Why Does My Dog’s Mouth Stink

dog mouth stinks

Your dog’s mouth stinks. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3. If pet parents don’t attend to the dog’s teeth, oral disease can hit the kidneys, liver and heart, and seriously affect a dog’s quality of life.  Easily preventable in most cases with the fancy device seen below, there are causes beyond lack of tooth brushing wherein dogs have bad breath. Here are some reasons your dog’s mouth might stink, which should diagnosed by your pet’s veterinarian. As a diligent pet parent, you are your dog’s first line of defense against the offensive odors emanating from his oral cavity.

dog toothbrush

Smelly Jowl Alert

I pride myself on keeping my dog’s mouth clean. He gets his teeth brushed every night, eats better food than I, and gets a meaty bone every other week to work on. So when my beloved Cocker Spaniel had a smelly mouth that would not go away despite twice daily brushing, off to the vet we went. The vet later told me that he knew what Dexter’s diagnosis was the moment we entered the exam room. Lip fold dermatitis has a very distinct stink.

Dogs with saggy or thick lips and/or droopy jowls are prime candidates for lip fold dermatitis. That small area where the lip ever so gently “folds” and pockets of saliva can pool inside can harbor bacteria, and eventually produce a very offensive odor. In addition to the lips, a fold dermatitis may affect  other parts of a dog’s body, wherever sagging skin causes skin folds to occur. So think of a Shar Pei with all those thick wrinkles. Clumber Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and any dog with thick jowls probably have a pet parent who will relate to the smell the jowls can produce.

We were prescribed an antifungal shampoo for the area, an astringent to clean out the jowls, and an ointment to apply to the area. After two weeks, the issue cleared up. In the summer months, when panting is more frequent, we noticed the smell starting to rear it’s ugly scent. To keep it at bay and to keep the jowls clean and free of bacteria, we use EvoraPet sprinkled on his food once a day and wipe with Mal-A-Ket pads. Have your dog’s veterinarian show you how to keep the folds clean and exactly where they are located.

The goal is to keep the lip folds clean and dry. Teeth brushing and checking your dog’s mouth regularly will ensure that this problem doesn’t get the best of you or your dog. Clean your dog’s lip folds daily, especially after a meal so that food debris removed.  You don’t want any fungi or bacteria to call a dog’s mouth a home.

dog jowl

Bad Tooth

We brush our teeth daily, and unless you provide the same level of care for your canine’s canines, bad teeth are likely to rear their ugly crowns. I’ve talked to dog parents whose dogs needed teeth extracted at ages 2 and 3 due to dental hygiene neglect. At the very least, brush at least every other day or even three times a week. Make it a routine, make it fun, and even better, try my surefire tips to get your dog used to the toothbrush in no time.

A piece of food can get caught in a tooth. Taking it one step further, a tumor within the mouth, throat, palate, gums, or tongue can cause an odor. Check your dog’s gums daily – which can be done during tooth brushing. If anything is found or suspected, or if the odor continues, seek veterinary care.

brush dog teeth
Check gums – these are healthy and normal.

Internal Organ Problems

Liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal issue are often diagnosed after a pet parent reports their dog has developed bad breath.

Diabetes is often associated with fruity or sweet-smelling breath. Has your dog been drinking or urinating more?

Breath that has a urine scent to it might be indicative of kidney disease.

Bad breath in conjunction with vomiting, lack of appetite, and yellowed gums or whites of the eyes can be a sign of liver issues.

Dexter teeth

Foreign Body

Something could be stuck in your dog’s mouth, between his teeth, or even in his throat or stomach and causing bad breath.


A runny nose, inflammation of the sinuses, a sinus infection, or any sort of allergic reaction that is chronic can cause bad breath in dogs.  Always see a vet if a dog has a runny nose that is not getting better, particularly if associated with any other symptoms or if the discharge is yellow or green.

If all of the above have been ruled out and the bottom line is that your dog’s teeth need to be brushed, this long time dog mom and advocate for canine better health is here to say do it.  I can teach you how, step by step.  Here are ten steps to getting your dog used to teeth brushing. Patience is key.

dog teeth

Water Additives

Water additives are the easy to dispense drops of liquid designed to be added to the dog’s water bowl and ingested with a fresh supply of water every time Fido takes a drink. Some manufacturers claim the molecules in the water additives help break down plaque before it can form on a dog’s teeth. A water additive is pretty much like a mouth wash in people. I use a mouth wash but I would not rely on it solely to keep plaque from forming on my teeth. The only device that can do that is, you guessed it, a toothbrush with dog-safe toothpaste added.

Further, be clear that if you use a water additive for dogs that it absolutely does not contain Xylitol, which can shut a dog’s kidneys down.

The friction of a toothbrush on the surface of a tooth is the best defense against plaque. A water additive can be helpful, as a start and as an additional defense against plaque.

