Bad Breath in Dogs: When Bad Breath Can Kill!

Fortunately, lately, there is an increased awareness of the importance of taking care of our dog’s teeth. I will not get into a controversial debate on raw versus commercial food here, nor am I going to try to settle what is the best way to keep your dog’s teeth healthy. Let’s leave that for another time.

Bad Breath in Dogs: When Bad Breath Can Kill!

I’m trying to get across here the impact poor dental care can have on your dog’s overall health. I want you to understand that the issue of dental disease goes far beyond ugly-looking teeth and bad breath.

Bad breath can kill!

This is a fundamental issue that many people do not fully realize. If your dog is showing these signs:

  1. bad breath
  2. excessive drooling
  3. discolored teeth
  4. red, swollen gums that bleed easily
  5. loose, broken or missing teeth
  6. sensitive, painful mouth
  7. reluctance to eat or chew
  8. pawing at the mouth
  9. aggression or depression
  10. abnormal discharge from tooth, nose or eyes
  11. digestive upsets…

Stick around, hear me out and find out what you can do to stop a silent, deadly killer in your midst. This killer seems innocuous, but it is often the start of several diseases (even serious ones) that involve vital organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, and the brain – and could even contribute to many chronic disorders of inflammation and increase the risk of cancer. So, have I got your attention? Good. Let’s take a look.

What’s the killer in our midst?

Did you know that simple ordinary gum disease could kill your dog? You’ve probably heard about it as periodontitis and gingivitis or just experienced it as plain old bad breath. Looking at the list above, you may even be surprised to know that much of it is due to your dog’s (poor) oral hygiene.

Today I want to tell you about why and how cleaning up your dog’s mouth can lead to an infinitely more healthy beastie and more vibrantly happy life. Hey, that means improving your life too, by the way.

Firstly, let’s start with you and a few universal (dental) truths!

Incredibly, some people and animals enter a risky and even life-threatening situation if their mouths are not kept clean. Hey, you may even already know that. Firstly, I will explain – in straightforward terms – why this is true so you understand the gravity of this seemingly benign problem.

I think it would be very safe to say that we’ve all had bruises, cuts, and grazes on many parts of our bodies. The body’s systems are amazing. Your body can mount an attack on whatever the antigen or foreign body is. It can fight off infections. In time, splinters are sequestered and released from the skin. Bruises dissipate, cuts heal, and so on.

The mouth, however, is entirely different. Here’s why

When you have that infection in your body, your immune system mounts an attack. It helps get rid of the aggressor, and voila, everything gets cleared away (unless there are extenuating circumstances!).

A lot of people liken fingernails to teeth. But they are entirely different. This is crucial to understanding the importance of oral hygiene and its key to holistic health.

Your fingernails are part of your skin. If you get a cut near your cuticle, it clears up easily without any help from you.

Your teeth and, of course, your dog’s teeth are THE ONLY PART OF YOUR BODY that is NOT contiguous or an integral part of the surface. In other words, your teeth are treated more as a FOREIGN body in your mouth rather than part of the gums and oral tissues, even they form a vital part of the whole oral system.

What does this have to do with oral hygiene?

This element and its impact are essential to understand. When you eat food plaque colonies are established, and food matter settles in around your teeth in your mouth.  To keep your mouth in tip-top shape, you have to get rid of the food and the plaque. It doesn’t happen by itself. It needs your help. This is why MECHANICAL removal of plaque, debris, and food particles is crucial to good dental health. If you don’t remove it, then what happens next may really surprise you. Your body actually sets up an inflammatory response.

Because your teeth are NOT part of the gums but essentially a foreign body, to get rid of the problem, your own body’s immune system has NO CHOICE but set up an AUTO-IMMUNE response to the plaque and the food. It is TRYING valiantly to get rid of the gunk that’s forming in the mouth. It can’t do it without the mechanical removal, so it does the only other thing it can.

So what happens?

The products of this auto-immune response actually start to destroy the gingivae. This is the least severe form of periodontal disease called gingivitis. This is where you (or your dog) have bad breath and some bleeding at the gum margins. Ever noticed a little blood when you spit out after brushing or even tasted a little blood when you eat something a little hard? Now, I bet you brush your teeth at least once a day! What about your dog?

If the contaminants stay in contact with the gums for a long time and are not mechanically removed, the disease starts to progress even further. The disease moves from just the edges of the gums, and so-called periodontal pockets are formed. This is where bone destruction starts to occur. The gums start to get more and more spongy, the teeth start to lose their attachment to the bone, and the bone literally starts to dissolve.

