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Food to Treat Bad Breath in Cats and Dogs

Nutritional Answers to Your Pet's Halitosis

By Mary Kearl. January 11, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Food to Treat Bad Breath in Cats and Dogs

Dogs are great, but their breath is not. If you've ever had the urge to spike your puppy chow with a box of Altoids, stop! There is a better way. Try some of these methods before you break out the Binaca.

We all love our best pals. But their breath? That’s another story! Are you bothered by your pet’s mouth odor and want to find a way to make it go away? Are you worried about what halitosis could indicate about your loved one’s overall health?

In some cases, food and nutrition are part of the problem--and in others they’re part of the solution.

Causes of Halitosis (Bad Breath) in Dogs and Cats

While it may seem in good fun to joke about the bad breath of a cat or dog, the unfortunate reality is that halitosis can be the result of dental or gum disease. The good news is that detecting and treating the disease right away can help prevent further consequences. In some rare cases, your pet’s mouth odor could be a symptom of respiratory or gastrointestinal issues or a problem with your loved one’s organs.

Worrying Symptoms:

  • Unexplained sweet or fruity smelling breath may be a sign of diabetes.
  • Urine-scented mouth odor may signal kidney disease.

If your pet is experiencing any of the troubles above, set up a vet appointment.

How the Right Nutrition Can Help with Bad Breath

While brushing is the best defense against tartar and plaque buildup, which is linked to bad breath, these tips can help, too:

  • Serve your pet nutritious, easy to swallow meals that don’t get caught up in the teeth and gums. Dry food is often better for this than wet.
  • Try switching to a food that has been formulated to promote dental health--these are typically high in plaque-scraping fiber and are often dry food products, which some pet health experts believe may be better for tooth health than soft food.
  • Offer treats that have been designed to help with bad breath.
  • Consider additives for your pet’s water that have properties intended to boost oral hygiene.
  • In some cases, bad breath may be the result of an underlying health condition in which case a diet change, recommended by your vet, may be beneficial.
  • When you shop for food and treats purporting dental-health benefits, look for a Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance (VOHC) label. This is an indicator the product and its claims have been scientifically proven through studies.

How Food Can Contribute to Bad Breath in Pets

Food particles and residue can build up and lead to tooth decay--another halitosis culprit. Some vets recommend avoiding soft, sticky food.

Keep in mind, though, that while the food pets eat may have an appealing aroma and taste to them, we probably don’t feel the same about their food, which may explain the cause of your pet’s so-called bad breath. Dog or cat mouth odor may just be a reflection of the day’s meals—unappetizing to you, but not unhealthy. Also, since most pets don’t have their teeth brushed twice a day, the way most humans do, their breath will likely never be what you would call minty fresh.

Make Brushing Your Pet's Teeth Easier

If brushing your pet’s teeth is a challenge, consider doing it in close proximity to treat time, mealtime, or another event for which your pet has positively associated feelings. Use toothpaste and mouthwash formulated for pets (the kind we use can hurt our loved ones’ tummies) and avoid the ingredient xylitol, which can lead to low-blood sugar and liver toxicity in pets. If your pet can’t stand the taste of toothpaste, even brushing teeth with water has been found to have benefits.

More on Pet Dental Health

How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth
How to Brush Your Cat's Teeth
19 Products that Clean Cat and Dog Teeth

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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