While nobody expects their pet’s breath to smell like a spring breeze, bad breath in a dog or cat can make even the most devoted pet parent pull away when their fur baby wants to show affection. The good news is, there are several natural ways to treat your dog or cat’s bad breath so you can enjoy getting up close and personal again.

Why Dogs Can Have Bad Breath

Dogs can have bad breath (halitosis) for a number of reasons, just like people. The most common causes of bad breath in dogs revolve around oral health:

Plaque/tartar buildup: The number one cause of bad breath in dogs is aging plaque buildup. Plaque is the slimy, bacteria-rich biofilm on the tooth surface. Over time plaque hardens into tartar, a brownish substance that traps even more bacteria. 

Gum disease:  When enough tartar and plaque build up along the gumline, the bacteria can cause inflammation in the gums (gingivitis), which contributes to bad breath. 

Tooth decay: Just like people, dogs can get cavities. While gum disease is much more common in dogs, tooth decay can also cause bad breath.

Infection: The same bacteria that leads to gum disease can also cause a tooth or mouth infection, especially if your dog has a wound in their mouth from a splinter or other foreign object. In addition to bad breath, pain from an oral infection could cause your dog to eat less or eat more slowly. 

Oral tumor: Dogs can get benign and malignant tumors in their mouths. Pain and bad breath are common symptoms.

Bad breath in dogs can also be caused by eating something icky (poop, garbage), something toxic (plants, cocoa mulch), or objects that can’t be digested (which will likely be vomited up).

french bulldog with raw dog food

At-Home Treatments for Stinky Dog Breath

There are many different natural ways to help treat or prevent bad breath in dogs. These tips can also help prevent bad breath from coming back and promote overall wellness.

Brushing your dog’s teeth is the simplest way to improve oral health and bad breath. Be sure to choose a toothpaste formulated for dogs (toothpaste for humans has ingredients toxic to dogs) and slowly introduce the new routine. Most vets recommend daily brushing, but a minimum of twice a week is a good starting point. For more on how to brush your dog’s teeth, check out our guide to keeping your pet’s teeth healthy.

Water additives for dogs aren’t a replacement for brushing, but they can help treat bad breath because they have enzymatic ingredients that break down tartar. Dogs with sensitive stomachs may refuse water with additives, or experience digestive upset.

Dental chews for dogs are designed to scrub away plaque and tartar buildup. Chewing is an important activity for dogs that can help relieve boredom, anxiety or frustration. Make sure to choose a size and texture appropriate for your dog’s breed.

Dog treats for bad breath can help remove plaque and freshen breath – look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval to make sure they meet effectiveness standards.

Stop unsupervised snacking: make sure all trash cans and litter boxes in your house are secure or inaccessible to your dog. Watch your dog closely while outside so they don’t have a chance to scavenge litter, roadkill, diapers or other dangerous things.

Household safety check: make sure all your houseplants are safe for dogs, secure any household items that are toxic for dogs, and keep all human foods that are toxic for dogs out of reach.

Consider a raw diet: raw dog food is nutrient-rich and includes ground bone and natural enzymes that promote clean teeth and oral health.

If nothing is working, or if you notice a sudden change in your dog’s breath (especially in senior dogs), check with your vet. In some cases, chronic bad breath can be a sign of underlying health issues. Your vet may also recommend a professional dental cleaning.

“Ever since switching to Stella and Chewy’s raw patties I have noticed a tremendous difference in my pup’s health. His skin and coat are flawless, his breath smells better, and his stomach is better than it’s ever been! These freeze dried patties are so convenient for when I forget to take out frozen patties.” – Zerotheauss

Causes of Bad Breath in Cats

Plaque/tartar buildup starts as a sticky bacterial biofilm (plaque) on cats’ teeth and hardens into tartar over time. Both plaque and tartar can cause bad breath, erode tooth enamel and cause cavities.

