Sometimes it’s not teeth – other causes of bad breath in pets.

Bad breath, or halitosis, is very common in dogs and cats; however, there are a wide range of possible causes. Some are simple to treat; others less  so – but bad breath is almost always symptoms of an underlying problem.

There is one, harmless cause of halitosis – eating something rotten or smelly (much more common in dogs than cats)! Some dogs love eating      faeces or rotting food; this may be habit, or greed – but in a small percentage of cases is due to a condition called pica. This is when the animal        will eat pretty much anything, whether or not it is actually food-like, and may be due to mineral or vitamin deficiencies or certain brain diseases. In  most cases, however, eating rotting or smelly things isn’t due to a disease condition (although it may well lead to a nasty episode of vomiting and  diarrhoea!).

Metabolic diseases can also cause bad breath – especially diabetes and kidney failure. These conditions are both associated with changes in urination and drinking, and often weight loss. If untreated, both are potentially fatal. In diabetes, the breath may smell sweet (because of the excess sugar in the bloodstream); sour (because of increased bacterial growth, as the bacteria feed on the sugar); or musty (as yeasts grow in the mouth). In kidney failure, the breath may smell metallic (due to a build-up of toxins and waste products that the kidneys aren’t filtering).

Diseases of the respiratory tract such as sinusitis, nasal infections, and nasal tumours may also lead to bad breath. This is caused by the production of pus (dead, dying and decomposing white blood cells, bacteria and blood) in the nose, which trickles down into the back of the throat.

Some diseases of the gastrointestinal system can also cause halitosis, particularly megaoesophagus (where the gullet becomes swollen and dilated so food pools in it) or persistent vomiting (e.g. due to a blockage of the bowel, gastritis, kidney or liver disease). Infections of the mouth or the lip folds (e.g. in spaniels) may also cause it.

However, by far the most common cause of bad breath in dogs and cats is dental disease. Unless we regularly brush their teeth, most (although not all) dogs and cats will develop tartar and plaque on their teeth. This material is a mixture of salts from the saliva and masses of bacteria, living off the food in the mouth. While this is on the ends of the teeth, it isn’t a major problem (although it may smell a little); however, once it reaches the gum line, it rapidly becomes dangerous. When these plaques of bacteria touch the gum, they cause inflammation and infection of the gum tissues (called gingivitis). If untreated, this will spread down into the sockets of the teeth (periodontal disease) and lead to damage to the ligaments of the teeth. In some cases, infection may even penetrate the bone causing a tooth root abscess (which may burst through into a sinus causing sinusitis) or even osteomyelitis (infection of the bone). Even simple gingivitis is a risk factor for heart disease and kidney failure as the bacteria can easily enter the bloodstream – in severe cases, they may even suffer from blood poisoning and septic shock. In addition, a dog with severe gingivitis or periodontal disease will be unwilling to eat, and may eventually starve to death. If untreated, gingivitis will almost inevitably progress (the speed is variable; the fact of progression is not). As you’ve found, in many cases by the time the problem is diagnosed, the affected teeth cannot be saved.

So how do we know what’s going on?

In bad breath cases, you really do need to find out what’s causing the problem! For that, you’ll need to get him seen by your vet. Kidney disease is easily detected on a blood test (elevated levels of urea and creatinine, two waste substances normally filtered by the kidneys); it can also be detected by certain tests on the urine (urine protein/creatinine ratio, or UPC; and specific gravity). Diabetes may be apparent on a single blood test (as a raised blood sugar level) – however, if the patient is very stressed (more of an issue in cats), you can get a false positive result. For a definitive diagnosis, it is often best to send away a blood sample for a fructosamine test (which will show the average blood sugar level over the last few weeks).

Respiratory disease is usually easy to recognise (snotty nose, sneezing, coughing, facial deformity in the case of some tumours or polyps), although actually working out what’s causing it often requires advanced imaging (X-rays and endoscopy). Similarly, it is very unusual for bad breath to be the only symptom of a dog or cat with a significant gastrointestinal problem – vomit or diarrhoea, or regurgitated food matter, is a more common finding. Lip fold dermatitis is easily recognised on examination, as when opened out, the lip folds are red, sore and often smell musty.

