Does Your Pooch Have Doggie Breath?

Jan Bellows, DVM — Dental and Small Animal Specialist

ALL PETS DENTAL, Weston, Florida

We truly love our four-legged friends, and they love us back by wagging their tails, licking our faces, and accepting hugs and rubs behind their ears. But sometimes their breath just smells — bad. What does bad breath mean and what can you do to help improve your dog’s oral health?

Doggie bad breath is not normal. Halitosis comes from decaying food accumulated in diseased gum pockets. Will Tic-Tacs help? No, but your veterinarian can. He or she will look in your dog’s mouth to see if a comprehensive oral assessment and treatment appointment is needed to treat gum pockets and remove smelly plaque-covered tartar from the teeth. Once the periodontal pockets are eliminated, bad breath can be quashed through twice daily tooth brushing, rubbing dental wipes on the teeth and oral chews.

Brushing your dog’s teeth can be a challenge. You will need a clean toothbrush and special doggie toothpaste, and you’ll have to figure out how to hold your dog’s head while opening their mouth to reach all dental surfaces. But is there an effective alternative?

Fortunately, there are appetizing dental chews that work to decrease the formation of pocket-forming plaque and tartar on and around the teeth. Some chews work mechanically (like a toothbrush) and others through non-mechanical (like toothpaste) methods. Unfortunately, those that only work mechanically don’t benefit the teeth that aren’t touched by the chew. Dual action chews combine mechanical and non-mechanical methods so each tooth benefits. Giving your dog a dual action chew once daily will also help to control bad breath, making it a win-win for everyone.

Veterinarians, pet stores and online distributors sell hundreds of different dental chews for you to select. So how can you be sure you pick a chew that is both safe and effective? What is important to look for? Should the chew be gluten free? Grain free? Should it be made in the USA? Should it claim to whiten teeth and freshen breath?

The top three claims of dental chews embraced by veterinary dentists include 1) The safety of the chew 2) The ability to decrease the formation of plaque, and 3) Tartar control. Other packaging claims are basically window dressing offering cosmetic results at best without the health benefits. Thankfully, there is an independent organization, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), that awards seals of acceptance to dog and cat dental products which, in controlled studies, have been shown to decrease the accumulation of plaque or tartar by at least 20%. Currently there are 38 approved dog products and 12 cat products (the complete list is available at

In addition to using VOH-accepted products, wiping the outside surfaces of the teeth where they meet the gums once — or better, twice — daily goes a long way to eliminating any remaining plaque which, if not removed, can lead to painful periodontal disease and tooth loss.

Dogs depend on us as pet parents for food, shelter, love and health. If your dog’s breath smells bad, let your veterinarian and a daily dental chew lead the way to optimal dental health.

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