Whole Dog Journal's Blog April 28, 2014

Your Dog's Bad Breath is Significant

Posted at 02:00PM - Comments: (14)

I met a small dog recently who had breath that could knock you over. Because I’ve had small dogs before, I knew enough to lift her lip and take a peek at her teeth. Even so, I was shocked, though not surprised, by the appearance of her teeth. That is, you could barely SEE white tooth material, for the accumulation of hard calculus tartar on her teeth. Her gums were inflamed and swollen, too.

It apparently didn’t occur to anyone who knew or handled the dog that her bad breath wasn’t some sort of character flaw, it was an actual health problem exacerbated by neglect. Rather, she was criticized as a “fussy eater.” I imagine I’d be a fussy eater, too, if I was in excruciating pain from infected gums.

Small dogs, especially the ones with crowded mouths (overlapping teeth) or underbites or overbites that keep the mouth partially open at all times, are prone to more dental disease and accelerated accumulation of dental plaque. Daily brushing is highly recommended and annual exams and frequent veterinary cleaning is critical to prevent the relatively fast development of such a serious tartar build-up (the dog I’m describing is only four years old!).

She’s since had her teeth cleaned and eight of them had to be extracted. She’ll receive pain meds for 4 days and antibiotics for 10. Her breath is now completely inoffensive, and she’s eating anything offered to her.

The experience made me check my own dogs’ mouths. Both of my dogs are 6 1/2 years old. Tito the Chihuahua has had one dental cleaning already, about two years ago. His breath is not at all bad, and his teeth look pretty good. I was surprised (when I took a whiff ) that my big dog’s breath is not as fresh as I expected it to be, and when I lifted his lips to examine his teeth, I saw no tartar at all . . . on ONE side of his mouth! On the other, I found a rather large chunk of tartar on one of his upper molars. I think of myself as being fairly aware of what’s going on with my dogs’ health, and completely missed this! He was examined by a veterinarian recently, too, for an annual health checkup, and she hasn’t spotted it, either. I’ll be taking him back in for a further exam – and likely, a cleaning -- this week.

How often do you check your dog’s teeth? Make sure you look at the ones all the way in the back, too.

Comments (14)

doublnickel, Pepto Bismol contains salicylates (similar to aspirin) that can lead to ulceration if used continuously. I would try Pepcid (famotidine) instead. Recommended dosage is 0.25 to 0.5 mg per pound of bodyweight (2 to 4 mg for an 8-pound dog) once or twice a day. The smallest tablets are 10 mg, so 1/4 tablet would be most appropriate for your dog.

Posted by: Mary Straus | May 6, 2014 12:40 PM    Report this comment

My previous small dog, Maggie, had terrible teeth, dirty and broken when we adopted her. She had 3 dental cleanings over the 10 years she was with us, even though I brushed daily and fed her home-prepared food (Pitcairn). She also had tooth resorption where they just fell out.

We now have another small dog who had dental cleaning at age 2 when she was spayed, prior to her adoption. I haven't found a toothpaste she likes, and I did have a vet tell me that toothpaste only the whole operation more palatable for the dog, that plain water works just as well.

So with that in mind ... I've been brushing her teeth with organic unprocessed coconut oil. At lower temps, it sticks to the brush like toothpaste and she loves it. She weighs 13 lbs. and I use 1/2-1 tsp. per day. In the past, I've had a hard time getting the outside of her carnissials clean (she tends to clench them during brushing) but this is starting to do the job. I know this sounds strange, but if you Google it, you'll find coconut oil is reputed to be good for remineralizing teeth. I've used it myself and it certainly cleans my teeth well.

Posted by: azogal | April 30, 2014 3:34 PM    Report this comment

I have a 16 yr old female poodle who has advanced heart disease,and the worst breath I have ever smelled in a dog,or anything,for that matter.I can't have her teeth cleaned because she is so frail,so I brush with Petz Life tooth gel,and spray with petz Life also--doesn't really help much.With her food I've been adding a tiny bit of Pepto Bismol(she's only 8lbs)and it seem to help quite a bit.Hope I'm not hurting her by doing this.Anyone know?

