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Bad Breath

Poodle Bad Breath

Overview

While it is not uncommon for dogs to have halitosis, also known as chronic bad breath, it’s important to note that it should not automatically be considered normal. 

There are 6 main, possible reasons why a Poodle may have bad breath; both acute episodes that seemingly come and go and those that persistent.

In addition, reasons will vary depending on the age of the Poodle. If your Poodle has stinky breath, you’ll want to narrow down the reason why, since some causes point to issues that will need professional veterinary treatment. In other cases, the issue may resolve itself or with a few simple changes that you make.  
In this section we will go over the top 6 reasons why a Poodle of any variety may have bad breath, which steps an owner should take and some tips to help a Poodle’s breath maintain either a neutral smell, of if you can really keep up with it, even a minty odor. 
2 year old standard Poodle
Diamante, at 2 years old
Photo courtesy of Vince DiPietro

6 Top Reasons why a Poodle May Have Bad Breath

We will look at these in the order in which they are most likely to be the cause of canine halitosis. 

1) Dental Issues

Studies show that by the age of 3 years old, 8 out of 10 dogs will have some level of periodontal disease, with halitosis being one of the signs. 

Though this is the #1 reason for chronic bad breath with canines, many owners do not automatically default to looking into this as the reason, if their dog’s teeth seem to look fine and the Poodle doesn’t show any signs of tooth pain. 

However, both toy and miniature Poodles are predisposed to dental issues, due in part to the teeth being overcrowded in smaller breeds, though issues can certainly happen with standard Poodles as well. 

These sorts of issues happen in stages, often taking dog owners unaware.

The first element is the buildup of plaque. 
Plaque is always present in the mouth; it is a very sticky substance and if it is not properly brushed or cleaned away, it will become thick around the teeth and at the gum line. When it remains on a dog’s teeth, it begins to gradually eat away at the enamel (the covering of the tooth). 

While enamel is considered the strongest tissue in the body (human, canine or otherwise), it cannot withstand the chemical reaction that happens. Bacteria in plaque use the sugars food to produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel.  

Yet, even more happens after this. 

If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar (also called calculus), often moving under the gum line. With dogs, this will often be seen as yellow or brownish color near the base of the teeth. Once gums are infected, this is referred to as gingivitis and it is the first step in the aforementioned periodontal disease. 

It is at this stage that most dogs will have quite severe and chronic bad breath; while it can be temporarily covered up by other odors such as food or briefly masked by fragrances such as toothpaste, it will be an ongoing issue that will not resolve itself. 

Left untreated, a Poodle may suffer tooth infections that are not only painful (reluctance to eat is a common sign) but lead to tooth loss. And in addition, infection can spread up into the sinuses or even through the body, reaching vital body organs, which can be fatal. 

Therefore, ruling this out as a cause of bad breath with a Poodle is important.
What to do: 

1. If you suspect that bad breath may be stemming from unclean or infected teeth - and this is especially a likelihood if the Poodle has not had regular brushing at home and/or his teeth have not been examined by the vet within the last year, the dog should be brought to the veterinarian for a full dental. 

This will be needed because any stage past minor plaque buildup cannot be treated at home, as issues will be unreachable by owners, as they are under the gum line as well as on exposed teeth. 
This involves a complete examination to look for infection, x-rays, a full cleaning which will involve scraping both under the gum line and on all teeth, and finally a rinse. 

If an abscess is found, treatment is necessary to prevent the infection from spreading and causing further health issues. Often, the two choices are a root canal or an extraction of the tooth. 

Once a Poodle’s dental issues have been resolved, so will the bad breath. And once you are starting with a clean slate (pun intended), you can work toward preventing this in the future (see next step). 

2. Whether you have a brand new Poodle puppy, an adult or a senior dog, now is the time to start placing an emphasis on keeping the teeth clean. Good oral hygiene for dogs includes brushing the teeth with a quality brush and canine paste (do not use human toothpaste, as it is toxic when swallowed) and giving the Poodle effective canine dental treats such as Greenies. 

In addition, a water supplement (sometimes referred to as canine mouthwash) that is added to a dog’s drinking water to help kill bacteria can be helpful. 

With these steps, not only will a Poodle’s breath smell either neutral or actually fresh, you can be adding years to your dog’s life by preventing serious infection. 
funny Poodle
Zoe, at 14 months old
Photo courtesy of Paula Cristina and Gerardo from Northern Virginia 

2) Teething 

If a Poodle puppy is between the age of 4 to 6 months and has bad breath, this is most typically due to teething. In many cases, the breath will hold an odd sour smell, that some equate to sour milk, hence the common nickname for this, milk breath. This sort of bad breath is due to mild bleeding that occurs in the mouth that mixes with saliva and bacteria that is normally present. 

