There are infinite reasons why dogs are the best. They give us unconditional love, loyalty, and can even help our physical and mental health. But if there’s one thing we aren’t too crazy about, it’s bad dog breath. Luckily for us, it’s a problem that can be fixed. In honor of National Pet Dental Health Month in February, we spoke to veterinarian and chief of staff Dr. Jamie Richardson of Small Door Veterinary—a modern, membership-based veterinary practice based in New York City—to share the best tips, tricks, and products for better oral hygiene for your four-legged friends.
Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs have naturally bad breath. Aside from sneaking into trash cans for a snack, there could be a few culprits for not-so-fresh dog breath.
“Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is most often caused by periodontal disease, and the buildup of plaque, tartar, and bacteria on the teeth,” Dr. Richardson tells Oola. Periodontal or gum disease is one of the most common dental conditions in dogs and cats and results in red and swollen gums. Not only can it be uncomfortable for your pet, but if left untreated, can cause teeth to loosen and fall out.
Although bad dog breath may not seem like a big deal, it can be an indicator of more serious health problems. According to Dr. Richardson, poor oral hygiene and dental disease can cause “pain, inflammation, infection, tooth decay, and tooth and bone loss.” And if bacteria from dental disease gets into the bloodstream, it can affect your dog’s heart, liver, and kidneys.
Besides bad breath, a few signs to look out for when it comes to dental disease are visible tartar, gum inflammation, bleeding gums, and any signs of pain, including pawing at the mouth or difficulty chewing. If you notice any symptoms or have any concerns, schedule an appointment with your vet for a professional opinion.
“The number one way to prevent bad breath (and protect against the development of dental disease) is to brush your dog’s teeth every day with a dog-safe toothpaste,” Dr. Richardson says. “This helps to remove leftover food, plaque, and bacteria before they can harden into tartar on the teeth.”
You’re also going to want to schedule regular checkups with your vet. According to Dr. Richardson, plan for your dog to get a professional dental cleaning every few years to prevent plaque and tartar buildup. However, some dog breeds—especially smaller dogs—are more prone to dental disease than others and may need more cleanings.
In addition to brushing your dog’s teeth, you can also use dental treats, chew toys, prescription dental foods, and other pet oral care products to help treat bad dog breath.
For starters, products certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) are a safe bet. The VOHC awards a Seal of Acceptance to products that meet the organization’s standards for pet oral care, particularly plaque and tartar control. Although the organization doesn’t personally test the products, each product undergoes thorough reviews prior to VOHC approval. The VOHC has a list of accepted products for both dogs and cats that include a selection of treats, chews, food, and more.
If you’re interested in buying chew toys for their dental health benefits—like helping scrape off plaque—you’re going to want to find a product that’s not too hard.
“Very hard chews and things like bones and antlers can wear away the tooth enamel over time, exposing sensitive nerve endings and causing discomfort for your animal, as well as creating a pathway for tooth infection,” Dr. Richardson says. But a quick trick for finding a good chew toy is to press your nail into it. “If you can’t press your nail into it and leave an indent, it’s too hard.”
When it comes to dental toys and treats, you’re also going to want to make sure you get the proper size for your dog. If you get a treat or toy too small for your pet, they could pose a potential choking hazard. But you can keep an eye out for select brands, like Whimzees, with size guides to help you select the right treat for your dog.
Can you believe that less than 10% of Americans don’t brush their dog’s teeth when it’s one of the easiest ways to prevent bad dog breath and improve overall better dental health? The Virbac C.E.T. Pet Toothbrush is an easy and affordable solution to fresher dog breath. It’s designed for both dogs and cats and features a small head with soft bristles for a deep but gentle clean when brushing your pet’s teeth.
The VOHC-approved Whimzees Brushzees is an all-natural treat with all the right “groves and ridges” to help your dog remove plaque and tartar while enjoying a tasty snack every day. On top of the dental health benefits, the treats are also low fat and contain vitamins, antioxidants, and fibers for better digestive health. Brushzees come in a range of sizes from extra-small to extra-large, so you match your dog with the perfect sized treat.
The Petsmile Professional Dog Toothpaste is another VOHC-approved product that doesn’t even require a toothbrush to cash in on all the benefits. With regular use, the toothpaste can help keep plaque at bay. Plus, it’s made with safe, food-grade ingredients.
Puppies can be subjected to bad breath, too, but unfortunately, not all dental treats are made for them. According to Dr. Richardson, since puppies’ teeth aren’t fully developed, you’ll have to be extra careful with them. The Whimzees Puppy treats are made for pups and softer than standard adult treats. Like other products in Whimzees’ lineup, they’re also 100% natural and perfect for puppies with food sensitivities.
The TropiClean Fresh Breath Dog Water Additive can be added to your dog’s water to help fight off plaque, tartar, and bacteria. The additive is odorless and flavorless so your dog won’t even notice all while keeping breath fresh for up to 12 hours. According to the brand, you should see noticeable results in only two weeks.
Adjusting your dog’s diet can also help with bad dog breath and support overall better dental health. This dry dog food by Hill’s has a “unique kibble shape and size” to help clean your dog’s teeth while they eat. It’s made with “special fiber matrix technology” that can help reduce plaque, tartar, and stains. However, this dental care dry food needs to be authorized by a vet before use.
The Whimzees Veggie Ear is a great alternative to animal-based chew treats. Rawhide chews, bully sticks, and pig ears have been associated with recalls for Salmonella contamination, which puts the health of both dogs and pet owners at risk, according to Dr. Richardson. Whimzees Veggie Ear is an edible, vegetarian dental chew made without grain, meat, or artificial ingredients.
If you’re having trouble using a toothbrush on your dog, you can always try a finger brush. The Nylabone Advanced Oral Care Finger Brush is vet-recommended with a simple design that makes it easier to get into hard-to-reach areas while brushing your dog’s teeth. The finger brush also has soft, gentle bristles, making it easier on your dog’s gums and teeth.