Bad Breath & How to Improve Your Pet’s Oral Health in Rutland, VT

Your dog jumps up to give you kisses, your cat is purring on your lap…you lean in to return their affection and stop yourself because you can’t take the smell! Bad breath can be a symptom of several disease processes which can have serious effects on your pet’s overall health. Let’s take a look at the potential causes and solutions.

dog bad breath in Rutland, VT

Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs and Cats

Most commonly bad breath results from disease in your pet’s mouth. Dental disease is extremely common – approximately 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will show signs of disease by age 3, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society.

Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath originating from the mouth, and the most common causes of halitosis are bacteria associated with plaque, dental tartar or calculus (a calcification of plaque), and decomposing food particles in deep pockets surrounding the teeth. Dental disease can have effects on multiple other organ systems as well, with the heart, liver, and kidneys being most susceptible to the spread of oral bacteria.

There are other significant disease processes which can cause bad breath. Some dogs or cats with kidney disease will have breath that smells like ammonia, animals with diabetes may have breath that smells sweet or fruity, oral tumors can become necrotic and have a foul smell, and some coagulation issues can result in persistent bleeding that causes bad breath.

Of course, our animals sometimes get into things that they shouldn’t as well – ingestion of inappropriate objects can result in foreign material becoming lodged in the mouth and abscesses can form, and our pets will sometimes eat things like an animal carcass, compost, trash, or another animal’s stools (coprophagia) which can result in more temporary cases of bad breath.

The bottom line is, if you’re concerned about your pet’s breath, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian to help determine the underlying cause and the appropriate course of treatment.

How Should My Pet’s Bad Breath Be Treated?

First and foremost, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian in Rutland, VT to determine the underlying cause, as treatments vary widely depending on the disease process at play.

For kidney disease or diabetes, we will help develop a treatment plan depending on the disease severity – some cases may require hospitalization while others may be able to be treated on an outpatient basis. Some oral tumors can be removed while others require more significant treatment with chemotherapy or radiation. Coagulation issues will often require specialized testing to determine the underlying disease process prior to recommending treatment. Some abscesses can be treated with a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication while others require surgical treatment first. And often for the behavioral issues the best treatment is prevention.

If dental disease is the underlying issue, treatment recommendations will vary depending on the severity of the disease as well. When a veterinarian assesses your pet’s mouth, we are looking for the severity of gingivitis and plaque/tartar accumulation, evidence of periodontal disease, and other potential issues such as fractured teeth. Periodontal disease is an inflammatory or infectious disease process which affects the structures around the teeth (the gums, periodontal ligaments, and bone) and a complete evaluation of this disease process must be made with dental x-rays, as a large proportion of each tooth exists below the gumline and cannot be seen with the naked eye. Dental disease in dogs and cats has five grades or stages:

  • Grade 0 is a healthy mouth.
  • Grade 1 is gingivitis +/- minimal tartar accumulation and no periodontal disease.
  • Grade 2 is mild to moderate gingivitis and tartar accumulation with early periodontal disease.
  • Grade 3 is moderate gingivitis and tartar accumulation with established periodontal disease.
  • Grade 4 is severe gingivitis and tartar accumulation with advanced periodontal disease.

For pets with Grade 0 dental disease, we would recommend providing routine dental care at home. For pets with Grade 1 dental disease, a dental cleaning is most likely all that is necessary.

For pets with Grade 2 or higher dental disease, a dental cleaning is necessary, and the chance of tooth extractions increases as their disease becomes more severe. Once a cleaning and any necessary extractions have been performed to return your pet’s mouth to a healthy state, our recommendation is to start providing routine dental care at home and help prevent any progression of disease.

What Are My Options for Oral Pet Care at Home?

cat dental care in Rutland, VTThe gold standard for your pet’s oral hygiene is daily teeth brushing. Studies have shown that there is only a benefit to teeth brushing in pets if it is done at least 3 times per week. We, however, recommend daily teeth brushing because it gets our pets (and us) into a routine which makes us less likely to forget to brush on a regular basis. We recommend using an enzymatic toothpaste made specifically for pets, as many of the human toothpastes contain sweeteners which can be toxic to dogs and cats. Starting with your pets as puppies or kittens is best, but our adult pets can warm up to the idea of brushing as well.

Gradual introduction to teeth brushing is always helpful at the beginning. Start by introducing your pet to the toothpaste and letting them lick it off your finger like a treat – if they seem to not enjoy the flavor try a different one! Once they seem happy about the toothpaste you can start using the toothpaste on your finger to gently massage the teeth and get them used to how brushing would feel.

Focus on the outer surfaces of the teeth (those next to the cheeks) versus the inner surfaces (those near the tongue). Once your pet is comfortable with your finger in their mouth you can move up to using a finger brushette and then graduate to a toothbrush. It is often helpful to give a reward after tooth brushing to help get your pets excited about it – give a high value treat or feed one of their meals immediately after you’re done.

There are some great videos available to help get you started which can be seen here:

If your pet will not allow you to brush their teeth or you’re looking for other options to use in addition to tooth brushing, there are many products available. There are dental diets, dental treats/chews, dental toys with firm rubber bristles (which can be used in combination with toothpaste), food/water additives, oral gels, and wipes. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of approved products for dogs and cats. These products have been tested and shown to actually benefit your pet’s oral health:

Veterinary Oral Health Council Accepted Products for Cats and Dogs (

Look for the VOHC seal on products to help give you the confidence that what you’re using will actually work! Our online store has a ton of options for dealing with your pet’s dental hygiene.

**Rawhide chews have technically been found to benefit oral health, but they can be dangerous to give to our pets – first of all they are, as the name suggests, a raw product and are therefore more likely to be contaminated with bacteria, and secondly many pets will get quite excited about eating them and could choke or ingest large pieces which can cause digestive upset. We do not recommend the use of rawhide chews due to safety concerns.

Make Your Pet’s Oral Health a Priority in Rutland, VT!

Your pet’s oral hygiene is an extremely important part of maintaining their overall health! We strongly believe in the team approach to oral hygiene – figure out what works best for your pet at home, since their care starts with you, and let us know if you have any concerns or questions at any point. We are happy to help by providing any advice, recommendations, or treatments that your pet requires!

Rutland Veterinary Clinic and Surgical Center is here for all your dog’s dental needs. Don’t hesitate to call us if you’re having trouble dealing with your dog’s bad breath in Rutland, VT.

Veterinarian and Animal Hospital in Rutland, VTWritten by Our Very Own Dr. Michaela Wozniakewicz

Dr. Michaela Wozniakewicz is a graduate of Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, and she received her undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont. She grew up in Massachusetts but fell in love with Vermont during her time at UVM and joined the Rutland Veterinary Clinic and Surgical Center team in 2014 after completing veterinary school. Dr. Woz’s areas of special interest include internal medicine, neurology, and surgery. She enjoys providing the best possible care to both animals and people, as well as developing strong relationships with her clients and their pets. She also thrives on the challenges of practicing veterinary medicine – no day is the same as the next!

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About Rutland Veterinary Clinic and Surgical Center

Rutland Veterinary Clinic and Surgical Center provides top-quality veterinary care to the Rutland, VT pet community.