Most people are aware of the fact that dogs can use their powerful sniffers to detect serious diseases in humans such as diabetes and even cancer, but not many dog owners are aware of the fact that they can also put their noses to work and return the favor when a dog’s breath smells weird. Sure, our noses aren’t sensitive enough to detect diseases at their earliest stages like dogs do, but we surely can identify signs of illnesses in our dogs if we are attentive enough and don’t fall into the trap of chalking them up as “normal canine odors.” Following are several odors in dog breath owners may detect that should warrant an emergency vet visit in the most serious cases, or at the most, a veterinary check-up to ensure everything is fine in the health department.
What Does Normal Dog Breath Smell Like?
First, what does normal dog breath smell like? This is a very good question. Usually, normal dog breath doesn’t have a particular odor. Just as in people, a healthy mouth shouldn’t give off any particularly strong odors.
Many dog owners indeed, notice quite a difference after their dogs go in for a dental cleaning, as suddenly, all the bad odors are gone.
It’s a common myth that bad breath in dogs is normal, so much so that it has even been given a nickname: “doggy breath.”
This misconception is so widespread that Greenies, a company that makes dental treats for dogs, found that 28 million owners believe that it’s normal for their pets to have bad breath!
So yes, if your dog has bad breath it’s not normal! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking all dog breath has an odor.
“Bad breath is a sure sign of significant oral infection and, while there are other causes, periodontal disease is by far the number 1 cause of halitosis.” ~Dr. Brook A. Niemiec, a board-certified veterinary dentist.
Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish?
Unless your dog had sardines for dinner or you mistakenly brushed his teeth with anchovy paste rather than his regular toothpaste, there should really be no reason for you dog’s breath to smell like fish.
Yet, your dog’s breath undoubtedly smells like shrimp or rotten fish, what’s going on?
One may understand if you recently fed your dog some fish pills, or some fish meal or salmon-based kibble, but if that’s not the case, you may still be scratching your head wondering where in the world that fish smell is coming from.Well, here’s a possibility…and it involves..ehm.. the opposite end.
Dogs have two glands called anal glands that are located around the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock position around the rectum. Sometimes these anal glands produce a secretion that has a strong fishy odor.
If these glands happen to be impacted, or infected, dogs will lick their bottoms and therefore the fishy smell of these glands will transfer to the dog’s mouth, explains veterinarian Dr. Rebecca.
Course of action: normally, a dog’s anal glands should empty on their own when dogs pass feces, but if the dog produces soft stools, the anal glands may become full and uncomfortable. It’s best to have the dog’s anal glands checked by a vet to rule out any problems. Anal gland problems in dogs can cause discomfort, and repeated licking and scooting are often signs of trouble. Sometimes, dogs may require the vet to empty those glands which is very minor and quick procedure.
Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Acetone?
If your dog’s breath smells like nail polish remover, you may wonder where that smell comes from. No, dogs don’t paint their nails unless we subject them to that, and they won’t be using any nail polish remover. Instead, the issue can be quite serious.
A dog’s breath that smells like acetone can actually be indicative of diabetes. When a dog has diabetes, his body lacks insulin necessary to break down sugar as it’s supposed to. Since the body needs sugar as a source of energy, it will therefore move on to plan B to get the fuel it needs and this entails breaking down fat as an alternative.
When fat is metabolized, ketones are produced and one of the ketones is acetone. Since it’s a volatile compound, it can be excreted by the lungs, hence why a dog’s breath may smell like acetone or nail polish remover. Some dog owners describe their dog’s breath smelling like rubbing alcohol, pear drop candies or chemicals.
Course of action: dog owners need to be aware of a complication of diabetes known as diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis in dogs typically causes symptoms of increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, sudden blindness, vomiting, weakness, dehydration and breath that smells like acetone, explains veterinarian Dr. Debra Primovic. Affected dogs require prompt IV fluid therapy to stabilize them and insulin around the clock to get that blood sugar under control. So yes, see the vet ASAP.
“In these cases, animals in this state tend to need emergency care. Often we can stabilize them with IV fluid therapy, insulin, and by treating the GI signs as well. I must note that when we treat these cases in DKA, their prognosis is very guarded and the longer left in this stage the poorer that prognosis for survival becomes.” ~Dr. B.
Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Ammonia?
At times, dog owners may notice an odor similar to ammonia in their dog’s breath. Some dog owners describe their dog’s breath as smelling like urine.
Kidney problems have been known for causing an ammonia smell in both the breath of dogs and humans, but what causes this smell in the first place?
An ammonia-like smell in a dog’s breath can be indicative of the kidneys not removing toxins as they normally should. This causes urea levels to increase and since urea is converted to ammonia, that explains why it gives the terrible breath, explains veterinarian Dr. Gabby.
“The ammonia breath is something we can see with dogs that are in kidney failure. The ammonia is not excreted in the urine, so they end up having to breath it out to help get rid of it.”~Dr. Gary
Course of action: Kidney problems need to be addressed early as possible as things can progress quickly. Affected dogs usually show other symptoms on top of the urine-smelling breath such as loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, increased or decreased urination and inflammation of the tongue. Best to get blood work done ASAP, suggests Dr. Gary.
Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Trash/Sewer?
Dog owners may get quite creative when it comes to describing the foul odor coming from a dog’s mouth.” My dog’s breath smells like trash”, “my dog’s breath smells like rotten garbage’, and one of our favorites: “my dog’s breath smells like sewer or roadkill.” Regardless of how you describe it, it just means your dog’s breath is terribly foul. And no, Rover didn’t likely go dumpster diving in the middle of the night, as the fellows in the picture did!
Often, a rotten, foul breath in dogs can be indicative of severe periodontal disease, the deterioration of a dog’s gums which can progress to inflammation, infection and even tooth loss.
A tooth abscess or presence of an oral tumor can also contribute to dog breath with a sickening smell. “Don’t just chalk it up to doggie breath,” says veterinarian Dr. Berg.
Course of Action: take you dog to the vet for a thorough check-up. Ongoing studies estimate that about 90 percent of dogs have some level of periodontal disease by the age of one, according to Today’s Veterinary Practice. Therefore the older the dog, the higher the chances for a great level of disease going on. While oral tumors aren’t as common, they are often missed by dog owners as they’re often in the back of the dog’s mouth, in hard to inspect areas. Also, not always bad breath comes from the mouth, it can come from any part of the dog’s upper digestive tract, which can be concerning and worthy of having checked out.
The Bottom Line
As seen, dogs may develop bad breath for several reasons. If you know what your dog’s normal breath smells like (such as right after getting a dental cleaning) then you have a baseline that helps you readily recognize abnormal odors from your dog’s mouth which may be attributed to potential health problems.
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has bad breath or you notice an unusual odor, please see your vet for advice and treatment.
- Veterinary Practice News, Debunking Common Myths About Periodontal Disease, retrieved from the web on October 20, 2016
- Fiorellini JP, Ishikawa SO, Kim DM. Clinical features of gingivitis. Carranza’s Clinical Periodontology. St. Louis: WB Saunders, 2006, pp 362-372.
- Meitner SW, Zander H, Iker HP, et al. Identification of inflamed gingival surfaces. J Clin Periodontol 1979; 6:93.
- Tufts Your Dog, Clues to Your Dog’s Health Can Be Just a Whiff Away, retrieved from the web on October 20th, 2016
- Flickr Creative Commons, USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation, CCBY.20
- Flickr, Creative Commons, Don Hankins, Boston Terrier Pedicure, CCBY2.0
- Flickr Creative Commons, OakleyOriginals, Trash Dogs, CCBY2.0