As I said above, dental disease is the most common cause. Often, a simple visual examination will reveal significant plaque and tartar; and gingivitis may be obvious just by looking at red or swollen gums. Occasionally, there is a tumour or other disorder of the gums, but again, this is usually clear to see. Your vet will be able to tell you what the chances are that dental problems are causing your pet’s bad breath.

So what can be done about it?

That, of course, depends what the underlying problem is… Diabetes cannot usually be cured (although some cats, if caught early enough, can go into full remission if treated appropriately and aggressively), but can be managed with appropriate, diet, insulin injections and good blood-sugar monitoring. The same applies to chronic kidney failure – this can be managed with appropriate diet, ad lib access to water, and sometimes medication (ACE inhibitors).

Respiratory and gastrointestinal disease does need diagnosis and treatment – if the underlying cause is treated, the halitosis will usually resolve at the same time.

If the dental disease is significant enough to cause bad breath, it does need treatment. It is important to remember, however, that old pets can, perfectly safely, undergo anaesthesia for a dental as long as there aren’t any underlying heath issues. Old age is not a risk factor for anaesthesia per se, it just means it’s more likely that they’ll have some medical problem that is! In older patients (cats and dogs) use of a fast, modern anaesthetic gas (e.g. sevofluorane), intravenous fluids and good, careful monitoring means that their risk isn’t that much greater than a young pet, assuming they are otherwise healthy (and if they aren’t, bad breath is the least of your worries).

Fortunately, however, in many cases the vet will be able to remove the worst of the tartar by hand without needing a full dental under anaesthesia. Often, the dental disease can also be controlled (not cured, but kept manageable) by regular and diligent tooth brushing and the use of appropriate mouth-washes.

David Harris BVSc MRCVS

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78 thoughts on “Sometimes it’s not teeth – other causes of bad breath in pets.

      1. My 13 year old Bichon has the same problem. We’ve seen two veterinarians, body X-ray, blood work and no answers. They each did a visual of his mouth but no X-ray there (since February 2018 that is). One vet said he has congestive heart failure. Any thoughts? I’m desperate to help him but running out of money to keep going to the vet offices to no avail.

        1. I’m afraid that from a history like that, there’s no way we can tell what’s going on! It could be anything from an infection, to a tumour, to gut disease, to a hormonal condition – the signs are just too vague. I think the next step would be blood tests, if not carried out so far, but beyond that, it depends on the clinical examination and detailed history. Another option if the first opinion vets aren’t getting anywhere would be to talk to them about being referred to a specialist referral hospital – although expensive, they often have the specialist staff and facilities to get a diagnosis where the general practice vets aren’t able to.
          Good luck!

        2. MY DOG, JACK RUSSELL SEEMS TO HAVE BODY PAIN, THATS ASSOCIATED WITH THE REAL BAD BREATH ?!? HELP ME OUT?!?! PLEASE,.. $R

          1. I think he needs to be looked at by your vet; this could indicate kidney or liver disease, or a wide range of other serious problems.

    1. Is your dog still alive? If so. What caused this? It sounds like a partial blockage to me. I hope you got everything figured out?

  1. I have a foster cat. Phineas is special in many ways. He has fought to live. History…ringworm 3 months to clear up. Upper respitory infection for an extended period 4 months treated with antibiotics (2) spiked 105 fever..left with neuro damage. Stopped growing at 11wks old. Is 4lbs. Not all teeth came in. Hes literally a perpetual kitten. His breath is rank!!! Rotten. Teeth he has are clean and white! Smell is constant! You can smell it sitting next to him. If you pet the top bridge of nose he yawns/stretches mouth. Its odd. He also has hearing balance and visual issues along with what id call mild downes syndrome. I live in a small town and our vets kind of blow me off about smell. His prior extensive bloodwork always shows infection but nothing else. HELP US PLEASE!!!