This is called periodontitis and is essentially terrible news. It is the start of tooth loss problems. Now it’s impossible to get rid of all the contaminants without professional help. And you know how expensive going to the dentist – let alone your veterinarian – can be?

You can’t clean down into the pockets without specialized equipment. And when you’re talking about helping your dog, now you even need an anesthetic. It all mounts up, and it’s simply not worth it.

Bad breath in dogs: When Bad Breath Can Kill!

What can you do?

Firstly you can take as much care of your dog’s teeth (within reason and ability) as you do of your own.

Today I want to talk about the dental aspects of these disease states. I could enter that age-old controversial debate about raw versus commercial food here. But I will avoid that – for now! I will leave that for another article because it really is worth exploring.

Clearly, it means that you have to have some systems in place to ensure you can MECHANICALLY REMOVE the plaque, tartar (calculus or hardened plaque deposits), and generally keep the mouth clean.

Here’s what you can do:

Brush your dog’s teeth! This is not an easy thing to do, but the earlier in your dog’s life you start this, the better. Start when they are a puppy.

Feeding your dog raw meaty bones is another way that is believed to help remove plaque from teeth. But there is controversy about whether giving your dog raw bones to chew on is either effective or even a further health risk.

Bottom line!

It doesn’t really matter how you keep your dog’s teeth clean, as long as you do.

So there you have it

I hope I have helped you understand that dental disease goes far beyond ugly looking teeth and bad breath.

Thanks to a real live dentist!

I want to thank my friend Gabrielle who has a previous incarnation as a dentist. We wrote this article together. Actually, I met Gabrielle in another joint project. I designed her book on Hot Yoga. And it’s gorgeous (even if I do say so myself).


I want to finish up with a few definitions to help you understand more of the article:

Your dental glossary

This is where it all starts. Dental plaque is a soft film of debris, mucus, and bacteria that accumulates on the teeth. Plaque can be easily removed mechanically, either by brushing or chewing (on raw meaty bones). Fighting plaque can be considered the first line of attack for dealing with oral disease risks.


If the plaque is not removed, it hardens and forms calculus, also known as tartar. Tartar is firmly attached to the teeth and can no longer be removed easily. The rough surface of tartar also encourages the buildup of further plaque, and it is a downward spiral from there.

Dental plaque and tartar cause inflammation of gum tissue, resulting in gingivitis and periodontitis.


The accumulation of bacterial plaque leads to gingivitis. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums/gingiva. It is a treatable early stage of the dental disease which presents with red and swollen gums that bleed easily.

Periodontitis/Periodontal Disease

When inflammation spreads to other teeth supporting tissues, it is referred to as periodontitis. Periodontitis results in bone loss, loose, painful teeth, and teeth loss. Once a bone loss occurs, periodontal disease can be controlled but not cured. It must have a professional intervention. Remember, this can be super-expensive.

Dental disease can be very painful for your dog. 

This alone should be a good enough reason to take care of your dog’s dental health.

Related articles:
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Breath (Halitosis)
Bad Odor in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Stinky?

Further reading:
7 Reasons Your Dog Has Bad Breath

Categories: Bad breathConditionsDental careDental diseaseDog careSymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

  1. Teeth are so important to a dog’s overall health. Dental disease really can wreak havoc on a dog’s body. Thanks for sharing all the detail about the body’s reaction to dental disease.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  2. Great post. People underestimate the importance of good dental health. Oftentimes a serious bad breath or dental issues is a sign of some other health condition going on. This is true for cats, dogs and humans too. Will be pinning this post to share with others!

  3. Great tips! We often shrug off bad breath as just being ‘normal’ for a dog, but it can be a sign of something far more serious. Dental care isn’t always the most fun task, but it needs to be a part of our regular routine – just the simple act of regularly brushing your dog’s teeth could prevent a lot of unnecessary discomfort or suffering down the road.

  4. I clean Layla’s teeth twice a day plus put water additive into her water as I am paranoid that she will get sick from bad teeth or breath but this post was really interesting thanks

  5. Dental Hygiene is so important. I have to admit I was way more on top of it when we only had one dog instead of 4. Now there is less tooth brushing (unfortunately) but more dental chews.

  6. A fantastic post and super informative that I am going to point all my dog friends here. Your information is so clear and wlll presented that no one could fail to see the importance of dental hygiene in dogs.

    A huge thank you for this.

  7. Such great and very informative information. I’ve had a few pet owners casually mention to me “just FYI he has horrible breath, he always has” My mind is blown hearing things like this. Such bad breath is not normal and it breaks my heart when it’s overlooked. Pet owners need to be aware of what the bad breath is actually telling you.

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