Don’t you just love watching Wheel of Fortune with your furry buddy? Letting him crawl up on your lap for a cuddle, then he looks up into your face with those sweet eyes that just melt you, and then opens his mouth and blasts you with the foulest odor on God’s green earth.
Have you been there? It ruins the moment. Makes you not want to cuddle with your pal.
All joking aside, as a pet doctor, this scenario makes me want to look in your furry friend’s mouth and figure out what exactly is happening in there to cause the odor. There is a list of issues that could be, and a good oral exam will narrow it down quickly and help us to fix it.
Bad breath is a symptom of disease, which we know can quickly move from the mouth into other parts of the body, such as the heart, and cause systemic illness. We want to know the cause so that we can stop disease before it gets out of control.
We like to help with bad breath. It’s one of the most satisfying things that we do.
What are the most common things that we look for in your pet’s mouth?
- Tartar buildup on the teeth. This is the hard brown stuff that cements itself to the teeth. We see a lot of it on molars in the back of the mouth. Over time, it crawls up the tooth root and loosens the tooth to the point of loss. It traps bacteria, which create the nasty odor that you smell during Wheel of Fortune dates with your dog.
- Oral tumors. We see both benign and malignant (cancer) tumors in the mouth, especially older dogs and cats. These can involve the gums, the tongue, the cheek, the bone, or any other tissue in the oral cavity. Sometimes these grow and become infected over time, which causes an odor and sometimes discomfort when eating.
- Trauma and foreign objects. Labrador retrievers with pieces of stick stuck in the back of the mouth. A long piece of string wrapped around a cat’s tongue. Pieces of fur and grass stuck in a cut along a gumline. A chicken bone wedged between teeth. We’ve seen lots of interesting predicaments that animals get themselves into, and surprised a lot of owners in the process.
- Rash or infection along the back of the throat and cheek walls is not uncommon in cats especially, and can signal an allergic response to food.
Sometimes a thorough oral exam means sedation for your furry friend. Often we get an idea of what we are getting into with our physical exam, and then sedate or use general anesthesia to go through the mouth carefully and resolve any problems that we find. Sometimes that means cleaning the teeth, removing tartar and polishing clean teeth. Removing loose and dead teeth. Biopsy or removal of masses. Finding that infection and treating it.
Typically there is follow-up at home after such a procedure, such as oral antibiotics and pain relievers and soft food for a few days. Often we submit oral tumors for further testing (called histopathology) to identify the mass.
Long-term, many dogs need good dental treats, at-home teeth brushing, and yearly dental cleanings to help prevent tartar buildup and that nasty bad breath.
If you would like to come in for an exam to find out what we can do to help your furry friend’s breath, give us a call!
For more information:
Periodontal (Tooth) Disease, American Veterinary Dental College: avdc.org
How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth, MSPCA Angell Hospital: mspca.org
Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats, VCA Animal Hospital: vcahospitals.com