Posted by: doublnickel | April 30, 2014 2:26 PM    Report this comment

I adopted a Pomeranian from the local shelter. He was trying to bite everyone. I took him to groom him because the poor baby was such a mess. He was about 9 yrs. old. When I groomed him he was very good until I got near his head. He was trying to bite me. I stepped back & talked to him. He was panting & I saw a mouth full of rotten teeth. I let the shelter know this poor thing was in pain & defending himself before anyone got near his painful mouth. He had 12 teeth removed. He was an excellent dog that may have been put down at the shelter because they said he was a biter. I fostered & adopted him. I just lost him 4 days ago because of congestive heart failure & kidney failure. I do believe his bad teeth played a big roll in his condition. I had 3 short years with him & miss him terribly.

Posted by: Dee Dee | April 29, 2014 9:40 PM    Report this comment

Most vets do NOT open dog's mouths when they do an annual check up. My Chow, Ginger, wasn't eating well & not acting like her usual self. I took her to the vet for a check up. They thought it may be her hip & gave me pain meds for her. My other Chow kept liking Ginger's mouth. I thought possibly it was a tooth. I checked her teeth, then opened her mouth up. To my horror she had a huge raised pink spot in the back of her mouth. It was cancerous & had already metastasized to her lungs.
I felt my other Chow deserved a steak & the vet didn't deserve to get paid.
We have to always check our dogs mouths & don't depend on a vet to do that.

Posted by: Dee Dee | April 29, 2014 9:30 PM    Report this comment

My two dogs lived to 16 years old and never had their teeth brushed or had professional teeth cleaning, yet my vet said they were "Good Dental Health Poster Dogs". I believe the reason is that I gave them raw turkey necks to eat on a regular basis. Turkey and chicken necks have a lot of cartilage which takes a lot of chewing and gnawing.

My dogs also were fed grain free kibble. I think it is the grains, which are sticky that cause buildup on teeth.

Posted by: Hatfield | April 29, 2014 7:04 PM    Report this comment

Gamer had bad breath which is unusual being raw fed, bones, and drops put out by Addison labs. So I took a close look and found a small flap of skin way in the back. I took him to a canine dental specialist who found cancer. 3 teeth, tissue and bone was removed, biopsy should be back soon. I had him in for a checkup just the week before, the vet didn't notice anything. So check your dogs mouth, it might save his life!!!!

Posted by: LynnL | April 29, 2014 2:19 PM    Report this comment

I am a tooth brushing maniac (according to my husband). All of my dogs (resident and fosters too) get their teeth brushed every night before bed. I buy 20 tubes of dog toothpaste at a time....Vanilla Mint and also one with tartar control.....and it is working pretty good. I also give stuffed femur bones regularly and get their teeth cleaned for the dogs who get tartar in spite of my efforts (the vet says some dogs just have bad teeth because of genetics but my care makes her job easier). I am always open to suggestions on how to take better care of my dogs' teeth.

Posted by: Olivia | April 29, 2014 1:16 PM    Report this comment

I brush my dog's teeth daily, as much to stay in touch with any problems as to keep them clean. Daily brushing immediately identifies anything stuck between the teeth (gums suddenly start bleeding profusely in that area), or any broken teeth (dog suddenly jerks away when you get to a sensitive area), as well as letting me know when the teeth need to be cleaned (bleeding gums indicate gingivitis). By brushing every day, I'm immediately aware of problems that might otherwise take months to discover.

I "rescued" a neglected dog in my area who I knew had dental problems. I'd been feeding him chicken through the fence, and he could barely eat that. When his owner finally agreed to turn him over to me, I realized how skeletally thin he was (he was a Pomeranian, so not easy to see beneath the hair). I took him in immediately for dental work, and they pulled all his teeth (they were so rotten that they only needed to use an instrument on one of them, the rest came out by hand). He was soooo happy afterward! They sent home pain meds, but he never even needed them because he felt so much better after getting rid of those rotten teeth. I was feeding him four full meals a day, and he ate them all with gusto. He quickly gained weight and strength and ended up in a wonderful, loving home, though he only lived another year and a half due to damage to his heart that was probably caused by the dental disease (he was 13 when I rescued him).

