Lots of clients tell me they have stinky dogs. Bad breath or bad gas? Which end is up?
Generally, halitosis wins out over fart-o-tosis. Dogs do stick their faces in our faces more than the other end. Thankfully, dog poots are quickly gone with the wind they came in on. Dog breath, on the other hand, is here to stay until we deal with it. I’ve written about dentistry a number of times:
- I talked about why it is that dogs and cats need a dental examination.
- I divulged that pet dental emergencies are among the most expensive procedures that can be avoided.
- I brought up the fact that certain dog and cat breeds are predisposed to dental problems.
- Finally, I discussed why it’s so important for vets and pet caretakers to have an honest talk about things like tooth care.
Even so, pet parents still don’t seem to believe the importance of solid dental care, both in the vet’s office and at home.
The veterinary community should take some blame for this. We did not used to recommend a lot of home care, and certainly not daily home care. Times have changed. Most vets and caretakers realize that as our pets age, they will do a heck of a lot better without a world of decay in their mouths. Kind of a duh! moment, isn’t it?
Why Does My Dog’s Breath Stink?
Periodontal disease (plaque buildup and bacteria) is the number 1 reason your dog’s mouth smells like a dead fish.
Some caretakers are exquisitely sensitive to odors. They ask me to smell their dog’s breath. There is a level of dog breath that is a part of life, but it should not smell foul. If Cutie Pie’s breath can clear a room, we need to act. How about the car test? There’s nothing worse than a nervous, panting dog with an evil mouth breathing down your neck in a Toyota Yaris.
Occasionally, “bad breath” may be caused by gastric odors or metabolic disease. Again, talk with your vet if you have concerns. For instance, if your dog’s idea of a mid-afternoon snack is the kitty litter box (or worse), his breath can be chalked up to his poop recycling habit. But if your dog’s mouth has an unpleasant odor day in and day out, he most likely has smelly bacteria in that mouth and needs attention.
Healthy Mouth With Bad Odor? Think Again.
A smelly mouth is not a healthy mouth. Plaque and bacteria (periodontal disease) cause odor. Periodontal disease — not always visible to the naked eye — should be professionally treated and followed up with home care.
Keep in mind these 3 points:
- Home care is prevention, not treatment.
- Brushing your dog’s teeth and gums that already have disease can be painful. Brushing or placing topical gels or sprays on painful gums is not helpful and can hurt. We have to get that mouth back in shape first.
- Applying toothpastes and gels on top of a layer of tartar and plaque is not very useful. Imagine a brick wall that’s been covered with plaster and you want to get to the brick. If you apply some paint to the plaster, will it do anything for the bricks? Of course not. This is the same as brushing your dog’s teeth on top of a layer of plaque. You’re not getting anywhere near the brick!
Dental Care at Home
Human standards are being applied to your dog’s oral care in today’s veterinary world. Brush your dog’s teeth twice a day and have a dental checkup at least once a year. That is the gold standard. Although some clients actually do this, most cannot or do not. Brushing at least 4 times a week, and using other products to retard plaque buildup, is something all dog parents should try to do.
Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website for a list of products proven to help retard plaque and tartar on the teeth of animals. Here are 4 categories of products that work:
1. Water Additives
Products like HealthyMouth are added to your dog’s water dish to retard plaque, which in turn keep periodontal disease and yucky doggy breath in check. Many of my clients like these products and swear they help. I agree.
2. Dental Diets
These dog foods are proven to keep plaque and tartar under control. I like them, and dogs generally like to eat them! You can go with a prescription diet like T/D or other dental diets. Check out the VOHC list for yourself. There are many choices.
3. Treats and Chews
These products are worth the money. I just tried Milk-Bone brushing chews for my own 2 dogs because they haven’t liked some others. These were a success. Zee Zee chewed on his for the maximum effect, but Wally thought it was such a special bone that he carried it around for 30 minutes before trying to bury it in the backyard. They are expensive, Wally! And they aren’t doing your mouth any good if they’re buried under a pile of last year’s leaves and the last gross piles of March snow.
4. Toothpaste and/or Oral Gels
These are essential if you want to keep your pet’s mouth as disease free as possible. Some tips for success:
- Start early. Getting a puppy used to procedures like tooth brushing and nail clipping is easier than trying to teach an old dog new tricks.
- Get yourself into a routine. Leave the toothpaste near the dog food or treats to remind yourself. Finding a very special reward to follow the quick and easy tooth brushing is a great help.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try another routine. Some dogs will not tolerate tooth brushing, or the practice is so stressful that it upsets the bond you have with your dog. Try using the finger brushes available, or applying a rinse or a gel with your finger.
This video shows dogs getting their teeth cleaned and offers more information on why this is so important:
My staff and I represent some of the old guard who were resistant to these intense tooth brushing regimens — but we have come into the light of the 21st-century state of the dog mouth!
We’ve seen major improvement in not only patients’ mouths but in our own dogs as well. Clients are bringing in their pups for rechecks 6 or 8 months after a dental procedure and dedicated dental home care. The success rate is amazing. Many of these pooches have not formed a lot of new plaque, and the stink breath is gone!
Minimal or Maximal Commitment?
Ask yourself what you are willing to do at home in terms of dental care and stick to that commitment. If you are going to brush only occasionally, find other products that Smiley likes to beef up your tartar control program.
Think about your own 6-month checkup with your dental hygienist. When you haven’t gone near a piece of dental floss since your last cleaning, you know that look on your hygienist’s face. Don’t try to pull the floss over her eyes.
You can’t fool your vet either. I know when that poultry-flavored toothpaste you bought last year has never seen the inside of your dog’s mouth. It’s still on a shelf in its original packaging, next to the Waterpik you bought but never used on yourself. Time to ‘fess up, people! I include myself in the Oral Hygiene Lazy Club. I seem to have developed an allergy to the dental floss in my medicine cabinet, and where did I misplace that doggy toothbrush again?
Spring means fresh flowers, fresh scents and fresh air. Let’s add some fresh breath to that list!