With Pete Wedderburn

Halitosis – or foul smelling breath – is a common problem in pets. There are at least three common causes.

Tara the Rhodesian Ridgeback, was a typical example of the first cause. Her owner complained of “bad breath”, but when I examined her, I could find nothing wrong at all. Her breath smelt quite normal, and it was difficult to understand what was bothering her owner.  

Then Tara gulped, then belched. Immediately, the consulting room was filled with a strong unpleasant odour. It was the kind of smell that you might find if you lifted the lid on a garbage bin that had been sitting in the sun for a few days. I now knew exactly that the owner was complaining about.
The bad smell was definitely coming from Tara’s digestive tract. I enquired about her diet. She was being fed a cheap-and-cheerful dried mix that her owner bought in huge sacks.

It seemed likely that the cheap dog food may contain ingredients that were digesting and fermenting in Tara’s stomach. Foul smelling gas being belched up.

I suggested that she should change to a so-called “premium quality” dry food, which would be more expensive, but also much better quality. Many vets sell this type of high quality diet, and pet shops often stock various ranges of premium foods.

Tara’s owner phoned me a week later. She was delighted. The bad smell had disappeared within two days of starting the new food.

It’s not just dogs that can suffer from bad breath:  Coco was a ten year old black cat with halitosis. His owner had noticed that when he miaowed or yawned, there was a definite bad smell coming from his mouth.  

When I examined his mouth, it was clear at once that he was a classic example of foul breath due to the second common cause: dental disease. He had a severe build up of brown tartar on his teeth, and his gums were swollen and red.

Coco was admitted for a full dental work-up under general anaesthesia. He had six teeth extracted, and his remaining teeth were cleaned and polished. He was sent home with a special type of food designed to help keep his teeth healthy in the future. His breath smelt better immediately, and as long as his dental disease is controlled in the future, the smell will not come back.

Last week I saw a dog that was a good example of the third type of “halitosis” , when the smell in fact originates outside of the mouth. Fudge is a Golden Cocker Spaniel, with an expressive face, and long, curly, golden hair around his head.  He has clean, healthy teeth, and his breath smells very normal. However, there was a strong smell around his mouth.

On close examination, I discovered that Fudge has a deep fold of skin beneath his lower lip, on the left and right sides. This fold of skin forms a crease which tends to fill with morsels of food. The skin becomes irritated, infected and smelly. Fudge has a problem known as “Lip Fold Dermatitis”, which is very common in spaniel-type breeds of dog.

It is possible to carry out plastic surgery to remove the offending lip fold, but in Fudge’s case, this has not been necessary. His owner has been able to control the problem very simply, by regular cleaning of the lip fold after meals, and then application of a protective, anti-bacterial ointment.  

How does your pet’s breath smell? Go on, find out! Bend down, close your eyes, steel yourself and breathe in through your nose!

Read Pete regularly in Ireland’s Own