Pet Wellness Guides > Does Your Dog's Breath Smell Like Death? 6 Common Causes - Pet Insurance Review

Does Your Dog’s Breath Smell Like Death? 6 Common Causes

Posted: 08/01/2023 | BY: Jenna Bruce | Categories: Dog , Health problems , Pet care

Nothing beats sharing a sweet moment with your pup. You’re spooning them and giving them squeezes and everything just seems right in the world. Until they throw their head back for a BIG YAWN and you get a whiff of their stinky breath. Does your dog’s breath smell like death? If so, keep reading to learn some of the common causes and what you can do about it.

dog's breath smell like death

Why Stinky Breath Happens in Some Dogs

Dog breath is never going to smell like roses or be minty fresh. But sometimes stinky dog breath is about more than just dog food stench and can indicate something not-so-great going on health-wise. 

Many people think stinky dog breath stems directly from something going on in the mouth. And oftentimes, this is true. Food particles get trapped in teeth and bacteria feed off of it, creating plaque and tartar and the whole thing smells pretty bad.

But not all bad breath in our pups is directly related to the mouth. There can be things going on in the GI tract and in organs like the liver and kidneys that can make your dog’s breath smell very bad. And not bad in the normal way, bad in a very “off” way.

6 Common Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs

Let’s take a closer look at some of the things that may be causing your dog’s breath to smell like death:

Their Food

Let’s start with a very obvious cause of stinky dog breath – your dog’s food. Commercial pet food is formulated to entice your pets. This means it’s gonna smell and taste great to them, but not to us. So it’s common that right after your dog eats, their mouth will have lingering food particles that will make us wince if we get too close.

Eating a poor diet can also cause upset in the gut. Poor nutrition can throw off your pup’s microbiome, causing bad bacteria to flourish. This can also make their breath smell horrendous. 

If you think it’s possible that maybe your dog’s food is not agreeing with them or it’s not optimal nutrition for their particular needs, speak with your vet about what they recommend.

Before moving on to the next common cause of stinky dog breath, it’s important to mention that if you’ve been feeding your dog the same food for a while and their horrendous breath just recently and suddenly came out of nowhere, then it’s unlikely it is related to the food.

stinky dog breath causes

Litter Box Diving

Sometimes our dogs eat things they shouldn’t, and this can make their breath smell like death. Or in some cases, smell like literal poop. If you have dogs and cats, your dog(s) may be getting into the litter box and eating cat turds. It seems to be a delicacy.

Some dogs will also get into the garbage and eat things they shouldn’t or eat something dead they found on a walk. Unsupervised eating can definitely result in stinky dog breath.

Poor Oral Health

If your pet’s food and/or unsupervised binge eating aren’t the culprits, the next most likely cause of bad doggy breath is poor oral health. Plaque can build up on your dog’s teeth just like it can yours. Over time the plaque hardens, forming tartar underneath the gum line. Eventually your pup’s gums become inflamed and infected and they have gum disease – AKA – periodontitis. Not only can this cause very bad breath, it can also cause pain and tooth loss.


Dogs with untreated diabetes often develop breath that smells fruity or sweet. Now you may be thinking, “That’s great, it smells like fruit!” Fruity or not, it’s important to recognize changes in your dog’s breath, whether good or bad. Other signs of diabetes include unexplained weight loss, increased thirst and changes in their appetite. 

Liver Disease

The liver is responsible for removing toxins and waste from the blood supply. When the liver becomes damaged, these toxins and waste products build up, causing a foul smell in your dog’s breath. One of the things that can lead to liver disease is poor oral health. When bacteria in the mouth gets out of hand, it can actually get into the bloodstream and be carried to other organs, damaging them. This is why it is so important to stay on top of your pup’s oral health.

common causs of bada breath in dogs

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease and kidney failure can also lead to very bad breath. Typically dogs with kidney disease will have breath that actually smells like urine or ammonia. Poor oral health can also lead to kidney disease. Other symptoms to watch for are oral ulcers, vomiting and dehydration.

How to Improve Your Dog’s Breath

As we’ve just seen, stinky dog breath is often a result of a number of things. To freshen your dog’s breath, you’ll need to get to the root cause. You can’t just toss your dog a dental treat and hope for the best.

If your dog’s bad breath is because of the particular food or treats you are giving him, is it quality? Is it giving him the right nutrition? If you’re not sure, speak with your vet.

If you live in a household with dogs and cats, be sure to keep the litter boxes where your cats can get to them but your dogs cannot. No more cat turds allowed! Plus, over time, ingesting all of that litter that clings to the turds is not great for your dog’s health either. 

Be sure to also keep trash cans tightly closed and out of reach so your dog can’t go dumpster diving.

And finally, stay on top of their oral health. Try and get your pup used to daily toothbrushing and provide dental toys or treats to keep teeth and gums clean and healthy. It’s also a good idea to get your fur baby into the vet for a professional cleaning.

And finally, if you rule out treats, food, and oral health as the culprit behind their funky breath, then it’s time your pup had a checkup and blood draw to see what may be going on with their overall health.

Final Thoughts

Dog breath is not known for smelling like flowers or a gentle summer rain. Ingesting poor quality food and other things they shouldn’t can often make our fur baby’s breath horrendous. But in some cases, bad breath can be a sign of something more serious going on. 

If you have any concerns about your dog’s breath, it’s always a good idea to bring them in to see the vet. Catching something early can make all the difference in the world.

Can Pet Insurance Help Stinky Dog Breath?

If your dog’s breath smells like death, it may be that he or she needs a dental checkup and professional cleaning. And if your vet finds something bad in there, it may mean your fur baby needs to get some teeth pulled. And that can cost a LOT. In fact, removing a dog’s teeth can cost between $500 and $2,500.

Most people simply don’t have thousands of dollars lying around for these kinds of veterinary treatments. And that’s where pet insurance comes in. Most insurance providers offer coverage for dental illness (like gum disease) and dental injuries (like breaking a tooth while chewing a bone).

Take 2 minutes to get a free, customized quote for your pup and say goodbye to stinky dog breath. 


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The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.

The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.

We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.

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