For the love of your pet: A stinky situation

Dec. 5, 2013 at 6:05 a.m.

As my dog is getting older, her breath seems to be getting worse and worse. What can I do to help her horrible breath?

Bad breath, or halitosis, is typically caused by gum disease, which is a result of the bacterial populations in the mouth. Plaque, unhealthy oral cavity tissue, decomposing food particles stuck between teeth or in the gums, among other things, lead to bad breath.

Bacteria form a film that covers teeth, which begins immediately as your dog starts to salivate. The bacteria attach to the teeth within six to eight hours. Within days, this film forms plaque, which then becomes mineralized to form tartar.

As the plaque ages and spreads below the gum line, periodontal disease, as well as gingivitis, ensues. Gingivitis is inflammation and reddening of gum tissue. It is the most common form of periodontal disease.

This irritation of the tissue can cause pockets to form around the teeth. Bone loss can also occur and lead to loose teeth and painful mastication (chewing).

Dental disease affects both dogs and cats. Small breeds and short-nosed animals are more prone to oral disease. This is most likely because of the fact that their teeth are closer together, they live longer, and their owners tend to feed them softer foods and table scraps. Older animals are at higher risk, particularly if they have not had proper dental care.

In many cases of dental disease, owners will see no other clinical signs besides bad breath. Other things to look for include salivating, bloody gums, nasal discharge, pawing at mouth or anorexia (not eating). Periodontal disease is a serious issue and should be treated immediately. Studies have shown that dogs with periodontal disease are more likely to have changes in their heart, liver and kidneys.

A thorough oral examination should be performed. In order to do this, general anesthesia is typically required. X-rays may be suggested by your veterinarian.

Treatment includes teeth cleaning, buffing and removal of any tooth that has lost more than 50 percent support. In some cases, your veterinarian may decide to use antibiotics for bacterial overgrowth and infection of the gums.

Preventative measures should also be taken to ensure that your pet has a healthy mouth. There are plaque prevention products, oral rinses and dental care treats available through your veterinarian.

Daily teeth brushings are the best way to remove plaque and control dental disease and odor. It should be started early in your pet's life to get them acclimated to it. Annual teeth cleanings should be performed to evaluate gum health, tooth loosening and remove hard-to-reach tartar.

If you have any questions please consult your veterinarian or contact me at



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