Food to Treat Bad Breath in Cats and Dogs Nutritional Answers to Your Pet's Halitosis

BY | January 11 | COMMENTS PUBLISHED BY
Food to Treat Bad Breath in Cats and Dogs
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY


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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.

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:

  • The 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 dog food like the Royal Canin Dog Food is often better for this than wet dog food.
  • 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 through dog food brands purporting dental-health benefits, like the Hill’s Prescription Diet, 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 your dog’s teeth cleaning is a challenge, consider doing it near 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.

Food to Help with Cat and Dog Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is the most commonly diagnosed health problem in dogs and cats. Food and nutrition can be both a cause and a solution.

Without regular oral hygiene--including sticking to a dental-health-friendly diet and receiving regular tooth brushings--plaque will begin to blanket your loved one’s teeth and gums. After a while, this can result in infection. If left untreated, periodontal disease could put pets at risk of issues with their kidneys, heart, and liver infections. 

The good news is that the condition is treatable. In fact, according to the American Veterinary Dental College, “several ‘dental diets’ are of benefit in decreasing dental disease.”

Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

If you see the signs of these symptoms, set up an appointment with your vet:

  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Plaque and tartar buildup
  • Bleeding and receding gums
  • Inflammation of the gums
  • Loose or rotting teeth

You may also see these accompanying symptoms:

  • Tooth pain
  • Eating out of one side of the mouth
  • Drooling
  • Disinterest in eating and playing
  • Lower energy levels
  • Sneezing,
  • Nasal discharge
  • Cats may hiss at their food, if in pain

Treatment will likely include a dental cleaning. Problem teeth may need to be pulled. From there, regular checkups and maintenance like brushing your pet's teeth will help prevent future recurrence of the disease. 

Dental-Health-Friendly Feeding Tips for Dogs and Cats

Good dental care will also include taking up other good habits at home, including these strategies for your pet’s food and nutrition.

  • Serve nutritious, easy-to-swallow meals. Food that’s hard to swallow or sticks to teeth can get stuck in hard-to-reach-places and contribute to mouth problems.
  • Try offering your pal foods that have been formulated to or found to promote dental health, like the Hill’s Dog food that ensures dental care. These are usually high in plaque-scraping fiber and often are dry food products, which some animal health experts believe may be more beneficial than soft food.
  • When looking for “dental” foods and treats, be sure to buy products containing the Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance (VOHC) label, meaning there’s sound evidence that the benefits it touts have worked in tests.
  • Give your dog rawhide products or chew treats, which are beneficial if chewed daily. Be mindful, though -- some dogs may tend to swallow large chunks whole. That could lead to choking and gastrointestinal problems in some pets. Make sure you are around when your dog chews these denitrifies to ensure that your pet is not trying to swallow them whole!
  • Since chew toys can also be beneficial if played with daily, consider adding a thin layer of peanut butter or soft cheese on your pet’s plaything--doing so may lead to longer gnawing action.
  • Consider additives for your pet’s water that have properties intended to increase oral hygiene.
  • Avoid hard items like cow hooves, dried bones found in nature, or hard nylon products that could increase your pet’s likelihood of having broken teeth.

Make Tooth Brushing Easier on Your Pet

If brushing your pet’s teeth is difficult, Texas A&M University, Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences recommends using gauze and beef or chicken broth for dogs or tuna water for cats to start, to get them used to the practice.

Others suggest having tooth brushing occur near treat time, mealtime, or another activity your pet enjoys.

When you make the switch from broth, use toothpaste and mouthwash formulated for pets--the kind we use can hurt pets’ stomachs--and avoid the ingredient xylitol, which can lead to low blood sugar and liver toxicity issues. If your animal 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, 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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