What Causes Dog Bad Breath & How To Get Rid Of It

Dog Care, Dogs

Last Updated - December 12, 2023

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Nothing comes between a pet and pet parents quite like bad dog breath. While your dog may want to snuggle up and lick your face, you'll want to stay as far away as possible from their ick-inducing bad breath.

Below, we've rounded up common causes of dog bad breath and a few easy ways to get rid of it.

What causes my dog's bad breath? 

If your dog's breath has been awful lately, it may be due to a number of causes, some more serious than others. While most bad breath in dogs is due to poor oral health, some can be due to more serious underlying health problems:


Before you panic, remember that your dog's breath smells bad may just be temporary. Dogs can easily get bad breath from a poor diet and eating from the garbage, cat poop, and other smelly things. Indigestion, diarrhea, and vomiting are clear signs that your dog has been eating something it shouldn't.

If cat poop and stinky trash weren't gross enough, some dogs might also develop coprophagia, a fancy term for eating dog poop. Dogs that eat their own feces or that of other dogs will have stinky breath, nausea, and digestive issues. Talk to your vet right away if you notice your dog eating their poop. In the meantime, clean it up regularly to prevent them from even getting the chance.

Poor Oral Hygiene 

Just like humans, dogs need to have their teeth regularly cleaned to remove plaque and tartar build-up. Dogs can also get small bits of food stuck between their teeth, leading to infections, gum inflammation, cavities, tooth loss, and periodontal disease. Regularly taking your dog for a professional dental cleaning at the vet is the best way to prevent smelly dog breath and dental diseases from happening in the first place.

According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, small breeds often require more dental care than large dog breeds. Their smaller mouth size means their teeth are closer together and more prone to plaque and tartar build-up. Be sure to give your small dog plenty of dental treats and chew toys to keep its mouth as healthy as possible.

Dental Diseases

Periodontal disease— a progressive disease that affects your dog's teeth and gums— is incredibly common. In fact, Veterinary Centers of America estimates that more than two-thirds of adult dogs suffer from some form of oral disease. The easiest way to prevent and treat dental disease is to take your dog to the vet for a routine dental cleaning at least once per year. As dog owners, you can help prevent periodontal disease by brushing your dog's teeth daily to remove bacteria from dental and other oral surfaces.


If your dog has fruity breath, it's time to make an appointment with your vet. Sweet, fruity-smelling bad breath may be a sign of canine diabetes, a metabolism disorder that affects your dog's blood sugar. It occurs when your dog produces too little insulin and requires lifelong treatment with a special diet, steady fitness regimen, and daily insulin injections. Other signs include decreased appetite, cloudy eyes, weight loss, excessive thirst, and frequent urination. Though diabetes isn't very common in dogs, it's still important to keep an eye out for any symptoms.

Kidney Disease

Bad breath with a urine-like odor may be a sign of kidney disease. While it's most common in older dogs, it can happen at any age. Other warning signs include significant weight loss, pale gums, vomiting, and lethargy. You'll want to schedule an appointment with your vet right away to prevent it from progressing into full renal failure.

Liver Disease

Seriously bad breath— often accompanied by vomiting, decreased appetite, and yellow coloring on your dog's gums— may be a sign of underlying liver problems. Contact your veterinarian immediately, as a liver disease should be treated as soon as possible to prevent progression into liver failure.

How can I get rid of my dog's bad breath? 

While understanding the underlying causes of your pet's bad breath is helpful, what you really want to know is how to get rid of the smell. If your dog's bad breath is ruining your snuggle sessions, it's time to try these easy ways to get rid of stinky dog breath:

Healthy Diet and Lifestyle

A healthy diet and regular exercise are crucial to maintaining your dog's overall health. High-quality pet food, frequent walks, and getting in lots of playtimes are some of the best things you can do for your pet.

There are also plenty of dog foods out there that are designed for everyday oral care. They are formulated to help clean your dog's teeth as they chew, so it is hassle-free for you.

Dental Treats

Dental treats are one of the easiest ways to help prevent plaque and tartar build-up. Their crunchy texture helps break up plaque along the gum line and freshen up their breath as they chew. These healthy dog treats come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, making it easy to find one that's just right for your pooch. Along with regular brushing and teeth cleaning, they can help minimize bad breath and keep your dog's mouth healthy.

Chew Toys

Chew toys do more than just keep your dog entertained for hours on end. They can also help remove plaque and debris stuck in your dog's teeth. To maximize the oral health benefits of the chew toy, you'll need to choose one that's the correct size for your dog's mouth.

Brush Your Dog's Teeth

Just like humans, dogs benefit from having their teeth regularly brushed. Brushing your dog's teeth can help get rid of bad bacteria in the mouth and minimize bad breath. While it's important to get a professional cleaning from time to time, you'll want to brush your dog's teeth at least once a week (but preferably once per day) between appointments.

While they may not be a big fan of getting a good brushing, they'll begin to get used to it with time and patience. Start brushing your pet's teeth when they're a puppy, give them lots of praise and snuggles during each brushing session, and toss them a dental treat or two when you're done. This will help improve the long-term dental health of your dog.

Be sure to use a toothbrush and toothpaste intended specifically for canine use. Products intended for human use often contain ingredients that can upset your dog's stomach. You can purchase dog-friendly toothpaste and toothbrushes at any pet store or your vet's office.

Routine Dental Cleaning

The best way to care for your dog's teeth and gums is to take them for annual teeth cleaning. Your dog will be placed under anesthesia during the procedure to allow the veterinarian to examine and clean their mouth fully. In addition to getting your dog's teeth sparkling clean, they'll check for cracked teeth, cavities, and any signs of dental disease. Dogs with advanced periodontal disease may also need to have damaged teeth fully removed.

Prevent Unsupervised Eating

If your dog's bad breath is caused by a diet of trash, cat poop, and other unpleasant things, you'll need to prevent unsupervised eating. Lock up the trash, keep your cat's litter box out of reach, and clean up your dog's poop outside to prevent coprophagia.

Visit the Veterinarian

A visit to the vet can help rule out a serious underlying health condition— such as kidney disease, liver disease, or gingivitis— that could be contributing to your dog's bad breath. Solving the underlying issue should get rid of your dog's stinky breath. Plus, your vet will be able to offer helpful tips and product recommendations too.

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About the Author

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.