Why does my pet have bad breath? Time to check the teeth.

Something we all love is to hug our dog and cat and even give them a little kiss. During their lives at some point this becomes more challenging due to bad breath. Bad breath is most often caused by some level of dental disease.

Think of how white and shiny the teeth were when you were raising your puppy or kitten. Sadly the teeth don't remain in this condition. There are many things to look at when we do and exam of the mouth. Tartar and inflammation of the gum, called gingivitis might be noticed at home. All of the issues related to bad breath and dental disease will be discussed in this article. Dental care is very important to your dog and cat.

Bad Breath

Bad breath may be related to a lot of issues. In the simplest cases it may be related to the food.

Any time you notice a change from normal it is a good idea to have your cat or dog's mouth examined. This is a normal part of our physical exam but is important to understand the mouth can't be completely examined without anesthesia and full mouth dental X-rays. Naturally, everyone is used to these X-rays for their own dental care. The good news is that our doctors can tell you when it is necessary to do a full exam, X-rays and cleaning under anesthesia.


Dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30. If there are retained baby teeth it creates a natural crowding that makes it more likely to have diseases of the gums and the tissue that holds the teeth (more on this later).

Tartar and Plaque

If the teeth don't appear white to you it is likely there is plaque and or tartar present. They will appear to be dark yellow or brown.

Plaque is a gummy substance that is formed by bacteria as the feed off the food that is stuck to the teeth. When plaque matures it gets very hard. This is tartar. When tartar builds up your dog or cat feels like we do when we have a piece of popcorn stuck in our teeth. If either plaque or tartar are present it is time to have the teeth seen by one of our doctors. We will work with you to make a plan.


One of the tools we have during the exam of your cat or dog is a little strip called Orastrips.

These strips measure a chemical called Thiol. This chemical is produced by bacteria that live in the absence of oxygen. This is important because it an indicator of periodontal disease which we will discuss in a bit. These strips help us to predict how serious the problem are with your dog or cat.


Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis can certainly cause pain. The good news is that if gingivitis is present without periodontal disease it will be reversible with treatment. Gingivitis is caused by infection and will appear as reddening that starts at the margin of the gum and tooth.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is a condition where the tissue that holds the teeth is being damaged. We have all heard this term. This is one of the main reasons X-rays are important as we work on the mouth. X-rays are the most accurate way for us to see how much damage is present. From there we can determine the best treatment. Periodontal disease is an infection. Periodontal disease is painful. Left unchecked it will cause the loss of teeth and may result in infections deep in the body. These infections can reach the valves of the heart, the joints, kidneys and other internal organs.

Treatment includes deep cleaning under the damaged areas and local antibiotic treatment to the area. We will also use oral antibiotics. If the dental X-rays show too much damage the tooth may need to be extracted. All of our extractions here at Newport Harbor are surgical so the tooth can be removed with the least amount trauma. We treat the pain before during and after the extraction. Many of these dogs and cats have been in pain for some time and they feel better immediately after the extraction.


On occasion we will find cancer in the mouth of a dog or cat. These patients often have the worst smelling breath. The tumors are often infected as well which adds to the pain and discomfort. The earlier we find these the better.

If you have any of the indications of dental disease or a change in your dog or cat's breath please call us.

Our American Animal Hospital Association accredited hospital is here to help. You are an important part of our team as we take care of your pet for a healthy happy lifetime.

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