What to do: While this will resolve itself once the teething phase is done, brushing the teeth now will help in several ways:

1. It will help prevent future infection since what is occurring in a puppy’s mouth now can affect teeth that are going to emerge. 
2. It will help keep gums strong which is the foundation needed for a healthy bite set
3. It can provide temporary relief to the sometimes intense itching that puppies experience. Many owners find that their Poodle puppy enjoys the nice ‘scratch’ that bristles provide. 
4. It establishes good habits for a lifetime; puppies that become accustomed to this at a young age will grow up to be adult dogs that stay still for this task.  

3) Dog Food Breath

This one stumps many owners who assume that once a Poodle eats his meal, the food is long gone and shouldn’t be producing odors from the dog’s mouth. Yet, this is quite common and is the smell that is typically referred to as ‘dog breath’. In some cases, a Poodle can have bad breath that smells like rotted food for hours afterward, thus leading to a 24/7 halitosis issue. 

This happens most commonly to dogs that eat dry kibble as opposed to wet food. In most cases, the culprit is the fine particles of ‘dust’ that often chips off of the pieces. As this mixes with saliva, it can form a sort of paste that is difficult for the dog to swallow. It can end up caking up around the teeth and in the small crevices, staying there even if the dog drinks water. 

What to do: Though all dry food will have some degree of dust, that which has lost its natural moisture due to going stale will cause bad breath much more frequently. For this reason, if you tend to buy large bags of food that take more than 6 weeks for your Poodle to eat, you may want to downsize to smaller containers that are finished off within this time; though if stored improperly, it may dry out long before this. 

There are 4 things that will affect how long dog food stays fresh: Air, light, temperature and humidity. So, you’ll want to keep the bag rolled up tightly or re-sealed, use a clip to keep it closed or transfer the entire bag into another container that has an airtight seal. Keep it stored in a dry, dark and cool location. 

It can also help to encourage your Poodle to meet his water requirements. This can be done by using stainless steel bowls, making sure that water bowl is cleaned once per day with hot water and soap, ensuring water is cool and fresh and using a filter to remove chemicals from tap water. Alternatively, some Poodles drink more if they have a canine water fountain, as the flowing water both attracts and tempts. 

Finally, choosing after dinner as the time that you will brush your Poodle’s teeth can help with bad breath related to food, since that will lead to the biggest window of time in which the mouth is free of the odor causing particle paste. 

4) Bad Breath from Eating Poop

Sometimes it can really baffle owners as to why their Poodle’s breath smells like poop, until they realize that their dog had access to either their own feces or that of another pet. 

There are many myths about why dogs display coprophagia, but aside from bad breath there are many other concerns, including the parasites that dogs can pick up. 

In addition, the ingestion of feces is often a red flag of nutritional deficiencies (or can lead them) and is also a symptoms of varying health issues. There are steps owners can take that include limiting access and using deterrent supplements. 

5) Foreign Object

Most relevant to a Poodle having an acute case of bad breath, any time that something is stuck in the mouth, this can cause a flow of excess saliva which often mixes with tiny amounts of blood that may be due to a cut, scratch or piercing of the skin inside the mouth, which can cause a smelly odor. 
black poodle, 2 years old
Scarlett, at 2 years old
Photo courtesy of Dorothy
While some dogs will show clear signs of discomfort, others will suffer silently. And even the most well-behaved dogs that never previously chewed at non-toy items can mouth something at any time. 

Whether this means that they were outside and picked up a small twig or rummaged in the trash, an oral splinter or having something wedged between teeth should be ruled out if the Poodle has a strong, odd odor coming from the mouth. 
What to do - In some cases, you can remove a piece of food or other article with your dog’s toothbrush, using the bristles in just one direction (don’t brush back and forth, as this can cause the culprit to be pushed in further). 

In the case of a splinter in the mouth, you won’t want to try and tackle this yourself as you won’t be able to know that the entire piece has been removed; this is best handled by a veterinarian. 

6) Health Issues 

While these conditions have symptoms that will often be noticed first other than bad breath, all do include halitosis.  
  • Diabetes can cause a dog’s breath to smell either sweet (like fruit) or acetone (like nail polish). While this is most commonly diagnosed in dogs between the ages of 7 and 9 years old, juvenile diabetes can strike younger dogs. Other signs include changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, lethargy, changes in urination and/or increased UTI’s. 
  • Kidney issues can cause breath to smell like urine. This more common with toy Poodles than miniatures or standards. While bad breath can be a sign, other symptoms will be much more obvious including but not limited to vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, increased thirst, depression and/or lethargy. 
  • Liver disease - With liver disease, signs include vomiting or diarrhea, increased thirst, unstable walk, increased urination, confusion and/or yellowish eyes. A late sign of liver failure includes a particular bad breath called fetor hepaticus, which has a sweet, fecal odor.  
  • Lung disease – Signs are coughing, gagging, wheezing and/or inability to exercise as normal. Bad breath is a symptom due to the presence of nasal secretions that may drain into the mouth.
  • Digestive issues - If there is excess gas in the stomach, this can cause a dog to belch quite a bit. When a dog burps, all those odors from the stomach will be expelled and can be awful smelly. While there is a myriad of issues that fall into this category, the most common one is due to fast ingestion of food. Bad breath is not the only concern since this can cause bloat (a dangerous and often fatal twisting of the stomach- a study by Purdue University to find dog breeds most prone to bloat showed that standard Poodles ranked #6) this should be prevented. 
  • Other – An infection the respiratory system, nasal passages, esophageal tube or inflammation of the throat or pharynx or tonsils can all cause chronic halitosis.
What to do: All adult Poodles should have wellness checks yearly and seniors twice per year. 