I'm a big believer in dental health. I think bad teeth cause far more pain and suffering than we're aware of. I've heard from many people who thought their dogs were fine, but say how much better they felt after having a (usually unknown) bad tooth removed. Unless a dog is an exceptional anesthesia risk, I would (and have) had dental cleanings done at any age when needed.

Posted by: Mary Straus | April 29, 2014 11:26 AM    Report this comment

Other issues can cause bad breath and should also be checked out (when bad breath is present). I use a product that works to control tartar. It's easily applied using a finger cap/brush. My bichons are ages 5 and 7 years. Neither had required a cleaning until recently. One of them developed really funky breath over the course of 4 to 5 weeks. I kept looking in her mouth and didn't see anything unusual, but I was still concerned, so I scheduled her for a dental. The vet called to let me know that he found a small piece of a stick between two teeth. It had infected the gum there. He removed it and treated the area. After a week of anti-biotics my girl is fine and breath is sweet again. So, always check it out when bad breath is present even if all looks fine.

Posted by: Molly2452 | April 29, 2014 10:23 AM    Report this comment

I have 2 Yorkies and have had their teeth cleaned each year. This year my Lucy collalpsed on the table the second she was given the anesthesia. She couldn't be revived and died at 7 years old. I was heartbroken and still am. My other Yorkie (4 lbs )will not have her teeth cleaned although I do buy those tooth cleaning waxy kind of thing. I hope that never happens to you all.

Posted by: JanC | April 29, 2014 10:16 AM    Report this comment

Heidi, I'd highly recommend getting all of your mini poodle's teeth extracted at the next procedure. He doesn't need teeth but she needs a mouth free from infection and pain. I did this with my cat and it made a huge difference in her quality of life. Age is not a disease, but along with age may come changes in the function of organs. This is why pre-anesthetic lab work is important; the vet can adjust the anesthesia protocol to your dog's individual needs. When it comes down to it, a healthy heart and lungs are the most important parts of anesthesia; everything else can be adjusted. The longer you wait, the older he'll be, the more time the bacteria from his teeth have had to do real damage to his liver and kidneys and even heart. A mini poodle probably isn't going to make it all his life with all his teeth anyway, so getting rid of whatever is left now saves another procedure down the road, when he is even older.

Posted by: meghane | April 29, 2014 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Neglect is not always applicable with bad teeth and shouldn't be used as a gross generalization. Some dogs, such as two of our little pups, have a genetic predisposition to intense buildup on their teeth. My miniature poodle started buildup within weeks of having his teeth cleaned. I immediately switched him from kibble to a raw diet thinking it was the cause but he couldn't adapt to chewing on raw meat and bones. Prepared/chopped raw diet didn't help. We tried brushing and using special gels and water to no avail. Two years later his teeth are worse than ever. He's 10 now and anesthetizing for a tooth cleaning this frequently makes me very nervous.

A prior toy poodle, who lived to be 13, had terrible building in her first 6 months of age, being fed a raw diet. The vet claimed she was over four years old at her first annual checkup based upon the condition of her teeth and was floored when I assured her she was just over a year; I'd rescued her at 4 months. Posy suffered brain damage at the hands of children prior to rescue and she would seriously injure anyone who stuck their hands in her mouth. After cleaning her teeth the vet told me not even to have her spayed because she almost died with that light anesthesia and to never have her teeth done again. I'd been told that before; hence her intact status at that point. At 5 we decided to risk it and a close friend performed the surgery. He still almost lost her. Again she lived to be 13 years old with her nasty teeth and brain damage. The only thing I could do was feed her raw meat and bones which helped a little but again, didn't solve the problem.

So what's a caring companion to do? I'm risking anesthesia again soon with our mini poodle to clean his teeth and want to avoid having to do it again in 2 years!! I'd love to hear some new ideas... I've tried many already to no avail.

Posted by: Heidi D | April 29, 2014 9:13 AM    Report this comment

I check and brush Magnum's teeth every morning (daily) before we go out. It is part of his daily grooming. He has a bit of tarter on both of his upper canines at the gum line. Other than that, his teeth are pearly white. I started the daily brushing about a year ago after noticing the tarter. Magnum is a 5 year old Great Dane. Magnum is raw fed. He has no breath odor.

Posted by: Magnum Petcare | April 28, 2014 4:37 PM    Report this comment

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