When one person calls another person “Dog Breath” it’s never meant as a compliment. Most dog lovers know that their dog’s breath is rarely sweet smelling (although new puppies with pristine mouths do have the “Puppy Breath” fragrance that many of us find so delightful.)
Bad breath in older dogs can mean more than just an unpleasant whiff when your dog pants or yawns in your face; It can also be an indication of an underlying problem. Here’s some stuff you should know if you’re the pet parent of a senior dog.
Causes of Bad Breath in Older Dogs
A dog’s mouth is actually teeming with bacteria so just because your pooch’s breath is somewhat off-putting does not necessarily mean that there is an underlying health issue.
That being said, if you do notice your senior dog’s breath getting worse or taking on an altogether different odor, this can be a symptom of something more serious happening and there are things you should be aware of and on the lookout for:
Periodontal disease means infection or inflammation of the tissues surrounding your dog’s teeth. It is the most common reason for canine halitosis (bad breath) in senior dogs.
Your precious pet’s mouth is home to lots of bacteria which multiply on the surface of your Old Buddy’s teeth and form plaque. Some of this plaque is naturally removed by friction from chewing but what remains becomes mineralized, then thickens and becomes tartar. A build up of tartar accumulates above and below the gum line which leads to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis).
If left untreated, gingivitis leads to loose teeth and more gum tissue damage. Your dog’s teeth would begin to fall out and the bone structure underneath may even be affected.
As nasty as all this sounds, this isn’t the worst of it. All that plentiful bacteria (which your dog has already been swallowing along with his saliva) can now get into his bloodstream as his teeth fall out. The first place bacteria love to set up shop is your beloved pet’s heart valves. This could potentially and eventually lead to Congestive Heart Failure.
Diabetes is a disease in which the dog’s body is unable to produce or respond to the hormone insulin. This results in the abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and leads to elevated levels of glucose in his blood and urine. This gives your dog’s breath an unusual sweet, fruity smell.
Other common symptoms of diabetes are excessive thirst and increased urination. Also, his appetite increases yet he steadily loses weight.
Oral tumors are actually fairly common in dogs, in fact they account for 6% of all canine tumors. They occur when cells in your dog’s mouth multiply at an unusually fast rate, even faster than blood supply to the tumor can accommodate. When this happens, the cellular growths begin to die and your dog’s breath may begin to smell like the “night of the living dead.”
Surgical removal is usually recommended for both malignant and benign oral tumors in dogs.
Your dog’s kidney’s (much like your kidneys) filter out his body’s waste as urine and balance certain substances in his blood. Dogs with compromised kidneys cannot properly filter the protein breakdown products into the urine. This results in high levels of Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN). This high BUN causes his breath to smell like ammonia.
Other symptoms of kidney disease include loss of appetite, lethargy, increased thirst, and vomiting.
In all my time working in veterinary clinics, once or twice a year we’d see a dog with a stick or piece of bone wedged snugly across the roof of his mouth. Fishhooks were also seen a few times a year, the patient having a fisherman or fisher woman pet parent.
Although these foreign objects were fairly obvious and easily removed, (usually the dog would be pawing at his mouth) if a bone or stick were to get stuck in your dog’s mouth for any length of time, bacteria would begin to grow and cause very rank breath.
If your dog has a nasty habit such as eating poop, garbage-can-diving, or finding the occasional dead bird or squirrel irresistibly scrumptious, you likely already know about it.
Although there are products that can help curb these undesirable behaviors, you may have to keep strong and effective doggie breath fresheners on hand.
Treating the Causes of Bad Breath in Older Dogs
You might be able to identify some of the above causes of bad breath in older dogs just by lifting your dog’s lip and taking a peek into his mouth. Is there a buildup of tartar on his teeth or are his gums inflamed and redder than normal? Is there any evidence of small growths or tumors or a foreign object lodged in his teeth?
Other causes would need to be diagnosed by your dog’s doctor but the bottom line is, anytime you notice your elderly dog’s breath getting worse or taking on a different odor, you should consult your veterinarian.
Treating Periodontal Disease: As with most things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and your dog’s oral health is no exception. In fact many veterinarians begin to educate new pet parents as to the importance of good canine teeth care on their first puppy visit. Regular tooth brushing is often recommended after the pup gets all his adult teeth in. The good doctor should also stress getting your new pup used to you handling his mouth (sticking your hands and fingers in and around his mouth, and looking into his mouth) at this early age.
But if your dog’s oral health does deteriorates in his senior years, your vet will recommend a dental procedure to pull the bad teeth and clean the remaining good ones. This process almost always involves simultaneous antibiotic therapy.
If your Good Buddy has been feeling bad because of periodontal disease, after this procedure he should be back to his old self again and you will be more in tune with his oral health.
Treating Metabolic Diseases: Bad breath in older dogs that is caused by kidney disease or diabetes is only a symptom of these more serious underlying problems.
After your pet is examined, tested, and diagnosed by a veterinarian, what treatment is needed should be explained in detail to you by the good doctor. (If it isn’t, asked questions. Never be reticent about asking any doctor questions if you have them!)
Treating Oral Tumors: Oral tumors can grow on a dog’s lips, gums, or tongue. While not all canine oral growths are cancerous, they can become cancerous if not removed or treated early.
As with all tumors of any living species, early detection is very important so do not ignore worsening breath in your old dog. If you notice his breath having a foul odor, check his lips, his gums, even the roof of his mouth. If you cannot do this, let your veterinarian do it.
Removing Foreign Objects: This is best done by your veterinarian in order to avoid injury to both pet and pet parent. Safely removing a fishhook or a wedged-in stick or bone usually requires mild sedation for the dog. (Perhaps for the pet parent too.)
Treating Yucky Habits: Some undesirable behaviors in your dog are hard to discipline because more often than not, they occur when you are not present.
One of the yuckiest of canine bad habits is ‘ingestion of fecal matter’, otherwise known as ‘eating poop’. Most vets have DIY suggestions to discourage your dog from eating his own poop (or the poop of another dog sharing the household and yard). These usually involve adding small amounts of certain ingredients to the dog’s diet. Among these ingredients are canned pumpkin, pineapple, garlic, and meat tenderizer.
There are also ready-made Stool Eating Deterrent Treats designed to keep your dog from ingesting his own stool while also freshening his breath!
Your Senior Dog’s Breath May Be A Symptom
Now that you are aware that you precious pet’s worsening “Dog Breath” may be a symptom of something more serious going on with his health, it’s important that you don’t just chalk it up to Old Age.
Have a look in his mouth, at his teeth, tongue, and gums. If you don’t feel comfortable or completely safe doing that, make an appointment with the animal hospital and let a veterinarian do it. Also don’t hesitate to describe any new or different odors you’ve noticed in your dog’s breath.
Your old dog’s breath may be trying to tell you something and if you are paying attention, it just may save save his life and keep him with you for a few more years.
THANK YOU, FOR VISITING MY GERIATRIC DOG AND I HOPE YOU LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT “DOG BREATH”! PLEASE LEAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, OBSERVATIONS, OR RELEVANT EXPERIENCES BELOW IN THE COMMENT SECTION.