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How to fix your dog's bad breath

The essentials

  • Bad breath could mean an infection is present — While stinky breath might be an ordinary part of your dog’s life, it can be a sign of health problems.
  • Oral care is essential to maintaining a healthy mouth — Daily 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 cause bad breath and 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.

From last night’s dinner hanging in their teeth to periodontal disease lurking in their gums, dog bad breath is a common problem with many potential root causes. Practicing good dental hygiene at home with daily toothbrushing and giving dental chews can help prevent oral health issues from developing. However, it’s a good idea to ask your vet’s advice about when a professional dental cleaning may also be necessary to protect your pet’s oral health.

What causes bad breath in dogs?

Halitosis (ha-luh-tow-sis) is the official name for the rotten smell that lingers in between your pup’s lips. While dental disease is the most common cause of chronic halitosis, other problems such as broken teeth and tooth decay may also contribute. Here are some of the most common causes of bad breath​:

Something stuck in between your dog’s teeth

Food particles caught in between your dog’s teeth can rot and cause bad breath. A buildup of bacteria growing in their mouth also gives off an unpleasant smell as these microorganisms feed off sugars.

Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a common health problem in dogs, affecting an estimated 80%-90% of dogs over 3 years old. Unfortunately, periodontal disease isn’t just a source of bad breath. This medical condition also makes your dog more susceptible to heart and liver disease, so it’s important to catch it early if possible through routine vet visits. 

Gingivitis is the first stage of this disease, and is characterized by red, bleeding gums. If periodontal disease is caught at this stage, it’s likely reversible without painful tooth extraction.

Eating garbage (and poop)

It’s gross but true — some dogs love digging through the trash. Rotten food and other waste materials can be an irresistible temptation for some canines, which is obviously a smelly hobby. 

Coprophagia, or the practice of eating poop, can also be a problem for dogs, and cat poop seems to be the delicacy of choice. If your pup shares a house with feline friends, it’s important to keep the box scooped daily to prevent inappropriate (and unhealthy) snacking. 


Bad breath with an alcoholic or fruity scent may be a sign of diabetes mellitus. Unmanaged diabetes can be dangerous, so always make a vet appointment if your dog shows signs of this disease, such as excessive thirst or frequent urination. 


It’s possible that your dog’s food simply stinks, or isn’t properly equipping your dog to fight bad bacteria in their body. Talk to your vet to make sure your dog is eating a balanced healthy diet.

Impacted anal glands

Dogs clean back there, so if their anal glands are impacted, their breath could smell like their butt. A rotten fish smell typically characterizes this problem, but thankfully it can be solved by a quick trip to the vet.

Kidney disease

Doggie breath that smells like urine can be a troubling sign of kidney disease. Other signs of kidney disease or kidney failure include changes in urination or drinking. This metabolic disease requires immediate medical attention, so be sure to take your dog to the vet if you notice warning signs.

Liver disease

Your dog’s liver filters out toxins in their body. If their liver isn’t functioning properly, these toxins become trapped and may manifest in things like bad breath, yellow eyes, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

Oral tumors

While relatively rare, oral cancer can make a dog’s breath smell bad as their body’s tissues die inside their mouth.

How to fix your dog’s bad breath

Visiting the vet to find the underlying cause is the first step to fixing bad breath. Your vet will need to examine your dog’s mouth and may perform routine blood work to try to figure out the problem. They will likely recommend a thorough dental cleaning under anesthesia to start your dog off on a clean slate as much as possible. 

If they find that halitosis is caused by another underlying medical condition — such as diabetes — they will treat that condition directly, which will likely cure the problem on its own. 

Preventing bad breath in dogs

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. Here are some other tips to keeping your dog’s gummies squeaky clean:

Dental chews

Dental chews provide wholesome entertainment for your dog by strengthening and cleaning their teeth while they play. It’s important to pick a chew that’s hard, but still slightly pliable so it doesn’t hurt their teeth. If your fingernail can leave a slight dent in the chew when you press hard, the chew is usually a good product.

Doggie toothpaste

Choosing a toothpaste made for dogs is just as important as dental hygiene itself. Human toothpaste often contains harmful ingredients, such as xylitol , fluoride , and sugar, so stick with a canine formula to be safe. Plus, doggie toothpastes are often flavored with chicken or some other taste dogs love. You can also save money and make your own!

Water additives

If you have a particularly difficult dog who won’t abide getting their teeth brushed, a water additive can be a sneaky way to clean their mouth and freshen their breath. Think of it as adding a palatable mouthwash to their water bowl — only, of course, don’t add actual mouthwash for humans to their water since it may contain dangerous ingredients.

Prescription dog food

If your vet decides your dog’s mouth could use a little extra help, they may prescribe you a dog food that’s specifically formulated for dental issues. This type of food is more commonly prescribed in adults—especially senior dogs—rather than puppies.

Oral gels

If your pup is comfortable with your fingers in their mouth, an oral gel might be the best solution for you. Oral gels replace the need for a toothbrush, but it’s still a good idea to follow up with a dental chew to clean the hard-to-reach areas in your dog’s mouth. 

Oral sprays

Oral sprays are a quick and easy solution that replaces toothbrushing. To use, gently lift your dog’s gums and give your dog’s teeth a daily spritz.

Oral wipes

While a spray or other contact-free solution may help, sometimes a physical brush or wipe may be best to catch food particles in between your dog’s teeth.

Bad breath stinks, but thankfully there are a couple of easy measures you can do at home to help. If halitosis is a common issue with your pet, it’s important to take them to a vet visit to make sure there aren’t any underlying health problems such as diabetes or kidney disease that could be causing the unpleasant odor.

Even with the best at home care, your pet will likely need a professional dental cleaning at your vet’s discretion to prevent periodontal disease.

Frequently asked questions

Is bad breath in dogs a sign of illness?

Your dog’s bad breath isn’t necessarily a sign of sickness, but it can be. Food debris, dental disease, and even metabolic diseases like diabetes can contribute towards bad breath. Practicing good dental hygiene can help, but you should always take your pup to the vet if the problem persists to rule out underlying factors. 

What are home remedies for bad breath in dogs?

Often, the best course of treatment for halitosis is to develop a daily routine oral hygiene care regimen for your pet. Depending on their personality, this can include brushing their teeth, or using a pet-friendly alternative such as oral wipes, gels, or sprays. Giving your dog a dental chew is a great 2-in-1 solution that keeps them entertained and their teeth pearly white. 

If the stinky dog breath persists or if there are any other unusual symptoms, dog owners should schedule a vet appointment to make sure there isn’t an underlying problem that requires medical treatment.

What does kidney failure breath smell like in dogs?

Urine odor in your dog’s breath may indicate kidney failure. It’s important to take your dog to the vet if you notice this smell, or if you see any other signs of kidney disease such as changes in drinking or urination.

How do I stop my dog’s breath from smelling like fish?

If you live far from a harbor, you may wonder why a rotten fish smell emanates into your living room…and then find the culprit panting on the rug. Rotten fish breath can indicate a variety of problems, ranging from poor diet to compacted anal glands. If the problem persists, make sure to take your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup. 

Can stomach issues cause bad breath in dogs?

Yes, gastrointestinal issues can certainly cause halitosis in dogs, especially if they experience frequent vomiting and diarrhea. Consult your vet if your dog struggles with tummy issues. Your vet might recommend switching their food or testing them for underlying medical conditions.