Bird Dogs & Training  |  03/21/2024

Ask A Vet Ep. 7: How Can I Prevent Bad Dog Breath?


Good oral hygiene is closely linked to a healthy dog overall

By Seth Bynum, DVM

Much like a wagging tail or a boop from a cool, wet nose, dog breath can be a reliable indicator of the overall health of your four-legged hunting companion. It’s often a surprise to many of my clients that good oral hygiene is closely linked to a healthy dog overall. Conversely, a diseased mouth can contribute to issues in other parts of the body, most notably the heart, joints and kidneys. For hunters who rely on our dog’s superior noses to find game, I’ll go so far as to say a clean and healthy mouth will help keep that nearby bird-finding organ in top shape as well.

If your hunting dog’s breath has taken a turn for the worse, it may be time for a peek inside. Dental disease, which can include gingivitis from an excess of plaque and tartar, is incredibly common. It’s estimated that as many as 70 percent of pets over three years old have some degree of dental disease. The accompanying bad breath stems from a bouquet of oral bacteria that have thrived around a gumline plagued with tartar. If left untreated, the tooth roots can be affected, leading to painful root infections or oral abscesses. Not only do these issues contribute to a great deal of discomfort in your hunting dog, you’ll feel the sting in your wallet as well when a veterinarian gets involved for a tooth extraction or root canal.

Prevention is the key to addressing bad breath

As with many things involving our bird dogs, when it comes to oral health, an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure. I strongly encourage brushing as a means to prevent or slow the accumulation of plaque and tartar. It’s relatively easy to introduce this exercise to your husbandry routine during the puppy stage, and most dogs enjoy the process when paired with a meat-flavored enzymatic toothpaste. Older dogs may show some resistance to brushing, but many food-motivated dogs will comply when tempted with one of the numerous flavored paste options. For my hunting dogs, I rely on routine brushing and encourage antler chewing to keep their breath tolerable. There are also numerous veterinary diets and treats designed to help aid in the prevention of tartar buildup.

Dental cleanings should be part of your hunting dog’s overall health plan as well. Have your veterinarian evaluate your dog’s oral hygiene at each annual exam or anytime you notice the onset of bad breath. Some dogs accumulate tartar faster and will require cleanings annually, while others can go years between cleanings. Brushing also helps extend the time between dental cleanings, sparing some expense on your part and reducing the amount of time your dog will spend under general anesthesia for the procedure.

Other causes of bad breath

Not all instances of bad breath stem directly from dental disease. If you notice a sudden onset of bad breath, especially when accompanied with oral pain, get your veterinarian involved. In practice, I’ve seen oral infections caused by splinters in the gums (I’m pointing at those wood-chewing pups here) or pieces of toys wedged in the roof of the mouth or nestled between teeth. While less likely, other more serious issues can contribute to sudden bad breath as well. Oral and lung tumors can contribute to a rapid onset of bad breath, as well as kidney failure and certain endocrine diseases. Keep in mind that these are all quite rare when compared to dental disease, but it may provide peace of mind to have your veterinarian conduct a physical and oral exam if you’re concerned.


Proudly brought to you in collaboration with Purina Pro Plan, Ask A Vet is a twelve-part series featuring Dr. RuthAnn Lobos and Dr. Seth Bynum, answering YOUR questions about your four-legged friend. Come back next month for Episode #8, and check out Episode #1, Episode #2, Episode #3, Episode #4, Episode #5 and Episode #6!