According to a 2013 analysis conducted by VPI Pet Insurance, the average cost to prevent dental disease in pets is $171.82, but it costs $531.71 to treat dental disease.  “We brush our teeth each day, and daily oral hygiene is recommended for dogs and cats from the time the permanent teeth erupt,” explains Dr. Jan Bellows, president of the American Veterinary Dental College. “

If you think that eating pretzels scrapes tartar off your teeth, then by all means believe that eating hard dog food does the same for a dog.


What I Use

For pet parents who want to step up and do the right thing for their dog, start with brushing your dog’s teeth at least once a day. I do this every night before bed. If your dog does not like his teeth brushed or you’ve never tried, follow these steps and let me know how it goes. Never ever scold a dog and take your time: Their lives are so short. Be kind, be gentle, and be patient.

EvoraPet probiotic oral care: One scoop over food at dinnertime: It is odorless and tasteless and inexpensive. EvoraPet is a tasteless and odorless powder that you sprinkle on your pet’s food once a day. This oral care probiotic sprinkle crowds out the bad bacteria that cause bad breath and will gently and safely whiten your pet’s teeth. I discovered this product at the Global Pet Expo several years ago, and what a game changer it has been.

CET Vanilla Mint toothpaste: Most dogs like mint flavor and the sweetness of the vanilla makes it tastier to them. CET is a dog-safe toothpaste. it comes in other flavors, too.  Never use a human toothpaste on dogs: It can harm them or worse. The CET enzymatic toothpaste provides natural antibacterial action and to inhibit the formation of plaque. I use a child’s toothbrush for Dexter, who has thicker jowls and I have a bit of wiggle room. For smaller jowls or less cooperative dogs, a finger toothpaste is something to aim for as time goes on. You might need to stay with a finger toothbrush, and that is fine. 

Annie’s Pooch Pops Muttkins: If you’ve followed this blog and/or our Facebook page for any length of time, you’ve probably seen our dog, Dexter, in a zen mode like the photo below. When your dog chews on bones, the chewing action scrapes away plaque, may help control tartar buildup, and helps stimulate gums. A bone does not replace a toothbrush, but I do allow him, with supervision, to gnaw on this bone. He gets a new one every few weeks, and that is because I toss the bones out to avoid bacteria. They come in a variety of sizes. I am not a fan of rawhide nor do I recommend it.

dog with a bone

I put my reputation on the line here and have proof of how this works: Not once did my last Cocker Spaniel need a professional under-anesthesia dental cleaning in her entire 15 years of life. The folks at the vet used to be amazed at how tartar-free her teeth remained, and I attribute it to teeth brushing, being diligent, and taking literally 5 minutes or less per day to save her life. I feel as if I was gifted with extra years and healthy organs because of my efforts.


Never second guess nor wait if your dog develops chronic bad breath. The old adage that dogs are well, dogs and live with bad breath is simply just that: an old adage that needs to be buried in the back yard along with the old bones.

Here’s to good oral health.

(note: I am not being paid to tell you about the above products and you should always check with your dog’s veterinarian before starting oral care at home, especially if you never brushed teeth before; there can be cracks, breaks, or worse.  I am sharing what has worked for us.)

Does your dog ever have bad breath? What has helped your pooch?

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  1. I didn’t brush my last dog’s teeth and he ended up needing to have several teeth pulled and it was a miserable experience. I wish I had read your column years ago. My current dog that I adopted last year at age 12, doesn’t have any teeth due to a jaw problem, but I don’t know if oral care played any part in him losing his teeth. Oral care is such an important thing and most people just don’t get it.

  2. My dentist was rather embarrassed when his vet told him his dogs had gingivitis! Even my dentist thought chewing on a bone was enough but admitted when he thought about it, brushing made more sense.

  3. Bentley loves brushing his teeth and now I am proud to say that Pierre will sit in line to have his brushed. It has taken two years for him to come around, but he now looks forward to it. I’m waiting on some water additive that I won on BlogPawsChat! WooHoo!

  4. I know I should have gotten my dog started on teeth brushing, but I never did. So far his teeth seem to be OK, though.

  5. I’m a stickler when it comes to my dog’s teeth. Both Khloee and Wynston have “pristine” teeth (as my vet would say!) because I take such preventative measures. It seems like MANY people still do not realize the importance of cleaning our pets’ teeth. Thanks for spreading the word!

  6. and here I thought it was hard to get my kids to brush. Can not imaging having to tackle a dog and brush their teeth too! Wozza… I didn’t know that they could get so many health concerns if they didn’t get their teeth brushed.

  7. I think Dexter and Taffy have the same problem! Taffy has always smelled bad and it came from her chin area. When we first took her to vet we found out how bad her teeth were. When she had them cleaned they said that her lip folds were actually infected. Mom uses pet wipes on her chin and around her mouth at least once a day to keep the dirt and whatever she gets into off of her. Sorry to see the Nylabones on the do not list as my teeth are pearly white because of them! Love Dolly

    1. I am too afraid to feed Nylabones because of the ingredients, but now that we tend to the jowls the problem is gone. Woofs!

