What to do when your dog's breath smells

2 August 2023 - 6 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Team ManyPets on 2 August 2023 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

Person holding dogs mouth open

There's nothing quite like the companionship of your dog. Whatever kind of day you’re having, their love is endless. But sometimes love isn’t all you get when you’re giving cuddles.

If your dog has bad breath, it’s something you shouldn't ignore as it isn’t always due to what they’ve eaten. It can also be a sign of a health issue that needs attention.

Dogs cannot express their discomfort as we do. They rely on us to decode their signals, and a change in their breath can be one of them.


Top-quality pet insurance

Squeaky-clean pet insurance

Our cover helps your pet with accidents and illnesses with no nasty surprises, like hidden fees and annual payout limits.


Understanding your dog's breath smell

At this point images of sniffing our dog’s breath, like we would a fine wine springs to mind. It may not be as pleasant, but it’s something we do need to do.

Just like humans, dogs have a distinctive breath smell but it’s not typically fresh or minty like ours. A dog's normal breath can vary depending on their diet and dental health.

Occasionally bad breath can also be a sign of a more serious health issue, so it's a good idea to get it checked out by a vet. If you’re a ManyPets insurance customer you get unlimited, 24/7 online vet advice.

The age of your pet can also affect their breath. Puppies tend to have sweeter breath than older dogs due to things like their diet, developing normal oral bacteria and even teething, when their baby teeth fall out and adult teeth come in. As pets age, it’s more likely they may have health problems causing the condition.

Common causes of bad breath in dogs

Dental disease

One of the most common causes of bad breath in dogs is periodontal disease, better known as dental disease.

Dogs can have plaque build-up and tartar, just like us, leading to gum disease. This starts with gingivitis, which is the early stage of gum disease and can lead to inflammation of the tissue, known as the periodontium, that surrounds and hangs onto the tooth in the skull. This is known as periodontal disease and can lead to pain, tooth loss, gums receding and bone loss.

If the problem is left unchecked the bacteria can spread into the bloodstream and lead to more serious health issues especially for pets with conditions such as heart disease. Additionally, periodontal disease can be extremely painful for our pets, so it’s important you don’t ignore dental problems.

Oral foreign bodies/objects

Bad breath in dogs can also be caused by eating food items they shouldn’t or foreign objects. These items can get stuck in your furry friend’s teeth and begin to rot.

This can even lead to infections, abscesses, or broken teeth, any of which can lead to bad breath.

The link between dog’s health and bad breath

While poor oral health is a common culprit, a sudden change in your dog's breath can also be due to underlying health conditions.


Dogs that have diabetes may have a sweet or chemical smell to their breath. This is because their body has a decreased ability to produce insulin and is less able to bring glucose (sugar) into cells for energy. The body then resorts to breaking down fat for energy, producing a compound called ketones which circulate the blood. This is what accounts for a potential change to breath in some diabetic pets.

Liver disease

Bad breath can also be a sign of liver disease as a build up of toxins in the body manifests itself through the breath. Other signs of liver disease can be yellow gums, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

A metallic or ammonia smell to a dog's breath could be a symptom of kidney disease, because the body struggles to filter the blood of waste products. This results in urea building up in the bloodstream, and may cause bad breath.

Oral tumours

Mouth cancer can also be a cause of bad breath as infections within tumours develop and mouth tissue dies. Other indicators would include difficulty eating and drooling. Although bad breath in this instance is the least of your worries, it acts as an indicator.

Of course bad breath doesn’t always mean your pet has one of these conditions, but it's a good idea to get any sudden changes in breath checked by a vet.

How to tell if your dog’s bad breath is a problem

Signs of health problems other than bad breath could be trouble eating, loss of appetite, excessive drinking or urination, a sudden change in behaviour or lethargy.

Your dog’s mouth may show signs of swelling and bleeding, or have noticeable plaque build up.

It’s a good idea to get any concerns checked out by a vet. If you have pet insurance it’s important to understand the details of the policy wording and what’s covered with regards to dental. You should check whether a policy covers dental accidents or illness or both, and any vet fee sub-limits that may apply. Learn more about how ManyPets covers dental problems.

Preventing bad breath in your dog

It's said that prevention is better than cure, and this holds true for managing your dog's breath as well.

Maintaining oral hygiene is a must and regular dental check ups are at the forefront of this, to spot any problems and nip them in the bud. Your vet can also offer advice on how to combat any problems. This may include your vet recommending a full dental cleaning and oral health examination under anaesthesia at their clinic, which is the gold standard for treating periodontal disease in pets.

Regular brushing with a dog safe toothpaste and soft bristled brush is also a good idea to help slow and reduce plaque build up.

You can also consider dental chews or dental diets, to help slow the buildup of plaque and tartar. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of approved dental products for dogs you can try, that includes food, treats and oral care.

A well balanced diet can be helpful for your dog’s breath and is crucial for their overall health. Your vet can offer tailored dietary recommendations to support your dog’s individual health requirements.

If your dog’s resistant to the idea of brushing its teeth, try building up slowly using a finger brush or a paper towel wrapped around your finger and dabbing the pet toothpaste over it’s teeth. Over time your dog should get used to the idea, allowing you to brush its teeth for longer and eventually introduce a dog toothbrush.

Aim to brush your dog’s teeth daily, but any regular brushing can be more helpful than none.

“In some cases, your safety and your dog’s stress will be limiting factors when it comes to tooth brushing, meaning you may need to resort to other methods of preventative dental health,” says Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

The role of pet insurance

Pet insurance can help reduce shocks when faced with unexpected vet bills. It means you can focus on getting the right treatment for your pet, without focussing on how much it’ll cost.

At ManyPets we offer a range of pet insurance policies to suit your needs, with up £15,000 of lifetime vet fee cover. Importantly, ManyPets may also cover dental, and as a customer you’ll have access to unlimited, 24/7 online vet advice.

A person high fiving a dog

Get £15,000 lifetime vet fee cover with our Complete policy.

A person high fiving a dog