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The essentials

  • Bad breath could mean an infection is present — Some dog breeds need regular dental checkups.
  • Oral care is essential to maintaining a healthy mouth — Brushing your dog’s teeth is the best way to keep their mouth healthy, but other options are available to help as well.
  • Periodontal disease can affect your dog’s quality of life — Sore mouths can make it difficult for your dog to eat and be a chronic source of discomfort.

The why of bad dog breath

Bad breath, also referred to as “halitosis,” is typically caused by tartar and plaque accumulation on your dog’s teeth and infection underneath their gum line (referred to as “dental disease” or “gum disease”). Bacteria love to accumulate where sugars have built up, and the teeth are a prime location for this, especially if particles from foods stay put for a while. As bacteria begin to attach either on the teeth or under the gum line, they begin to give off that rotten smell of bad breath.

While the most common cause of bad breath in dogs is dental disease, other health problems can cause bad breath too. Broken teeth and tooth decay can also cause bad breath, as well as tumors in the mouth, inflammatory conditions affecting the gums, and objects stuck in the mouth.

Make sure to check your dog’s mouth to see if any of these conditions could be present. If you see anything you are worried about, make sure to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Brushing your dog’s teeth is the best way to help

Bacterial accumulation is the primary cause of your dog’s breath, so the best thing you can do to help your dog have fresh breath is to brush their teeth. We’re strong advocates of brushing their teeth daily, but even a few times a week can help. Make sure to use fluoride-free toothpaste since your dog won’t know to spit it out and may swallow most of it.

Other ways to help freshen up your dog’s breath

Here are a few different types of products you can buy that help with bad doggie breath:

  • Dental treats and other types of dog treats and chew toys
  • Water additives (sort of like mouthwash for dogs that you add to their water)
  • Prescription food that helps break away tartar (Hill’s t/d)
  • Non-prescription dental care food
  • Oral gels
  • Oral sprays
  • Dental wipes

👉 Here’s a list of products with approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

What about probiotics?

Probiotics are great for improving intestinal (gut) health1 in dogs who may have an overabundance of bad gut bacteria for various reasons. Some recent studies have also shown that probiotics, when given for at least 30 days, can decrease the amount of bad bacteria in the mouth of dogs2. This can, in turn, cause their breath to smell better.

While probiotics are still being investigated as a possible way to improve your dog’s bad breath, they are very safe and couldn’t hurt to try. They come in various forms, including a powder you sprinkle on your dog’s food daily, capsules, and chewable tablets. Dog’s usually like the way they taste, especially the powder formulas.

Regular dental cleanings are extra important for certain breeds

Small breed dogs, such as Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers, are prone to getting the periodontal disease (dental disease) early in life, regardless of what you do at home to prevent it. The best thing for these dogs is regular dental cleanings done by their veterinarian. They do have to be put under anesthesia for this to be safely performed. Still, your veterinarian will make sure your dog is healthy enough for anesthesia and will always monitor them closely throughout the entire procedure.

Some dogs need a dental cleaning every 2-3 years, while other dogs need them performed every 4-5 years. Frequently, these dental cleanings are the only way to get bad breath under control. It’s also not uncommon for dogs to need a few teeth to be removed if it is found during the cleaning that the gum line is receding, revealing exposed tooth roots that are pockets of infection.

Dental cleanings for middle-aged and older dogs

👉 It’s essential to schedule cleanings before your dog is too old to go under with anesthesia. 

As most dogs get older, they will need a dental cleaning to remove tartar buildup that has accumulated on their teeth. Even with the best at-home oral care, many dogs still need dental cleanings at the veterinarian’s office.

Even though dogs may not show any outward signs of oral pain while eating, having bad teeth, infected tooth roots, and pockets of infection under their gum line really does affect their quality of life. Many pet owners notice a huge difference in their middle-aged dog’s demeanor and behavior after having a dental cleaning performed and bad teeth removed. They’ll often remark that their dog is “acting like a puppy again,” and they had no idea how sore their dog’s mouth was.


Di Cerbo A, Pezzuto F, Canello S, Guidetti G, Palmieri B. Therapeutic Effectiveness of a Dietary Supplement for Management of Halitosis in Dogs. J Vis Exp. 2015;(101):e52717. Published 2015 Jul 6. doi:10.3791/52717
Mäkinen, Veli-Matti & Mäyrä, Annika & Munukka, Eveliina. (2019). Improving the Health of Teeth in Cats and Dogs with Live Probiotic Bacteria. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. 09. 275-283. 10.4236/jcdsa.2019.94024.