Do your little dog’s kisses smell like rotting garbage?

Stinky breath is more than just an inconvenience. It’s a sign that there is something more important going on with your little dog’s health. A healthy dog’s breath is “doggy” but not unpleasant. There should be no overwhelming odor.

Small dogs are especially prone to dental problems because their teeth tend to overcrowd in their tiny mouth. It’s easy for tartar to build up in places we can’t see, let alone reach with a toothbrush.

Here are some ways you can freshen your dog’s breath and find out what’s really causing the odor.

See Your Vet First

Your vet will be able to rule out any medical causes. It’s possible that your dog’s dental health is in poor shape and will not improve significantly even if you brush daily. You might need to have your vet put your dog under anesthesia for a dental cleaning and tooth removal. Many Chihuahuas are able to eat normally even after losing a few teeth. Chihuahuas tend to have retained puppy teeth that will not come out without surgery.

Your dog’s bad breath may not even be caused by their dental health. It could be an indicator of a gastrointestinal or upper respiratory condition. Your vet will be able to evaluate the dog to make sure you’re actually tackling the right issue. Dogs usually do not show signs of pain until their injury or medical problem becomes severe, so taking care of an underlying health problem could address symptoms that you may not even know about.

Teething Causes Bad Breath

If you have a puppy under 9 months of age, their bad breath is probably a result of teething. As their baby teeth fall out and their adult teeth grow in their place, bacteria can collect around the gumline. This is normal and will go away once the teething phase is over. But it’s still a great time to start teaching your puppy to tolerate having their teeth examined and brushed.

Reducing Bacteria That Causes Bad Breath

Your dog’s breath is probably caused by their teeth and gums. Over 80 percent of dogs will have periodontitis by age 3, so it’s very likely that your dog is one of the majority.

If you look at photos and videos of wolves, your dog’s closest canine ancestor, you’ll notice that most of them have bright white teeth with very few signs of tartar buildup. So, modern dogs aren’t getting periodontitis because we don’t brush their teeth. It’s actually a side effect of their diet.

Kibble is very high in carbohydrates, which break down into sugars which feed bacteria, in this case, the kind that lives in your dog’s mouth and causes periodontitis. Even though some vets are still telling us that dry food is good for scraping away at plaque and keeping teeth clean, it’s doing the exact opposite.

You don’t have to stop feeding kibble, but you can add fresh foods to your dog’s diet. 

You can put your dog on a raw diet or partially raw diet.

You can also feed raw bones, which not only break down tartar when your dog chews, but also contain beneficial enzymes that fight bacteria that causes dental disease.

Some dogs are more predisposed to dental disease than others. You may still choose to brush your dog’s teeth. For Matilda, I found every dog toothbrush to be too big for her mouth, so I use a cotton swab or wrap my finger in a tissue. I use a chicken flavored enzymatic toothpaste and have noticed that if I put a small amount on build-up plaque, it helps break it down.

Temporary Breath Fresheners

If your dog normally does not have bad breath, but occasionally eats something nasty, you can use temporary breath fresheners to get rid of the odor.

You can use parsley to make fresh-breath biscuits for your dog. You can also sprinkle a small amount over their food, in their water or in bone broth.

Some people use a combination of coconut oil and baking soda to clean their dog’s teeth. I’ve tried it and it seems to work, but I’m not sure if it’s as effective as enzymatic toothpaste, and it’s not quite as palatable.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.