Bad Breath in Dogs and cats

Bad breath, or halitosis, is a common complaint of pet owners. The bad odor is usually caused by oral diseases, but can also be associated with digestive or systemic disorders.

The most common cause of halitosis is periodontal disease. The process starts with plaque formation on the teeth, which quickly mineralizes to form calculus (tartar). In time the gums become inflamed (gingivitis) and the inflammation spreads into deeper layers, causing loss of tooth root attachment (periodontitis). Bone-destroying bacteriae produce smelly gas, which is emitted in the breath (halitosis).

Periodontal disease can be painful and some pets will show signs of pain, such as pawing at the mouth or eating difficulty. However, in most cases, the bad breath is the only sign. Oral bacteriae may enter the circulation and damage internal organs, such as heart valves, liver, kidneys and others.

Other causes of halitosis include stomach problems (gastritis), bad food or other ingested material (garbage, feces), respiratory infection, oral tumors or wounds, skin infections or lesions surrounding the mouth.

A pet with bad breath should be examined by the veterinarian. The cause may be found by physical examination, x-rays, blood and urine tests and other diagnostic procedures.

Treatment is aimed at the cause of halitosis. Periodontal and tooth disease are treated by scaling, polishing, extractions and root canal procedures. The infection is treated with antibiotics. As with other conditions, prevention is the best tool against halitosis. Daily brushing, oral rinsing and periodic dental scaling and polishing are the preventative methods of choice. Other diseases and underlying problems are treated accordingly. Dental and oral exams should be included in the periodic veterinary wellness visit.

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