A dog standing in the sun with its mouth open.

DeBarking Pet Myths: Is “Dog Breath” Normal in Pets?

Welcome to another installment of “Debarking Pet Myths,” our monthly series that addresses common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs, cats and their nutrition.

“Dog breath” is such a commonly accepted reality of owning a pet that the term has become a shorthand joke for bad breath in any species. Bad breath in dogs and cats is almost expected, so much so that popular children’s author Dav Pilkey has written humorous books about the subject, to the delight (and mild disgust) of millions.

In reality, bad breath in dogs and cats shouldn’t be expected or accepted, and certainly isn’t a joke. If your dog huffs some breath that smells like it came right from the local dump or your cat reeks of fish or worse, it could be a sign of some serious health issues. For National Pet Dental Health month, we’re detailing why dog breath or fishy felines are no laughing matter.

Dental issues. The most obvious reason for bad breath in your pet is an underlying dental problem. Bad breath, in fact, is the most common sign of periodontal disease, an often painful infection and inflammation of the tissue that surrounds a tooth. VCA Hospitals suggest that more than two-thirds of dogs older than three suffer from some form of periodontal disease.

But bad breath can also be a sign of poor dental habits. Most people brush their own teeth at least twice every day, but a recent study shows that nearly 40 percent of dog owners have never brushed their dog’s teeth. Meanwhile, 73 percent of cat owners have never done the deed. Imagine your breath if you never touched a toothbrush! Some dogs can mitigate the effects of not brushing by gnawing on chew toys, but without regular cleaning, the plaque and tartar buildup will cause bad breath. Since cats generally aren’t chewers, it’s even more important to keep those teeth sparkly and that breath crisp.

Kidney disease. A dog whose breath smells like poop doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been raiding the litter box. And a cat with breath that reeks of urine hasn’t necessarily been, well, you get the idea. No, if your pet presents you regularly with some truly foul oral emissions, take immediate action because it could be a sign of advanced kidney disease. The kidneys are responsible for eliminating waste from the bloodstream, and failing kidneys means an uptick in that waste, which could cause some rancid breath. If your dog or cat fits that bill or presents any of these symptoms, consult with your veterinarian immediately.

Unauthorized eating. On the flip side, there’s a chance that if your dog has poop breath, they have been raiding the litter box. Or if your cat’s breath is fishy, it could be because they’ve been getting into their food or the garbage and treating themselves to some unauthorized snacks. These aren’t ideal situations, but they are easily correctable. Just be sure to correct the situation, because eating things other than dog and cat food can lead to bigger problems.

Diabetes. Anyone who has experienced a face full of dog breath has probably wished for a pet with more aromatic exhalation. But a pet with literal sweet-smelling breath could be suffering from diabetes. Sugary or fruity-smelling breath might be a sign of high blood sugar or even ketoacidosis, an advanced offshoot of diabetes that requires immediate attention.


It might be fun to joke about your pet’s breath, and every pet (and human, for that matter) has the occasional bout with a stinky mouth. But if it’s a regular occurrence in your cat or dog, you might just be getting a whiff of something worse.




An interior graphic with text that reads, 'Debarking Pet Myths: Dog breath is normal — False'.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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