Pee yew! What to do about smelly dog breath

8 year-old Chihuahua mix, Harold (ID#A480537) has awesome teeth. Just look at those pearly whites! He’s looking for a new family with smiles as good as his. Come check him out!

My dog, Oliver, has always loved giving kisses. He’s a very affectionate and loving old man, so when possible he’ll shower me with sloppy kisses. He’s easy, so of course he’ll shower just about anyone else too.

Recently though, it’s gotten a little unbearable to be on the receiving end of his affection because his breath had gotten next level nasty.
Seriously folks, his dragon breath could be weaponized. If a burglar came in to my home to steal my best China and collection of “Golden Girls” DVDs, I’d simply have to point Ollie in their general direction.

Fleeing and traumatized, the burglar would likely press charges against me for attempted manslaughter — I would be found guilty and sent to prison where I’d spend the rest of my days carving Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sofia figures out of bars of soap.
Instead, I decided to take both Ollie and Maddie to the vet for dental exams.

They’ve had bad teeth since they were about 2 years old. So despite my brushing them and using dental health treats, their periodontal disease has gotten progressively worse over time. For the last six years or so, every time we’ve gone for cleanings, one or two extractions were needed.

This time though, both required a significant number of extractions. Maddie’s breath wasn’t an issue, but she had stopped wanting to play with her chew toys, so I figured she must be experiencing some sort of tooth pain.

When it was all said and done, between the two of them they probably only have about nine teeth left. Since then, though, it’s as if they were reborn as puppies, because their energy has been better, they’re back to being playful, and it doesn’t feel like an assault to the senses when Ollie gives a kiss. Everybody wins!

This process taught me a lot about pet oral hygiene, so I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned:

Like people, your pets need regular cleanings. I go to my oral hygienist every four months to keep my teeth looking and feeling good. It’s just as important for the overall health of your pet to set up the same reminders on your calendar to make sure you’re addressing issues before they become big problems.

Pets are tough, and don’t complain. When I have a toothache, I turn into a complete drama queen and have to talk about it to anyone who will listen. Your pets aren’t like that though. Even when they are experiencing pain or discomfort in their mouth, it doesn’t stop them from continuing to play, chew and eat — because, duh, playing, chewing and eating are fun!

Spot the signs. There are many signs that it’s time for your pet to come in for a checkup. These can include bad breath and red gums. The sign that can be one of the easiest to pick out for owners would be the notorious doggy breath. Smelly breath can be something that is very noticeable and a tell-tale sign that it’s time for your pet to get her teeth cleaned.
Veterinarians see periodontal disease frequently overall and especially in small breed dogs like chihuahuas and dogs with crowded teeth like pugs. But even though periodontal disease is more common in small breeds, there are many serious problems to look out for bigger dogs, as well. Larger breed dogs are more prone to problems related to wear and crown fractures.

Focus on prevention. The best ways to reduce the risk of wear and crown fractures are to be selective about the toys you offer your pet. Choosing a smooth ball over an abrasive tennis ball or a rubber toy over an antler are some examples.

How Are Teeth Cleaned?
Ever wonder how dental procedures are done on pets? It’s pretty simple and painless, actually. Dental procedures are performed under a light stage of anesthesia with the airway protected. Although that worries some owners, anesthesia for dental care is lighter than what is needed for invasive surgery. Anesthesia is necessary for patient safety so that the airway is protected from water used to ultrasonically scale the teeth.

Preventive Home Care
I learned that dogs and cats should have their teeth brushed once a day. All you need is an ADA-approved toothbrush and some water.
But just like it would be gross for humans to not brush their teeth every day, it’s just as gross for you pets – more so if you think about it. Humans don’t typically eat random leftovers found in a bush or cat poop while out on a walk, is all I’m saying. Bottom line: brushing needs to be consistent for it to be useful.

Oh, and don’t use the Colgate in your medicine cabinet to do it. Buy toothpaste that is specifically formulated for dogs and cats.
If having their teeth brushed is new to your pets, it’s best to introduce it slowly. In the same way that you introduce things like trimming nails, you want to take it slow and commit to doing it regularly so your pet adapts to the feeling and accepts it. Three times a week or more is ideal.

You can also supplement the process with other products designed to get plaque off the surface of the teeth. A great resource for learning about teeth-cleaning products is the Veterinary Oral Health Council website (

Your veterinarian will work with you on a plan for preventive dental care at home and in the clinic to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and comfortable. So schedule a check up with your veterinarian before your pet’s breath gets as offensive as Ollie’s!