once or twice a day, and without a regular cleaning, plaque and tartar (dental calculus) can build up on your dog’s teeth just like it does on yours. This is a concoction of salts present in the saliva and a collection of bacteria which survive on the food that builds up in the mouth. It shouldn’t be an extreme concern when this build-up is just on the top of the teeth, but it can become a lot more serious if it makes its way to the gums. If the bacteria build-up gets into the gums it can result in inflammation and gum disease. This can also continue on into the sockets of the teeth, and worse, it could spread into the bone and cause a serious infection (osteomyelitis). Gingivitis (gum infection) might not sound too troubling, but if left unchecked the bacteria can make its way into the blood and can lead to kidney problems, heart disease, blood poisoning, and even septic shock. Apart from the severe conditions that could arise, an infection can cause a lot of pain for your canine companion and could create a loss of appetite. The intensity of your dog’s bad-smelling breath can be an indicator of the state of their dental health.

A common and less worrisome factor of poor doggy breath could simply be the result of something getting lodged in their teeth and rotting. Dogs like to scavenge for strange foreign things they might find in the garden or around the house. Although some dogs like to occasionally eat dead rats or birds or sometimes even faeces, others suffer from something known as pica. This is where they have a tendency to consume almost anything they come across, even if it has no resemblance to food. In any case, if your dog has a breath that boasts a rather mean stench, be sure to check that there isn’t anything decomposing in their teeth.

Foul breath could also be a side effect of metabolic diseases such as renal failure or diabetes. In the case of kidney failure, the odour from your dog’s mouth might have a metallic quality to it. This is because the kidneys aren’t functioning properly therefore numerous toxins are collecting that would otherwise be filtered out. With diabetes, the smell can vary a bit from case to case. You might notice a sweeter smell as a result of the sugar surplus in the blood. As bacteria thrive on sugar, you may find the smell to have more of a sour note due to an excess of bacterial growth.

Respiratory problems can also lead to halitosis. Nasal infections or tumours and sinusitis could generate pus (a mixture of blood, bacteria, and decaying white blood cells) in the nose. This can easily make its way into the throat and produce an offensive smell. Continuous vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues can contribute to bad breath. You might want to try changing your dog’s diet in case their digestive system is having an adverse reaction to their food. Dehydration is a simple yet often overlooked factor that could also be playing a role in your hound’s stinky breath.

What are some of the ways you can improve your dog’s smelly breath?

Apart from the more serious conditions which would require professional medical advice from your veterinarian, less threatening circumstances can be treated at home. There are some basic methods you can use to keep your pooch’s dental health in check. If you can’t brush your dog’s teeth everyday, try to get it done at least two or three times a week. Be sure that you don’t use human toothpaste! Have a look on the market and see what toothpastes for dogs are available, such as Petsmile. Remember to brush down and away from the gums in an effort to dislodge any bits of food and plaque that might be building up along the gum line. It can sometimes be a struggle to get your dog to sit still and cooperate while you’re trying to brush their teeth, so you may want to ask someone to assist you. If you still aren’t winning then you should consult your pet groomers and they will likely offer a teeth cleaning as part of their services.

Rawhide, special dental treats, and certain chew toys can also help to clear up the gunk collecting on your canine’s canines. If you can’t afford regular sessions at the groomers and you’re battling to get your pooch to let you brush their teeth, sneaking doggy toothpaste into a treat or a chew toy can be a useful way of applying the toothpaste, and the treat or toy itself will act as the toothbrush to remove some of the plaque build-up. Parsley is said to have antibacterial properties which can make it a helpful tool to fight bad breath as well as to add a refreshing herbal touch to your dog’s breath. Ginger tea is another option to consider if your pooch is suffering from stomach issues such as indigestion. Simply add a couple pieces of ginger to some boiling water, let the water return to room temperature, remove the bits of ginger, and see if your dog is willing to give it a try. If they don’t seem too enticed by this idea, you might have to add the tea into their regular meal as a disguise.

Dental sealants and water additives are some other alternative choices that could also help. Special water additives can combat nasty breath and it can potentially be an easy solution to help inhibit bacterial growth since all you have to do is include the additives in your dog’s water. You can also try dental sealants such as SANOS, which can be applied to help stop the attachment of plaque to the teeth and gum line.

The addition of yogurt into your dog’s diet is also said to fight against a poor smelling breath. If this sounds like something you’re willing to try, be sure to use regular (plain) yogurt. Avoid sugar alternatives such as Xylitol as it can be fatal to dogs. No more than one or two teaspoons to your dog’s regular meal should be enough to make a difference. Be sure to check that your dog can handle dairy as he or she might be lactose intolerant. This is a somewhat controversial option as many experts insist that animals and humans are not designed to ingest dairy beyond a certain stage of growth.

Closing Thoughts

As always, you want to make sure you check up with your vet fairly often to ensure your dog is getting the proper care that they need. This will be the most trustworthy way for you to assess whether your pet’s bad breath is due to a mild case of gingivitis or if it’s a symptom of a potentially more severe health condition.

Pay attention to your dog’s diet and try your best to provide high-quality food with the appropriate nutrients they require. Similarly with people, dehydration can also be a cause of halitosis, so be sure to keep a fresh water source available throughout the day for your precious animal companions.