    1. In such a complex case I’m reluctant to try and solve it over the internet! A bad smell from the mouth that isn’t due to the teeth could be coming from a nasal infection or a foreign body (e.g. a grass seed or blade) up the nose, or any of the systemic conditions described above. If the first opinion vets aren’t getting anywhere, it might be worth talking to them about getting referred to a specialist referral facility? While more expensive, they will have specialist staff and equipment that may allow them to get to the bottom of the problem.
      Good luck!

      1. Thank you. Like i said he is special. Our very small Humane Society has tried so hard. Unfortunately they only have so much $$. Weve had a rough year there. Specialist are so expensive. Thank you.

  2. 2 cats ages 1yr and 5yrs. oldest cat was fine until we brought baby cat home to live.except for she has always acted like she had earmites. nope. slowly they both acted like ears were bothering them scratching bodies now too no fleas or bugs seen. Then here came awful poopsmell from bottom and their breath. baby vomits stopped growing and they she’d alot. they have never been outside. But I’ve noticed some same symptoms with me. can it be a parasite infection? can hookworms get into their ears? all thru my home I find little black specks and L shapes black white yellowish. I get negative labs from my fecal tests for ova and?? can we have a couple different types worms at one time.thank you so very much blessyou much.

    1. We’re not permitted to comment on human health issues, so I would strongly advise you seek attention qualified healthcare professionals regarding your own symptoms.
      Regarding your cats, it is very likely that they may have multiple parasites at the same time. The little black specks you’re finding are probably flea droppings – you very rarely see live fleas except in the most severe infestations – and the white and yellowish shapes might be tapeworm segments or fly eggs, but it’s impossible to tell exactly what’s going on over the internet without an examination. As a result I would very strongly advise you to get your cats checked out by your veterinarian, especially the kitten who isn’t growing. This has clearly reached the point where home treatment is not working, and the cats need professional attention.
      Good luck!

  3. My dog had her teeth cleaned and a tooth removed about 4 months ago. They found an abscess and she was on antibiotics. Her breath smelled so much better but now it has started again. I checked her teeth and there isn’t plaque build up. She doesn’t chew her bones as often and she doesn’t like me to brush her teeth. I did recently purchase a premium doggy tooth brush that I can add toothpaste or peanut butter to for her to chew on but if this doesn’t help, any other suggestions?

    1. OK, it might be a gum pocket, or even another abscess starting; it’s also possible that there’s plaque or tartar building up on the very back teeth, or perhaps under the gum line, where we can’t usually see it. Unfortunately, it’s also possible that the original abscess has recurred. I’m afraid to say I think another visit to the vets might be in order.

    2. Hi, Becki-
      Did you used to live in Jay FL in 2007? If so, we had one your female pups! If you are that person, please reply to this message.

    3. My 8 yr old dauchhound Has had same problems ,I’ve taken him to several vets and we still haven’t fixed the problem. Have you had any success yet?. Thanks TL

  4. My 12 year old lab/collie will only eat if we put warm gravy on his food. We have tried numerous different types and makes of food and he still will only eat with gravy. His breath stinks, he sometimes looks like he is losing balance when walking and he has lost weight. We took him to the vet and he just gave him a vitamin Jag and that was it. Please any help will be appreciated. Going to take him to a different vet and see what they say.

    1. I definitely think it would be worth another opinion if there’s been no improvement since the initial treatment; either from the first vet or of course a second. Good luck!

  5. My 7 year old pit female bailey has a of coppery smell to her breath she hasn’t been throwing up or anything her diet is health and she’s very active I’m just really worried by it because she was a rescue and she had a real rough life before I got her she hasn’t eaten anything crazy I’m just curious do you think it’s just a dental thing? Her teeth look health I have had time or money to take her to a vet yet it’s just the smell that worries me any advice on what to look for with the teeth would be great

    1. A metallic smell might be bad teeth (e.g. plaque or tartar, or a tooth root infection), but it could also suggest some other underlying health problems, such as kidney issues. I’d suggest you get her checked out by your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t anything more serious going on.

  6. I just got an 11 week old polydactyl kitten 2 days ago. Her breath smells like something is rotting in her mouth. Her gums are pale. She is eating, drinking and going to the bathroom normally (compared to kittens I’ve owned in the past). She also seems to be having a dark brown crust form around her nose. I’m not sure if they’re related ?