  8. My brother has a pug and he tends to have stinky breath often. I’m going to mention this info to my brother and have him check out his jowls to see if that might be the culprit!

  9. I love my dogs. I feed them well and care for them. I am not brushing their teeth. Ever. However, I can say that because his breath doesn’t stink – if it did I would probably say something else! Kudos to you for caring enough to find out these details that will help somebody like me.

  10. Great info – we do a lot of deez things and will add a bit! I haz two follow-ups: we has our teefs cleaned via non-anesthesia methods every quarter, has you tried dat? Whatchu fink? Also, with regards to bones – our vet told my momma not to give me dem cuz I could break a toof – what has been your overall experience wif bones and teefs? Thank U – dis was a super helpful post on doggie breath/teefs!

  11. I thought Dogs had naturally stinky breath.. I do notice my Dog’s breath stinks whenever he eats something new and it gets stuck in his teeth. These tips are an eye opener

  12. I didn’t know that oral disease could affect pets like that! Luckily we haven’t experienced bad breath with my mom’s pets but not that I’ve read this post, We know what preventive measures to take!

  13. It seems like there are a lot of reasons!
    My dog has nice breath but my parent’s old dog had rotted teeth. The poor dog had to have surgery!
    This is very informative, by the way.

  14. I am sharing this post with my daughter who has just grown her family by two fur babies. I think every dog owner should be aware of the potential for a lip bacteria, and to pay attention to the smells coming from their dogs mouth.

  15. That’s interesting that you can tell so much about a dog’s health from his or her breath. The same goes for people, too. 🙂

  16. Tons of good and useful information. I never realized how important canine oral health is, but now I do. Thank you. And I am sure our little Boston Terrier will be happy getting his teeth brushed. This should be an adventure. Again thanks.

  17. It is very important to take care of pups oral hygiene. With all of my pups we have purchased dental chews and brushed their teeth routinely to help keep their breath fresh and their mouths healthy.

  18. I’m shocked that your dog never needed a cleaning in 15 years! That’s amazing. I admire your diligence. Phoebe is about 7 or 8 years old now and she clearly never had any dental attention. I recently started brushing her teeth – not easy, but she needs a professional cleaning very soon. I took my Husky for a bath at PetSmart and they brushed her teeth for the first time. They looked great! I’d like to start brushing her teeth too but it won’t be easy. Thanks for all the great info & focus you always provide on pet dental health!

  19. I would like to add another reason that a dog’s mouth might smell bad. I have brushed my Great Danes teeth every night since he was a baby but when he was about 2 yrs old his mouth began to smell even though his teeth appeared tarter free and his gums looked healthy to me. I took him to a veternary dentist who said that Cooper’s gums were overgrown around his back teeth which created pockets within which bacteria had collected. He performed a gum trim which fixed the problem and my boy who is now 6.5 yrs old has not had a problem since. I’m not sure how common this problem is however.

    1. Donna, thanks for coming to share this point with us. WOW that is amazing that your dog had those issues and without seeing a vet, you may not have known. Thank goodness all is okay now and your Dane is happy and healthy. Continued wags for a long happy life!

    2. My small dog is 15 yrs old. She had s bad odor at times. If it was her teeth I would think she may not eat however she loves food and bones to chew and does not seem to be in any pain

  20. My girl Gracie (7 month old Chiweenie) fights me HARD if I go anywhere near her teeth with her tooth brush (and I have beef flavor toothpaste). When just sitting I calmly massage her mouth so she’s used to me in her mouth (similar to playing with paws so she lets me tend to her nails.. Which worked). She still won’t have anything of it . I’ve found that occasionally giving her small amounts of coconut oil helps in the breath department tremendously, but I still want to avoid any kind of dental issues when she is older. Any suggestions?

  21. Unfortunately you can’t always help your dog’s teeth. I’ve properly brushed my dachshunds teeth twice a day after each meal. He gets meaty bones. He has a mouth spray to clean teeth and keep breath fresh. But no matter what I do he gets yucky plaque which I have a scraper and scrape off and his teeth rot. I had him on a raw food diet called Darwins and his front teeth kept getting food lodged between them and rotting and smelling and I had to use a little sprayer hose to blast them out which he loved biting at the water. Now I feed him canned food the Brand is Wellness. My point is it depends on the dogs genetics. He had to have many teeth pulled and I was upset because I’ve tried so hard and always cared for his teeth. I do want to try the probiotic powder for the teeth he has left though.

    1. I do believe you can help a dog’s teeth but genetics do play a big part. Some smaller breeds have major issues, too. You sound like you are on top of this. Much like people, dogs can help dental issues, too. Thanks for coming by, Lynn!

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