by ANDREW M. STREIBER, DVM

BY RON CASTELLANO

Q:  My pets have bad breath!  Should I be worried?  Both my cat and dog suffer from breath so awful, my family and friends have started to complain!  What can I do?

A:  This is a common dilemma.  An animal’s halitosis (bad breath) can be an indicator of many different disease states of the oral cavity or within the body, ranging from the mild to the very serious.

Usually, halitosis in a pet is a direct result of dental disease.  Plaque and/or tartar builds up, leading to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), and eventually halitosis.  In both cats and dogs, bad breath may be an indicator of early renal (kidney) insufficiency or chronic renal failure.  In these cases, a pet’s breath may smell uremic, or sweet.  Halitosis may also indicate neoplasia (cancer) of the oral cavity.  Cats may contract a soft tissue neoplasia called squamous cell carcinoma, while canine osteosarcoma (oral cancer) is usually associated with the mandible (lower jaw bone).

Untreated, an animal’s severe gingivitis may cause a tooth to become non-vital or simply fall out.  Should a tooth fall out, an abscess forming in the sinus is a real concern, especially in dogs, as the roots of canine maxilla (upper jaw bone) teeth communicate with a canine’s nasal sinuses.  Abscesses also commonly occur at the base of an animal’s carnassial (Pre Molar 4) tooth.

In the most extreme cases, severe dental disease is thought to be capable of causing endocarditis, or an infection of the valve leaflets of the heart, though I am unaware of any cases of this type being reported in veterinary Journals.  In addition, many other diseases of the oral cavity exist.  Those listed above represent just the tip of the iceberg.

Ideally, a pet visits a DVM annually for a complete examination that includes the oral cavity.  If recommended by your veterinarian, a dental prophylaxis (scaling & polishing) should be performed.  Once prophylaxis is complete, simple maintenance becomes the key to prevention.  Daily brushing, an appropriate diet, and the use of treats designed to minimize tartar and plaque are good steps to take.

(On a side note: in California, as of January 1, 2013, ANY AND ALL domestic pet dentistry came under the purview of veterinarians, making it illegal for anyone other that a vet or an RVT to perform any sort of dental prophylaxis on a pet.)

February is Pet Dental Health Awareness Month, which sees veterinarians across the country discounting both an animal’s dental prophylaxis, and any lab work run as a precursor to general anesthesia.

Keep your pets healthy and be sure to have them checked annually by their vet!