If you suspect any illness, do not delay in seeking professional veterinary care. In regard to a Poodle eating too quickly, this can be resolve with the use of slow-feeder bowls or by placing a stainless steel portion pacer into the current dish. 

For general upset stomach issues, once health issues are ruled out, you may want to speak with the vet about offering your Poodle a natural, safe probiotic supplement. 

How to Keep Your Poodle’s Breath Smelling Nice

With all possible health issues and dental issues ruled out, and such things as stale food and coprophagia taken care of, if this is just a matter of minor bad breath problems, luckily there are some proven at-home remedies that can keep a dog’s breath smelling nice and fresh. 

The key is to follow these guidelines consistently. 

1) Once-per-day brushing. This is by far the most important prevention and treatment not only for halitosis but to prevent tooth decay and infection which is seem far too often with the Poodle breed. 

With a quality toothbrush and effective paste, you only need to brush for 3 to 4 minutes, once per day. 

If your Poodle is not used to this, you can start with gauze or a finger-brush. 
toy poodle 8 years old
Koko, at 8 years old; Photo courtesy of Peter
Short sessions of 30 seconds or so can gradually increase until you are doing full sessions in which all surfaces are thoroughly scrubbed. Angle the bristles toward the gum line. 

The paste you use will not only determine how effectively plaque is cleaned away, but also how well your Poodle tolerates the cleaning. Flavors such as chicken and beef are well received by many dogs. 
2) Dental dog chews – Though these should not be relied on as the only method in keeping your Poodle’s teeth free from issues, they do play an important role in good oral hygiene. Look for all natural treats without artificial coloring or by-products. There are some holistic ingredients such as dill, parsley and mint that can help prevent bad breath. 

In addition, such chews as Greenies (the #1 vet recommended dental chew) works in several ways, they fight against plaque and tartar buildup, freshen breath, and help a dog maintain healthy teeth and gums. These are made in the U.S., are low in fat and even come in a grain-free formula. 

With these, do pay attention to the sizing, Teenies will be for toy Poodles, as they are intended for dogs 5 to 15 lbs. Petite is intended for dogs 15 to 25 lbs., Regular for 25 to 50 lbs. and Large for 50 to 100 lbs. 

3) Canine mouth wash – While the term is a bit misleading, since these are meant to be added to water and ingested, the right canine mouth wash can be an effective part of a plan to keep bad breath at bay. This works by destroying bacteria both in bowls and in the mouth. Choose a flavorless brand that does not alter the taste of a dog’s water. Just a spoonful per each 8-ounce cup of water is needed, so a bottle can last a good amount of time. 

4) Probiotic supplement – These work two-fold. If a dog is having digestive issues, these can be a great help and these also work for bad breath that is not related to dental issues. A double-powered option is to offer a chew in which the probiotics will work as a breath deodorizer and natural ingredients such as alfalfa, barley grass and citrus clean the pallet. 

5) Breath sprays - An effective canine spray for bad breath will do much more than offer a brief minty mask, look for one that offers all natural ingredients such as aloe. Baking soda is also a common ingredient. Certain sprays can work well to loose plaque, kill bacteria and freshen breath. 

6) Encourage the use of chew toys – This should never be depended on to be the sole source of keeping a Poodle’s teeth clean and breath smelling nice, but a dog’s toys do play a role in overall health of both gums and teeth and maintaining jaw strength. If your Poodle has a pile of toys that are mostly ignored, your dog is not all that uncommon; it’s easy to overdo it on toys that are not effective or hold a dog’s interest. 

It’s far better to have 8 to 10 quality toys that are used than to have 30 that sit untouched, so you may want to routinely reassess what is being used and what is not. Do choose size appropriate toys that meet specific needs. When a dog chews on a toy, this increases saliva production, which plays a role in reducing plaque and odor causing bacteria and some textures can remove a certain degree of the buildup. 

Please note: If your Poodle does not respond to any at-home remedies for bad breath, it will be time for a full checkup with the veterinarian to rule out possible health conditions. 
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