Gum disease, whether gingivitis (early gum disease) or periodontitis (advanced gum disease) is the most common cause of bad breath in cats. Gum disease develops over time as odor-producing bacteria from plaque and tartar buildup causes inflammation in the gum tissue.

Stomatitis is inflammation of the soft tissues in your cat’s mouth. Stomatitis is also caused by oral bacteria, and is very painful. Fungal stomatitis is caused by the Candida albicans fungus, and is less common.

Rotting food: Small food particles stuck in spaces between the teeth and gumline can decompose, leading to bad breath and infection.

Tooth/Gum tissue decay: When a cat’s teeth or gum tissues become infected by bacteria it can lead to cavities and dead gum tissue, both of which produce a foul odor. 

Canker sores: These mouth ulcers can form on gum tissue, the tongue or insides of cheeks and lips, just like with people. Infected canker sores can cause bad breath and decreased food intake.

Poor oral hygiene is the primary cause of most cases of halitosis in cats, but factors including malnutrition, immune deficiencies and infection caused by foreign agents can also play a part.

bengal cat with raw cat food

Home Remedies for Stinky Cat Breath

For most cats, the solution to bad breath is as simple as removing or reducing plaque buildup. Tips you can try at home include:

Brush your cat’s teeth. Ideally once a day, but start where you can. Be sure to use a toothbrush designed for cats, and a toothpaste recommended by vets. Introduce this new practice slowly. If your cat won’t tolerate brushing, there are oral gels that can be applied with a cotton swab along the gumline.

Enhance their water. Only use a water additive formulated for cats, never a product made for humans or other animals. These flavorless water additives can help remove plaque from your cat’s teeth. Never put lemon juice in your cat’s water, as citrus fruits are one of the human foods toxic for cats.

Try dental chews. There are several products designed to remove plaque buildup through chewing, including toys, sticks and treats. Look for cat dental chews or treats accepted by the VOHC

Remove potential hazards in your home. Make sure any houseplants are safe for cats, keep toxic household items where your cat can’t get them, and keep human foods that are toxic to cats out of reach.

Use flavored treats or parsley for a quick fix. Some cat bad breath treats are meant to temporarily freshen breath, rather than remove plaque – but make sure to check the label for sugar and preservatives. Parsley is an all-natural breath freshener that’s safe for cats, so you can try putting a small amount in their water.

Consider your cat’s diet. Raw cat food is nutrient-rich and can act as a “natural toothbrush” because it contains ground bone and natural enzymes that help with plaque removal.

Most of the time, bad cat breath is a minor inconvenience. But chronic halitosis or sudden changes in your cat’s breath (with no change in food or lifestyle to explain it) could signal an underlying health issue. If home remedies aren’t working, or if your cat’s bad breath is accompanied by other symptoms (difficulty eating, vomiting, or inflamed gums), get it checked out by your vet. They may recommend professional dental cleaning or other treatments.

Can Dog and Cat Food Help with Bad Breath?

What you choose to feed your dog or cat can absolutely have an effect on their breath and oral health. Raw pet food from Stella & Chewy’s is the most minimally processed diet for dogs and cats. 

Natural enzymes from the whole ingredients promote dental health by breaking down the cell walls of bad bacteria and complementing the oral enzymes found in saliva. Ground bone in raw dog and cat foods acts as a mild abrasive to help clean the surface of teeth.

Raw food diets for dogs and cats are rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins. Better nutrition supports healthy mouth and gum tissues, as well as immune function (critical for fighting infection).

“Astro’s coat, breath and digestion has improved so much since we changed his diet from a low quality kibble to the high quality frozen patties from Stella [and Chewy]’s. When we adopted him he had hot spots and bad breath. Now he has a beautiful coat and sweet breath.” – JoH

Natural Pet Food From Stella & Chewy’s

Explore popular raw dog and cat foods below, or  learn more on Our Blog: For the Pet Obsessed. Stella & Chewy’s is committed to helping cats and dogs thrive through quality nutrition.