Bad Breath (Halitosis) in Dogs

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3 min read

Key takeaways

Bad breath, known as halitosis, is a common condition in dogs which ranges in severity and is associated with a variety of underlying conditions.

  • A temporary change in the scent of a dog’s breath after eating is normal and expected
  • Halitosis is persistent and progressive without treatment
  • Several broad categories of disease result in halitosis including changes in the mouth such as dental or gum disease, changes around the mouth such as skin infection, or systemic illness including kidney disease or diabetes mellitus
  • Diagnosis involves physical and oral examination, blood work, urinalysis, bacterial cultures, and diagnostic imaging
  • Treatment depends on the underlying cause may involve antibiotics, anti inflammatories, and treatment of systemic illness such as insulin administration
  • Some conditions have surgical treatment such as dental surgery, or removal of infected lip folds
  • Prognosis varies similarly
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A closer look: Bad Breath (Halitosis) in Dogs

Halitosis is a common symptom in dogs with potentially serious underlying disease. While all dogs may have periods of bad breath it is not considered normal, or an age related change.

Many cases of halitosis are mild, treatable, and carry a good prognosis, such as mild gingivitis. Other cases are triggered by severe underlying disease such as kidney failure and carry a poorer prognosis.

Halitosis in dogs always warrants prompt veterinary attention.

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Possible causes

There are numerous causes of halitosis in dogs which are divided into broad categories: diseases within the mouth, diseases around the mouth, and systemic disease.

Disease within the mouth include alterations to the tissue of the mouth such as trauma, oral foreign bodies, or tumors.

Halitosis may also be associated with foul odors in the hair around the mouth such as after eating feces or licking anal glands.

Risk factors

Halitosis varies significantly in severity. Cases may be sudden in onset such as a ruptured dental abscess or infection associated with recent oral trauma. Other causes of halitosis are chronic, and due to underlying diseases such as progressive periodontal disease, a slow growing oral tumor, or kidney disease. Some forms of halitosis are persistent such as gum infection whereas diabetic dogs may experience periods of halitosis when the diabetes is poorly controlled which resolves when the condition comes back under control.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of halitosis includes

  • Physical examination
  • Oral examination (which may require sedation)
  • Blood work
  • Urine testing
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound

Treatment options vary significantly depending on the underlying cause. Options include:

  • Antibiotics or antimicrobial mouthwashes to restore a normal microbial population in the mouth
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Medical management of kidney and liver disease
  • Treatment of diabetes mellitus
  • Surgical management of periodontal disease including removal of plaque and extraction of diseased teeth
  • Surgical excision of the lip folds to reduce lip fold infection

Similar symptoms

Puppies sometimes have bad breath as a result of normal development of the microbial population in the mouth. This is self limiting and does not require treatment.

Associated symptoms

Systemic disease presents alongside many different symptoms.


Michael San Filippo - Writing for American Veterinary Medical Association
Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Anna Burke - Writing for The American Kennel Club
Alexander M. Reiter , Dipl. Tzt., DEVDC, DAVDC - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Jan Bellows, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, ABVP - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Mark Thompson DVM DipABVP; Matthew Oxford BVM&S MRCVS - Writing for Vetlexicon

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