Most pet caregivers do not take “dog breath” seriously, but if your dog has foul breath, it is probably periodontal disease. The American Veterinary Dental Society declares February as Pet Dental Health Month, and states that more than 80 percent of dogs have some form of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old. Partly because the mouth is warm, moist, and has significant nutrients present for organisms to grow on, the oral cavity of dogs is a perfect incubator for all kinds of bacteria. For the health of your dog, take a look inside your dog’s mouth. What’s in there? What does it look like? Healthy with firm gums or red, inflamed gums, with teeth held hostage in clumps of plaque and a foul smell.

Can you imagine not brushing your own teeth for a couple of years? Or even a couple weeks? According to the AVDS, many caregivers do not recognize the importance of dental hygiene for their dog, with more than half not making dental care part of a consistent routine, and only eight percent considering it as one of the top health concerns. When food remains on your dog’s teeth, it forms plaque which, if not removed, continually builds on his teeth and eventually hardens and usually results in serious tooth and gum issues. If not addressed thoroughly, dental disease can strip your pets of not only their teeth, but their overall health, allowing billions of harmful bacteria to enter their bloodstream and affect multiple other organ systems, doing damage to the heart, liver, kidney and lungs.

If your dog has bad breath, he needs a trip to your family veterinarian for a complete oral exam, because halitosis usually indicates both serious tooth and gum issues. Your best friend could already be suffering without your even realizing it.

You can usually tell if your canine is suffering from periodontal diseases. Strong or offensive breath is the most common sign of oral disease, and buildup of yellow and brown tarter on the tooth surface offer obvious visual clues. Other signs of this disease include loose teeth, gingivitis, drooling, lack of appetite, difficulty chewing, bleeding gums, and pawing at the mouth.

Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a leading veterinarian in Chicago, who includes Oprah Winfrey’s canines as his patients, says, “People brush their teeth twice a day and see a dentist regularly. Dogs need the same level of care and concern. All too often, I see terrible health problems because of poor dental care.”

Dr. Rubin suggests three ways to take better care of a dog’s teeth and health:

  1. Get a complete dental check up from a professional veterinarian.
  2. Make dental care a daily habit for your dog. Keep your dog’s dental care schedule parallel to your own, so it’s easy to remember. Tooth brushing is the single most important part of oral care and cannot be overemphasized.
  3. If necessary have your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned by your vet.

Oral health is essential for the well-being of all dogs, but they don’t know how to tell us that their mouths hurt, or that they don’t feel good, so by the time we recognize a problem, the disease may in an advanced stage.

Veterinarian Brook Niemiec emphasizes that “taking care of your dog’s teeth is like changing the oil in your car. If you do it regularly, you will avoid bigger and more expensive problems down the line.”