    1. I think getting her checked out would be a good idea – it might be a nasal infection, which can cause bad breath, but whatever it is, it does need to be seen I think.

  7. My older shitzhu was diagnosed as having a collapsing trachea.. he has an awful cough. I just noticed, during the cough, there’s a metallic smell. Could there be another cause for the cough?

    1. It is possible – metallic smells can indicate organ problems or serious infections, especially in the lungs or mouth. Might be worth a check up!

  8. Hello good evening please help. Our dog Yuri is a shi tzu has the same condition. His teeth and gums slowly becoming black and his breath really stinks like its rotten. He lost his appetite 3-4days ago. The same with our past cats and dog after they have vaccinated with the anti-rabies last month. Our pets are dying one by one. I just want to know if the anti rabies may cause this kind problem? Or is it related to the vaccine? Thank you for your answers.

    1. I’m not aware of any demonstrated link between rabies vaccines and dental disease, to be honest; I think it more likely there’s something else going on here. Dental disease can cause all the symptoms you’re describing, although it has to be very advanced and been going on untreated for a very long time before a cat or dog will stop eating. I think a checkup with your vet to assess your dogs’ dental health and try to determine if there is any underlying cause is essential now.

  9. I have the same problem with my nearly 13-year-old Minpin named Gracie. She has had a heart murmur all her life and was diagnosed by a cardiologist with congestive heart failure. Her teeth are so bad and I know she is in pain but they will not perform dental work on her due to the fact that she has CHF because I was told they cannot do anesthesia on her. What options do I have and are there any specialist vets out there that would take on my situation pro bono ? Please help

    1. Unfortunately, it’s very hard – and probably impossible in most cases – to do a proper dental check without some degree of sedation or anaesthesia. There are safer anaesthetic options out there, but not every practice has the equipment or the expertise. I wouldn’t recommend an “anaesthetic free dental” as it doesn’t really get to the bottom of any problems, and can be very stressful for the patient. Where are you? It may be that there are other users who know a referral hospital who’d be willing to help in your area?

  10. My 1 year old cocker spaniel has bad diarrhoea, he’s really not hisself, very sleepy and lethargic and I’ve noticed he has very smelly breath. Really worries as this is so out of character.

    1. My best bet would be that he’s eaten something nasty…
      Diarrhoea alone isn’t usually dangerous, but if he’s not himself, I’d advise a vet check to make sure he’s not getting dehydrated or developing some underlying problem.

      1. Thank you. That may sound about right as we have been away in the Forest of Dean for the weekend where he’s been off exploring. How would I know if he’s got a temperature?

        1. Unless you have a thermometer, it isn’t easy – the best bet is to watch his behaviour; if he’s acting like he’s cold despite being in a warm room, or vice versa, that suggests a fever.

  11. My 15 year old heeler/lab mix Gracie spent a weekend at the vet 2 months ago, found out she has kidney disease. They flushed her kidneys, got levels in normal range and with prescription food levels ate staying in normal range.. shes eating and drinking well and in good spirits but in the last few weeks her breath smells like a sewer, and shes had a snotty nose… I’m concerned, but after paying the $443 vet bill two months ago and buying the expensive prescription food, I am unable to take her back to the vet right now.. I wish I knew something to help it because it is a truly horrible odor and I want to snuggle my old lady but it’s hard to hold my breath… 😉

    1. It might be that the kidneys are getting worse, but it could also be bad teeth. Have you considered brushing her teeth? It might also be worth ringing your vet and having a chat – explaining the situation but asking if there’s anything you can do at home until you come in for your next check up.

  12. I have a 4 yr old female Havanese. She’s had the worst breath & body odor since she was a puppy. Her breath is very stale & her BODY smells the same only ….. muted? She’s fine in every other way. She plays, eats, drinks, sleeps normally & is just the sweetest dog. But when she gets up in my face…woah! The smell could knock out Goliath! I would think this is simply a dental issue if it were just her mouth, but her body smells the same. Any ideas??

    1. Dogs groom themselves by licking, so it’s not uncommon for dogs with dental disease to spread a “weaker” version of the smell across the rest of their coat… probably time for a vet check!

