Stinky Breath Can Be Caused by Dental Disease and Other Underlying Oral Problems

Bad breath, or halitosis, occurs commonly in dogs and cats. The most common cause is a build up of plaque and tartar on the teeth that can be remedied by a dental cleaning and polishing followed by regular dental care by the owner. However, some pets can have their teeth cleaned and only get a very temporary reprieve from breath that, as the comedian George Carlin so eloquently noted, “could knock a buzzard off a manure wagon”. Some of the other problems we find that are responsible for pets’ foul breath are primary gingivitis, periodontal disease and abscesses, oral ulcerations, and oral tumors.

Primary gingivitis is most common in cats whose immune system has gone amok and decided to attack the gum tissues surrounding the teeth, causing an infiltration of inflammatory cells like plasmacytes and lymphocytes. This can involve the larger teeth at the back of the mouth or all the teeth and can be quite painful leading to secondary infections by the opportunistic bacteria found in all mouths. There can also be a more widespread immune system attack on the oral mucosal tissues, especially back in the areas where the jaws come together, making eating and drinking a painful experience. This is called stomatitis and probably has the same mysterious origin as gingivitis, but the odor and increase in production of thick, drooling saliva can be very foul. Why this immune attack occurs is not known, but sometimes antibiotics and cortisone or other immunosuppressants can provide what is usually temporary relief. In extreme cases, extractions of some or all of the teeth are necessary to give long-term relief.

Less commonly in dogs, an inflammatory condition of the gums and mucosa of the cheeks that contact the teeth, occurs which probably has a similar immune system attack at fault as in cats. This condition is called CUPS, or Canine Ulcerative Paradental Stomatitis, and often requires the same treatment as that for stomatitis in cats.

Another hidden cause of foul breath is periodontitis, the breakdown of bone around the socket holding the tooth roots, leading to draining abscesses that may only be visible on dental radiographs. Sometimes performing a root canal, or more commonly, extraction of the offending tooth will eliminate the foul breath. Similarly, ulcers of the mouth caused by temporary virus infections, or more serious underlying diseases such as kidney failure, become secondarily infected and can cause drooling and foul breath. Unfortunately, sometimes foul breath can be due to an oral tumor of the gums, palate, or cheeks and lips that becomes eroded and secondarily infected with oral bacteria.

An examination by our veterinarians can usually pinpoint the cause of halitosis and a plan can be formulated to deal with the problem. Since the majority of smelly pet mouths are simply caused by plaque and tartar buildup, a dental cleaning saving 10% during our winter dental special will make pet kisses sweet during the holiday season.

Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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