Does your pet’s breath smell bad? Halitosis in pets is common and can be a sign of serious problems for your pet – such as periodontal disease, oral or systemic infection, or even masses developing in an animal’s mouth.

Common Myths about Mouths: True or False?

Pets are supposed to have bad breath.

False. Though dogs and cats commonly have bad breath, a foul odor is not normal. Just like in people, bad breath in pets is often a sign of dental disease (and sometimes even systemic illness) and requires treatment to protect your pet’s health.

Pets don’t need regular dental cleaning.

False. Imagine if you never brushed your teeth! Even with regular veterinary professional tooth cleaning, pets still need regular oral care. The best way to care for your dog’s and cat’s teeth at home is by regularly brushing their teeth. Alternatives (though not as effective) to tooth brushing include specially formulated foods, enzymatic chews and water additives.

Pets’ mouths are self-cleaning.

False. All animals have naturally occurring enzymes in their saliva that help, but they will not keep your pet’s mouth clean. Food debris and bacteria build up on a pet’s teeth, requiring brushing or rubbing to keep the mouth fresh and in top condition.

Cats have stinky breath because they eat smelly foods.

False. Bad breath is a sign of health concerns in cats. If your cat has bad breath, you should discuss the problem with your veterinarian.

Dogs that eat dry food don’t have dental disease.

False. Dogs (and cats) can develop oral disease even if they only eat dry foods. Wet food and human food, however, does tend to stick to teeth more readily than dry foods and predispose pets to oral disease.

Dogs that chew bones don’t get oral disease.

False. The mechanical force of a bone against teeth when a dog is busy chewing may help reduce some tarter, but it is not a cure for oral disease. In fact, it is common for dogs to break teeth when chewing on bones or even get the bone stuck in their mouth or digestive tract.

An Ounce of Prevention

You can help your pet prevent bad breath and dental disease with regular oral care. The gold standard for at-home care is daily tooth brushing. Brushing your dog and cat’s teeth is the best way to keep their breath from smelling foul. Additionally, regular brushing helps prevent periodontal disease and premature tooth loss.

Remember, the more home care that you provide to prevent dental disease, the less care your veterinarian will need to provide in the future.

Signs your pet is suffering from dental disease:

• Bad breath.

• Red gums.

• Pus oozing from gums.

• Facial swelling.

• Yellow or brownish buildup on the teeth.

• Pain (but dogs and cats are masters at hiding pain).

What your veterinarian will do:

Your veterinarian will start with a thorough physical examination as well as an oral examination in order to identify any abnormalities. If the doctor identifies signs of dental disease, he or she will recommend additional preanesthetic testing. Testing may include blood work to ensure that your pet’s internal organs are working appropriately. Because veterinary patients must be anesthetized in order to fully diagnose problems and provide professional dental care, it is imperative that your veterinarian know that your pet’s internal organs are working right before being anesthetized.

Just like in humans, untreated dental abnormalities and disease have been linked to serious medical problems in dogs and cats, including heart, liver, and kidney disease. If you notice bad breath or other signs of oral disease, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Dr. Jereld Rice practices veterinary medicine at Enterprise Animal Hospital, Inc. He and his staff provide veterinary care for companion animals and livestock in Wallowa County. To contact Dr. Rice and his staff, call 541-426-3331. Additional information can be found on the Enterprise Animal Hospital Web page:

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