Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dog Medical Emergencies Survey: Is Bad Breath an Emergency?

10.81%% survey participants checked bad breath as being an emergency.

When I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, at the end of each chapter I included a little call-out when each of them might be an emergency. Well, I meant to. There were some chapters where I skipped it because while some of the symptoms might almost never be an emergency, under certain conditions, they could be. When I had hubby go over it, though, he pointed out that as a reader he'd want it included with every chapter.

While that was challenging, with additional though I did manage to add that section to every chapter.

I managed to include that section to the chapter on bad odor too.

Let's start with the potential reasons behind bad breath.

The number one reason, as you'd suspect, is dental disease. Bad teeth or diseased mouth do require veterinary attention, but it's not an emergency unless it involves an extreme amount of pain. Though don't forget it always involves pain.

Other reasons that can cause bad breath in your dog include:

  • kidney disease/kidney failure
  • liver disease or other issues within the gastrointestinal tract
  • poisoning
  • diabetes/diabetic ketoacidosis
  • foreign bodies
  • oral tumors

Of course, when your dog's breath stinks after they sampled something foul such as their own or other animal's feces, it might get you running, but you don't need to be running to a vet.

The lack of presence of other symptoms also presents a consideration in determining how soon you should see a vet. These can include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, jaundice ...

If your dog's breath smells of ammonia or it has a strong sweet, fruity odor, treat it as an emergency.

Breath smelling of ammonia (urine) is a warning sign of kidney disease/failure.
Breath that smells like acetone/sweet, fruity smell is a warning sign of diabetic ketoacidosis.

So while generally, bad breath is not an emergency, under the right circumstances it can be a sign of one.

Related articles:
Dog Medical Emergencies Survey
Dog Medical Emergencies Survey Results
Is Unproductive Retching an Emergency?
Is Difficulty Breathing an Emergency?
Is Panting an Emergency?
Is Severe Pain an Emergency?
Is Limping an Emergency?
Is Vomiting Bile in the Morning an Emergency?
Is Profuse Vomiting an Emergency?
Are Convulsions or Seizures an Emergency?
Is Loss of Appetite an Emergency?
Is Reduced Activity an Emergency?
Is Severe Lethargy an Emergency?
Is Inability to Stand an Emergency?
Is Inability to Urinate an Emergency?
Are Cuts and Abrasions an Emergency?
Is Bleeding an Emergency?
Is Blood in Vomit an Emergency?
Is Fresh Blood in Stool an Emergency?
Is Black, Tarry Stool an Emergency?
Are Pale Gums an Emergency?
Is an Unresponsive Dog an Emergency?
Is Coughing an Emergency?
Is Choking an Emergency?
Is Head Pressing and Emergency?
Are Bug Stings an Emergency?
Are Spider or Snake Bites an Emergency?
Are Animal Bites an Emergency?
Is Ingestion of Poison an Emergency?
Is Xylitol Ingestion an Emergency?
Is Ingestion of Grapes an Emergency?
Is Ingestion of Candy an Emergency?

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.

An award-winning guide to better understanding what your dog is telling you about their health, Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, is available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.


  1. Great information Jana, thanks! Phoebe's breath is awful. I've tried several things but I realized she has some rotten teeth, probably from before we got her. She'll go in for a dental cleaning (& several extractions I'm sure), then I'll get her on a good home preventative program.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Sorry Phoebe is having trouble with her teeth. When doing the cleaning etc, please do insist on dental x-rays also. Amazingly, not all vets do them.

  2. Bad breath is always a bad sign we think. Teeth or digestive issues are culprits in cats.

    1. Yes, it is always a bad sign, just not always an emergency.

  3. I keep an eye on Layla's teeth as I do not want the problems there, her teeth were black when I rescued her but today pearly white and clean, she has lost 2 though and the vet told me not to worry. He also checks them when she goes for visits. No smelly breath eiher phew. THanks for the great article as always

    1. Dental issues are a big problem in dogs these days. I do believe it has to do with their diet, among other things. I'm glad you're keeping on top of it.

  4. Dental health is extremely important in our dogs. I look for changes that cannot be explained by eating something foul, and if significant then I always call my vet.

    1. Good, dental health is important not only for the mouth but for overall health as well. Some other changes you can see, beside bad breath, are red inflammed gums.

  5. Lola will need to go to the vet soon. I've noticed her breath is a little on the funky side.

    1. Yes, I'd go as well. Best to get to the bottom of problems before they blow up on you.

  6. Dogs are not so unlike humans. When a human diabetic has high blood sugars their breath can smell like alcohol or sweet.
    I love all this information! I know better now what to look for and what it means!

    1. Yes, many things are the same for dogs as well as for people. This is one of them.

  7. I never knew about bad breath being potentially deadly. Thank you for sharing this information.

    1. It is rare, and it wouldn't be the only sign to notice. But since we're talking about whether it could or couldn't be an emergency, particularly of other symptoms dismissed or chalked up to something benign, it's good to be aware of what it would mean.

  8. I am glad to know those two signs of an emergency with bad breath! I like to think that if it was a sudden change, I would call the vet, but now I know to not wait and see.

    1. I'd like to think people would pick up on other signs that go with those problems but usually it takes the ONE that finally clicks. So it might perhaps be this one.

  9. I like your husband's committment to consistency. As a reader, if an author uses a format repeatedly and then drops it, I do find that distracting or bothersome. And this information about bad breath is good to know.

    1. Yeah, I'm glad he made me even though initially I wanted to do that and then decided to drop it. It was tricky but I managed.

  10. This is excellent info! Many symptoms aren't necessarily an emergency on their own (like bad breath), but can certainly constitute an emergency when combined with other symptoms!

    1. Yes, it's about severity and constellation of symptoms.