dog mouth

Dry Mouth In Dogs: Signs, Causes, and Symptoms

I suffer from dry mouth, but until my Cocker Spaniel suffered the same fate, I had no idea that dry mouth in dogs was a real thing. Every February is National Pet Dental Health Month, but the truth is dental and oral problems affect dogs 24/7/365.

Sadly, dogs can’t tell us their mouth feels dry and that their bad breath and thickened saliva are causing them to feel bad. 

My Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, experienced dry mouth in the months following the diagnosis of an immune-mediated disease called IMT (short for immune-mediated thrombocytopenia.) We were dealing with saving Dexter’s life, so it didn’t occur to me that a side effect of his treatments could be dry mouth.  

My dog recovered from IMT, and we addressed his dry mouth issue next. His internal medicine veterinarian indicated Dexter’s ‘air licking’ and occasional lip smacking was likely from the medications used to save his life.

Treatment options for his condition included steroids and antihistamines. Dexter showed clinical signs of xerostomia, the medical name for dry mouth. 

Dog breeds and mixed breeds of all ages can be affected by dry mouth. Here’s everything you need to know: how to determine the underlying cause and common and uncommon causes of dry mouth in dogs. 

Happy, smart, gentle, and with a merry disposition: These are the breed standards of the American Cocker Spaniel breed.
My beloved Dexter.
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What is Dry Mouth In Dogs?

Dry mouth typically affects dogs where the production of saliva is compromised or decreased,  just as in people. Saliva is important for your dog’s oral health. Saliva helps with digestion, bacterial overgrowth, and lubricates your dog’s mouth. 

You can imagine, then, if saliva production is compromised, your dog will not experience discomfort along with things like tooth decay, dry lips, difficulty eating and swallowing, and even dehydration. 

A vet visit is the first thing to do if you suspect your dog has a dry mouth. They will perform a physical exam and will develop a treatment plan. The underlying cause needs to be identified and treated accordingly. 

​Symptoms That Your Dog May Have Dry Mouth

While symptoms vary from dog to dog, the most common signs to watch for include the following. Many of these signs are indicative of other health problems in dogs. 

Increased Thirst: Dogs with dry mouths may drink more water than usual in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort caused by decreased saliva production.

Reduced Saliva Production:  Lack of saliva may lead to visible dryness in the gums, tongue, and other oral tissues. Also, report to your vet if your dog has excessive drooling.

Difficulty Eating or Swallowing: Chewing or swallowing may be difficult for dogs with dry mouth. They may show reluctance to eat or exhibit signs of discomfort while eating.

Bad Breath: Reduced saliva flow can contribute to the buildup of bacteria in the mouth, leading to foul-smelling breath.

Bleeding Gums: When my dog had bleeding gums, it was indicative of zero platelets and the diagnosis of IMT. Dogs with dry mouth may experience bleeding gums from a lack of saliva leading to oral hygiene issues.

Cracked Tongue: A dog’s tongue can become so dry that it cracks. 

Lesions in The Mouth: Without beneficial saliva to moisten the mouth, lesions may appear in your dog’s mouth. This is why oral care and inspection by your veterinarian and at home are crucial. 

Plaque Accumulation Despite Brushing: If you brush or care for your dog’s teeth regularly but still see plaque accumulation, it may be a lack of saliva. Since saliva contains plaque-fighting bacteria, 

Obvious Oral Pain or Discomfort: Dogs with dry mouth may paw at their mouths, drool excessively, or exhibit signs of oral discomfort, such as licking their lips frequently

Dental Health Changes: Dry mouth can increase the risk of dental problems such as tartar buildup, gum disease, and tooth decay. You may notice changes in your dog’s dental health, including red or inflamed gums, loose teeth, or visible plaque accumulation.

Appetite Changes or Weight Loss:  If dry mouth interferes with your dog’s ability to eat comfortably, they may have a decreased appetite or experience unintended weight loss over time.

Causes of Dry Mouth In Dogs: Common and Uncommon

Only a veterinarian can diagnose dry mouth. You never want to guess that your dog’s signs of drooling, pain in the mouth, or lip smacking are from a dry mouth.  

Here are some causes of dry mouth in dogs and red flags to watch for.


It’s a good idea to track all your dog’s medications, including vitamins and supplements. Even though your veterinarian should have a record, I like keeping my dog’s medications listed in something like the DogMinder health and wellness journal.

Some common medications with side effects of dry mouth include antihistamines, anticonvulsants, diuretics, and some chemotherapy drugs. As you can see, the use of certain drugs can lead to dry mouth. 


When dogs suffer from vomiting and/or diarrhea, dehydration can occur. Excessive panting can also lead to a dehydrated dog. Be sure your dog has plenty of fresh water in different water bowls, and check your dog’s gums to ensure they are pink and responsive. 

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Panting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Loss of skin elasticity.
  • Sunken or dry-appearing eyes.
  • Dry nose.
  • Dry, sticky gums.