  13. What a blessing you are Dr Harris. I have a 5-6 yr old rescue who is reported to be Papillion and Chihuahua. I see nor experience Chihuahua, but do see Papillion prominently. She had a 14 day stay in jail (solitary) a few months ago where she received a rabies vaccination. There, she lost one and a half pounds, never ate and wasn’t observed drinking. Skin and bones upon return with constant anxiety shakes. She eats quality dry food, usually no treats. Initially very difficult to get her to eat upon return but with coaxing finally happened. Found “wild weenies” she receives after an eaten meal which has put on one half pound. Now weighs six pounds. She was horribly abused, I have a 4 and 6 yr boys and my mom whom I confiscated her from. To my knowledge she has never had dental care. I’ve not taken notice until a recent change in severity of her bad breath. Gums at and above gumline are bright Dark red, almost like neon drying blood. Significant tartar calcification on each tooth I can see. She’s going to our vet asap.
    My question is this, directly above gumline her gums are bright red, beyond that there are irregular black patches seemingly overtaking the red color. They remind me of the color of how chow-chows mouth and tongue can appear. My dog’s tongue is ‘normal’ pinkish. She does have good return on her gums and seemingly no gum sponginess. Are the black areas normal for her reported breeds? Are there any small dogs with black gums? I’ve never taken any notice of her mouth before, I have no clue regarding any color changes. My deep gratitude for your amazing work, thank you

    1. Black patches on the gums are quite common in a range of breeds, and aren’t necessarily a sign of dental disease. Crossbreeds often have different pigmentation compared to purebreds as a result of the masking of genetic recessives, so you would expect some differences. Discoloured patches that are changing shape or colour, however, may suggest a health issue. Hope that helps!

  14. We took in a kitten that was dumped off in the winter a few years ago. The Vet believes the kitten had pneumonia at one time. He is now 2 years old. He sneezes and snots big gobs of mucus everywhere (always has). His breath is awful and seems to me to have very small nostrils and a very broad nose. He also doesn’t like the bridge of his nose touched. He has been on countless antibiotics which never seem to do any good. The Vet also suggested giving him liquid Mucinex (without acetaminophen of course). Nothing seems to help.

    1. This does suggest an ongoing chronic infection; has your vet done any X-rays or imaging of his nose, or virus isolation, culture and sensitivity of the discharge? One possibility might be a foreign body, granuloma or polyp; another might be chronic cat flu (the herpes form, in particular, can cause a life-long infection). As you’ve found, repeat courses of antibiotics often aren’t very effective for these chronic conditions, if there’s some other underlying cause.

  15. I feed (and TNR) the feral cats in my neighborhood. I noticed an obvious abandoned pet cat that would come to eat, but the ferals didn’t like her and she didn’t like them. I fed her with them for about a year, but then took her in. She went to the vet and she was completely healthy so she was able to assimilate into the household with my geriatric diabetic kitty. I’ve had her now for about three years and she’s just the sweetest cat. She’s helped quite a bit since my above-mentioned old cat died a couple months ago at the age of 18.5. Girl-cat, as she’s called, has always been a happy drooler. She only drools when you pet her, but she drools A LOT. That doesn’t bother me because there’s no smell and I don’t mind getting what just seems like water all over me when she seems so happy. However, she loves to have her mouth scratched and rubbed. I mean, LOVES it. Especially her lower lip right in the front and along her lip line from one side to the other. This wouldn’t be so bad except it has a horrible odor after it’s been rubbed for a short time. Her breath does not smell, ever. Her drool never smells. The only thing that smells is when what I believe are her scent glands around her mouth are rubbed. I thought the scent glands in this area had no smell, or at least very little smell that isn’t unpleasant. However, I have to wash my hands after rubbing her mouth and lips because it smells so bad. What could cause this? She has had blood work which is all perfect. She has a very loud murmur so x-rays were done which revealed an enlarged heart. Her teeth haven’t been cleaned, mainly because I’m worried about her going under anesthesia, but her vet says the gums don’t look bad and, while she would advise a cleaning, it might be okay to wait a bit since it is expensive and could be dangerous for her. What do you think could be causing her scent glands to smell so bad?

