Bad breath (or halitosis) is very common in small animals. The main causes of halitosis include:
- Severe build up of tartar and plaque
- Gingivitis: bacterial infection of the gums, leading to severe redness and swelling of the gums
- Stomatitis: inflammation and infection of the oral cavity
- Infection of the tonsils, pharynx or larynx (throat area)
- Tumors in the mouth
- Respiratory infection
- Foreign body like a bone stuck in the mouth cavity or in between teeth
- Systemic diseases like organ failure (happens more often in older animals)
The clinical signs are obvious. You will detect a foul smell from your pet's mouth. There is build-up of tartar and plaque especially at the molars. There may be pain when you try to touch or open its mouth. The gums are inflammed and bleed easily. There may be increased salivation and the saliva may be mixed with yellowish pus. Your pet may have difficulty eating and feel discomfort/pain when chewing. Ulcers or lumps may be found in the oral cavity and may cause distortion to the shape of the face.
What should I do if my pet has bad breath?
Daily cleaning and monitoring of your pet's mouth is important. If the condition of your pet's teeth is not too bad, then it is important to start daily cleaning of the teeth and the mouth. This can greatly decrease the risk of dental problems and mouth infections. Use an appropriate toothbrush and paste/dental spray to brush your dog's teeth daily. A cloth can also be used to gently wipe the surface of the teeth and the mouth to get rid of food debris. Chewing bones like greenies or rawhide can also help with removal of food debris.
If the condition is worse (i.e. severe halitosis, swollen gums, increased salivation or pain at mouth when touched), it is important to bring your pet to the vet for a thorough mouth and dental examination. Be prepared that your pet may need to be sedated for a proper examination. General anesthesia is needed if dental scaling and polishing is opted to remove the buildup of tartar and plaque. Any decayed tooth (or teeth) will be extracted during the procedure. Antibiotics and pain killers are often prescribed after a dental procedure.
Any lumps in the oral cavity must be checked by a vet as soon as possible because mouth tumors can grow very quickly. Surgical removal of the lump is needed but often difficult.
Do not ignore the condition, always address the issue as soon as possible to reduce your pet's suffering.