Systemic Diseases

Things like kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, autoimmune disorders, hormonal imbalances (e.g., hypothyroidism), neurological disorders, and salivary gland disorders can contribute to the cause of your dog dealing with dry mouth.

Radiation Treatment for Cancer

If salivary glands are damaged or compromised, should your dog require radiation therapy, they may experience dry mouth. Radiation therapy can cause inflammation and damage to the mucous membranes lining the mouth and throat, a condition known as mucositis.

Mucositis can lead to pain, discomfort, and difficulty swallowing, which may exacerbate dry mouth symptoms.

Nerve Damage or Nerve Issues

When the degeneration of nerves affects a certain part of the nervous system in dogs, they may develope a condition called dysautonomia or Key-Gaskell syndrome.

Pets afflicted with dysautonomia may exhibit symptoms such as dry mouth, reduced appetite, vomiting, abnormal pupil response to light, third eyelid protrusion, dehydration, constipation, difficulty in eating and urinating, diminished tear production, and a decreased heart rate.

​Aging Process

As dogs age, they may experience changes in saliva production due to age-related factors. Older dogs may produce less saliva, leading to dry mouth and related oral health issues.

Stress, Fear, or Anxiety

Dogs experiencing stress, anxiety, or fear may exhibit reduced saliva production due to changes in their physiological state. This can result in dry mouth as a temporary response to emotional triggers.

Trauma or Injury

If your dog experiences a burn, bug bite, laceration, or has oral surgery, the normal flow of saliva production can be compromised, leading to dry mouth. 

Environment and Climate

Environmental factors such as dry or hot weather conditions, low humidity levels, or exposure to air conditioning or heating systems can contribute to dehydration and dry mouth in dogs. Dogs in a particularly humid or dry climate should be monitored closely.

Zymox Oratene dry mouth products for dogs

 How Is Dry Mouth Treated?

When my Cocker Spaniel was diagnosed with dry mouth, his internal medicine veterinarian recommended we use Oratene® Brushless Oral Care products. Oratene enhances a dog’s salivary natural defenses to help a dog with dry mouth. 

With a blend of enzymes, including the LP3 Enzyme System, it helps combat bacteria and reduce odors linked to increased plaque formation due to dry mouth. Moreover, Oratene features dextranase and mutanase enzymes, which collaborate to break down plaque biofilm, rendering it water soluble and preventing it from adhering to teeth.

What I personally like about the line is that it is veterinarian-formulated, veterinarian-recommended, made in the USA, and contains no drugs or additives. 

Here are the Oratene products he recommended that we used with success:​

Oratene Enzymatic Brushless Oral Care Dental Water Additive: You add two pumps of the product for every four cups of your dog’s drinking water. Do not use an automatic water bowl with a filter so you don’t filter out the good stuff.

Oratene Enzymatic Brushless Oral Care Toothpaste Gel: This non-drying, brushless dental gel is ideal for everyday use, won’t cause excess salivation, and we used it every morning to help with Dexter’s xerostomia.

It is also available in Oratene breath freshener spray, easily squirting it onto your dog’s teeth and gums as needed.

I trusted these products since a board-certified internal medicine veterinarian suggested we use them with our dog. 

Your veterinarian may also recommend more water, dog food with a higher water content, brushing your dog’s teeth daily, and ongoing use of the Oratene products. 

Fortunately, dry mouth is manageable, and pet parents have many products available to help with mild to severe cases of the condition. 

Oratene starter kit for dog mouth

Contest and Giveaway 

Each winner receives:

  • 1 oz Oratene water additive
  • 0.75 oz Oratene brushless toothpaste gel
  • 1.25 ox Oratene breath freshener


Must be 18 or over, USA only. Prize packs shipped by ZYMOX to winners.

Complete rules.

Two random winners selected at random on or about February 20, 2024. Winners have 48 hours to reply via email. Winners will be announced in this post and contacted via email.


Dry mouth in dogs treatments, causes, signs


  1. I struggle to keep Eden’s teeth cleaned. She does not allow me to brush them even with a wipe wrapped around my fingers. Sweet baby girl has lost several teeth, hoping we don’t lose anymore. This article was very informative. Thank you Carol for all you do, this article was great!

  2. Trish and Ralphie would be using. Trish doesn’t mind once I’ve started brushing, but once it over.. Ralphie Really doesn’t like getting his teeth brushed. He keeps moving his head all around.

  3. Charlie would use.Thank you for continuing to teach me things that I was not aware of about our furry loves.

  4. Boomer would be the one to use this. As much as I try to keep his teeth clean he still hates toothbrushing and still gets lots of tarter.

  5. Toby occasionally has stinky breath. I’ve tried several products with no luck do far. We’re willing to try something new. I still live his 💋 😘.

  6. Joy really doesn’t mind having her teeth brushed. But now I have noticed as she has gotten older & has been diagnosed with Cushing’s, seems like her gums have gotten more sensitive.

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