    1. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to say. There might be an underlying skin infection, for example, or dental disease affecting the incisors at the front of her mouth deep under the gums. Perhaps have another chat with the vet and see if they have any other ideas, having her full medical history?

  16. My parents’ adult female havanese has horrible halitosis, and has had several teeth extracted due to abscess formation and irreparable decay. Additionally, for the last couple of weeks, she has been having bloody diarrhea. My parents are attributing it to the antibiotics that the vet prescribed her, but I am concerned that the bloody diarrhea is being caused by a pathogen. Her appetite is very low, and her weight is a little low for her breed. Any ideas in respect to what could be causing her symptoms?

    1. I wouldn’t usually expect haemorrhagic diarrhoea from antibiotics – I think that she needs looking at by your vet.

  17. My 9 year old staffy has really smelly breath. He’s had a fatty looking thing bed his tooth that has started to get bigger, & his dental health isn’t the best from what the vet said a year ago. I was wondering, since he’s acting normal, should I be worried or should I get him to the vet?

    1. Right now, it depends on your practice’s policy – if they’re on lockdown, this wouldn’t normally be considered to constitute an emergency so probably get it dealt with once the pandemic has subsided. I think that it’s worth ringing them to see what they think though

  18. Our new rescue cat seems healthy but has very fishy breath and extremely soft,smelly stools. He had a parasite and was treated. The samples showed no more parasite so Im not sure what is wrong. Tried dental treats as directed by vet – no change. He was chewing on aloe and my jades which isnt good but doesnt have any symptoms of poisoning. He does throw up undigested food occasionally but no hairballs. Could this be the cause?

    1. Regular vomiting could certainly cause bad breath, yes. Other possibilities would be gut bacterial upsets following the parasite – might be worth talking to your vet about a good prebiotic, and maybe a probiotic too?
      In any case, I’d definitely advise having a chat with your vet over the telephone and seeing if they’ve got any other ideas.

  19. My six year old cockerpoo has always had excellent health . Six weeks ago his breath went rancid. Although other then the breath he shows no signs of illness.He’s so loving but none of the family want him near them it’s awful! A trip to the vets and no known cause but 100 pounds for standard antibiotics and pain relief. The bad breath went away with in a few days but now a few weeks later it is back exactly the same. As a dentist myself and know it is not his teeth. Due to the current lockdown I telephoned the vet where I spoke with a member of staff. She offered a vet call back for advice but explained I would be required to pay a consultation fee first. I declined as I would like to get to the cause and as like humans not just repeat antibiotics.
    Firstly do you think we should try another course of antibiotics or wait until we can physically see a vet for further investigations?
    Thank you I have found your other responses so helpful.

    1. I’m really sorry to say that it’s not possible to diagnose over the internet! I would be worried about periapical disease, to be honest, and many dogs show little or no signs. Early periodontal disease on the lingual aspects of the molars is also a possibility, and again very hard to detect without general anaesthesia.
      As you’ve seen, there are loads of other possible issues – but as the halitosis resolved on antibiotics, I think a bacterial cause is very likely. If it failed to resolve permanently after one course, that suggests that there is a deeper bacterial problem – perhaps an abscess brewing, or some other condition.
      While he’s not showing any other signs, the condition wouldn’t usually be considered an emergency, so under the current lockdown rules, a “wait and see” brief is quite reasonable – but I think it’s definitely going to need examination at some point, and if he shows ANY other signs, then that needs to be sooner rather than later. Good luck!

  20. My older male pibble has always had bad breath, but the vet just says it’s really not that bad. He gets breath sprays and the minties breath treats. Just recently he needed to take some doses of antibiotics, during which time his breath smelled “normal”. What does this mean? What would the underlying issue be for this to happen? Please, any info or advice you have on what could cause this will be greatly appreciated.

    1. If it improves on antibiotics, that suggests that there’s a bacterial issue – such as gingivitis or a tooth root infection. Might be worth talking to your vet about dental checks?

