Halitosis in dogs and cats

Oral malodor (halitosis) is commonly reported in dogs and cats and is perceived by many owners to be a significant problem. Moreover, malodor (or bad breath in dogs and cats) is considered to be a precursor or manifestation of more serious dental disease and may be the first clinical sign that owners report to their veterinarians. As in humans, oral malodor in dogs and cats can be caused by oral or non-oral factors. Non-oral etiologies include gastrointestinal, lung, and systemic disease.

In the majority of cases, the predominant source of halitosis in dogs and cats is within the oral cavity. Microbial metabolism or protein-containing substances such as food debris, exfoliated epithelium, saliva and blood result in the production of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). These compounds, particularly mercaptyl sulfide and hydrogen sulfide, produce breath malodor when exhaled. In addition to the microbial flora of the mouth, two other factors that influence the production of malodor are saliva pH and glucose concentration. Specifically, saliva with a low pH and relatively high glucose concentration suppresses odor formation, while the formation of saliva with an alkaline pH and low glucose concentration is associated with increased production of odor. Check out these products for more information on how to control your pet's halitosis.

Breath malodor in dogs and cats is also associated with gingivitis and periodontis. A recent study with dogs demonstrated significant correlations between the production of VSCs in the mouth, the amount of plaque and calculus accumulation on the tooth surface, and the severity of gingivitis. Another study found that dogs with a high degree of oral malodor were more likely to have moderate to severe periodontal disease when compared with dogs with less malodor. This association is further demonstrated by evidence that veterinary periodontal therapy causes a significant reduction in previously established oral malodor.

One explanation for this is that chronic inflammation and tissue damage provides increased protein substrate for microorganisms in the mouth, enhancing the production of VSCs. The heavier plaque that occurs with dental disease may also provide a favorable anaerobic environment and additional substrate for the formation of VSCs. The VScs may also have detrimental effects on the structural integrity of epithelial tissue in the mouth, further contributing to the pathogenesis and progression of periodontal disease.

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