  21. My dogs breath stinks rly bad and he seams tired all the time ( 8yo), could it be something bad like cancer?

    1. It’s a possibility, but without further tests, there’s no way of knowing. Kidney disease, liver disease, and dental disease can all cause these signs as well.

  22. I have an 8 yr old female Wheaton Terrier dog. A couple weeks ago I noticed she was squinting her eyes like there was something in them (right a lot more than left) I would examine and never saw anything. Around this same time she got a really odd smell to her breath – not typical bad dog breath, which she rarely gets anyway – but I kept describing to my family as a sick smell not really sure how else to describe other than maybe a rancid smell. She was also a bit lethargic. I called my vet on the following Monday and got her an appt. right away. I described all this to the vet including the distinct odor of the breath. I thought potential abscess or respiratory problem. The vet came back and said she had an ulcer on her right eye only. A couple days later I took her back for re-check of eye, was told not getting worse so that’s good. Shes on eye drops and vetprofen. She will go back Friday for another re-check. Her breath still has this abnormal distinct odor that I can smell from a few feet away when she pants or yawns. I’m concerned there is more going on here and find it more than coincidental that the eye problem and breath odor started around the exact same time. What are your thoughts? Should I bring this concern up to the vet at her upcoming re-check, should I request blood work? I should also note I feed her a grain free diet, not because I think it’s better she’s just a really picky eater and likes the food. Do you think the odor could be taurine deficiency related? Another question: is grain free food ok for dogs? Thanks in advance for any help!!

    1. I forgot to mention her teeth are generally very good. I don’t brush them, but when I took her to the vet back in February got an unrelated issue (more frequent urination) the vet commented on how well her teeth looked. She has been urinating more frequently since about February. Could the breath odor potentially be related to kidney problems? Thanks!

      1. Yes, bad breath is commonly associated with kidney issues, but it sounds like there are a lot of potential issues! The good news is that while taurine deficiency can cause heart problems, it doesn’t cause halitosis as far as I’m aware. However… definitely need to take this back to your vet I think. Some conditions like retrobulbar abscesses could cause eye and breath problems, although they’re not that common.

  23. I have a 17 year old mixed breed. She has very bad teeth and was diagnosed with kidney failure about a year ago. We switched her diet when we found out about her kidney disease and was eating the special canned food perfectly. About 4 months ago she stopped wanting that food. We took her to the vet again due to not eating, constant shakes and weight loss and the vet recommended we just feed her whatever she was interested in. She’s currently still not interested in her special diet food. We’ve tried them all, wet and hard. I would sit with her for an hour to try and hand feed her but nothing. As of now we’re giving her anything we can that she’ll eat and she’s extremely interested in what we’re eating. She’ll wag her tail and jump up. For about 3 weeks now her breath has been absolutely intolerable. It makes me want to throw up and she leaves the smell in the air. I have no idea what to do. I don’t know if it’s her kidneys, her obvious messed up teeth or a combo of both. We’ve spent over $1,000 on separate visits but I still see her happy so I don’t want to put her to sleep. I understand that she’s 17 but as long as she’s interested in food and barking I don’t think it’s her time yet. Anything you recommend because I cant handle the smell anymore. Thank you.

    1. I forgot to mention that she also seems to be drooling, not excessively but to the point where it’s always wet or moist around her snout. The hair color around her snout looks darker because of it. This has never happened before. Is this a sign of kidney failure or periodontal disease?

    2. The drooling and the bad breath could be from dental disease or uraemia, where toxins build up in the blood because of the failing kidneys. I’m afraid to say it sounds like you’re coming to the end of what can be done; and it might be time to start thinking about when it won’t be fair on her to keep going.
      If it is dental issues, you might be able to help by tooth brushing with a dog-toothpaste; and some supplements exist to reduce tartar and bacterial growth – take a look at the Veterinary Oral Health Council advice.

    3. I have a 4 month havashu his breath smells sour. His teeth are pretty and he eats good and drinks good. In every other way he is fine. But what would cause his breath to be bad? I give him denta sticks once a day also

  24. I forgot to mention that she also seems to be drooling, not excessively but to the point where it’s always wet or moist around her snout. The hair color around her snout looks darker because of it. This has never happened before.

  25. My German shorthaired pointers right eye is red and painful. He was on oral steroids and steroid eye drops. He also has crusty boogers in nose and bad breath. Vet isnt sure what is going on but issues are still unresolved. Just took him back to vet week ago and she said to stay the course but hes just not getting any better. Please help.

    1. If he’s not responding to the treatment, then you need to go back to the vet. It might be necessary for him to be referred to a specialist centre or hospital for more workup.

  26. I recently brought home a silver lab puppy. He’s ten weeks old. He vomited once on a car ride. Last night he had played in the yard, ate a lot of grass (used it to play by tossing it in the air, but consumed some). When I created him he threw up. I took him out and cleaned it up, but he vomited again all over the couch. Today I noticed that he has a sulfur smell on his breath. Like a burnt match. He has an appointment for shots on Wednesday, but should I call and see if the vet could see him tomorrow (Monday)?

    1. It’s unlikely to be a major problem – puppies eat daft things all the time and then vomit them up – but if he’s showing any other symptoms, and hasn’t bounced back in 24 hours, a vet check would be a good idea.

  27. I have a 5 year old 12lb rescue. Her breath all of a sudden has a very strong acidic garlic onion smell. Like it smelled fine an hour ago and now it’s like this. Went over our day and she had no opportunity to eat anything weird. She does need a dental cleaning and several teeth pulled which I am currently raising money for and choosing the right vet to get it done at. Could this be related to that? A tooth abscess or something? Or do I need to take her to the vet ASAP?

    1. An acidic smell could be due to dental infections, but it could also suggest other health problems such as liver or kidney disease; I think a discussion with your vet at least might be a good idea, in case she’s showing any other subtle signs that could help narrow it down.

  28. Hi Dr Harris, my almost 3yo chihuahua Pomeranian cross has had awful gastric problems for almost a year now, she has painful bloody mucusy diarrhoea at least twice a month. Her breath is absolutely horrid. I’ve taken her to the vet around six times in the last year, initially they treated her for suspected Guardia, when she finished the course of antibiotics her bad breath completely disappeared! But a month and a half later it returned with the diarrhoea which looks like raspberry jam and appears to be very painful for her. The vet ran a very comprehensive stool test and everything came back clear, no parasites, nothing. In the last two months she has begun scooting a lot and has needed her anal glands expressed and appears to be quite uncomfortable. I have moved her onto a prescription diet as suggested by the vet but the scooting is continuing (she is up to date on worming etc) She isn’t eating much but is still in good spirits and isn’t loosing vast amounts of weight, her stinky breath remains. I’m at my wits end and don’t know what to do, if you have any suggestions please let me know any help would be so appreciated

    1. It sounds quite like colitis for some reason – some dogs develop this as result of infection, but in other cases it can be caused by inflammatory bowel disease or other underlying gut diseases. Might be worth talking to your vets about that option, as there are some medications that can help manage these conditions?

  29. My 14 year old Min Pin has lost a lot of weight and smells terrible. She doesn’t have many teeth and I’ve changed from dry food to wet food because she was having trouble chewing it. But I know that there is something else going on because of the smell and severe weight loss in such a short period of time. I think it might be coming to the point in which I need to make a tough decision, but would like to make her comfortable until that time comes. She has good days, in which she romps and plays in the yard, and bad days, where she sleeps all day. She also has a heart murmur. Does this sound like a heart issue or kidney failure? Is there a certain food I can feed her? I also think she may have cognitive dysfunction considering she shows all the signs, pacing at night, disorientation, etc. I’d prefer not to take her to the vet for testing, only because this will worsen her condition. She’s terrified of the vet and I do not want to put her through all of that. At this point, she’s not showing signs of pain, but I want to make her comfortable.

    1. Unfortunately, there are so many possibilities here, it’s impossible to be sure. Heart conditions can cause secondary kidney problems; treating the one can also help the other. I think that a vet check really is necessary, for her sake. It may well be that there’s something that can be done to improve her quality of life, even if she is getting near the end. How about phoning your vet and having a conversation with them about this?

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