What’s Up With our Pet’s Bad Breath?


Who has ever leaned into your pet for kisses only to be totally grossed out? Let’s face it, pet breath can be yucky. The good news is that it does not have to be. Bad breath in our pets is not just overwhelming but it can be a sign of health issues in our pets. Periodontal disease and gingival disease are the leading cause of poor dental health and starts with the build up of dental plaque and eventually causing tartar. 

What can we do? For humans, we routinely brush our teeth and get our teeth checked by the dentist. For our pets, it’s a similar process- brushing, gum care, and dental rinses to prevent plaque accumulation are all a major part of it. It is a challenge though to start this all in a mouth that is already behind when it comes to oral hygiene. We know what we should do- but it is hard to always put it into play routinely. 

The benefits of a COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment) as a part of our pets care is a great way to assess not only the dental care but also the back of the throat that is difficult to see in our patients. The term COHAT may be new to us but veterinarians have been doing this every time we clean a pet’s teeth. A COHAT includes examining the teeth  (visual, radiographs, gingival probing), facial bones, gums, tongue, tonsils, salivary glands and airway opening. This COHAT is done under anesthesia since it involves scaling the teeth both above AND below the gum line to remove plaque and calculus, probing the gingiva, and then polishing the teeth to smooth out the rough areas. It can also include dental radiographs of the root structure of the teeth. Radiographs are hard enough on an awake animal and dental imaging is impossible on a moving target! 

The major limitation of a COHAT is the anesthesia. So let’s discuss the improvements of anesthesia over the past few years! Riverview now requires a preoperative exam and blood work to tailor the medications specifically for your pet. The day of the procedure they receive medications to prevent anxiety, pain and nausea all before undergoing any sedation. All patients have an IV catheter placed for medications and supportive fluids. The anesthesia team consists of a Licensed Veterinary Technician, an experienced assistant, and the veterinarian working together to monitor every patient for a smooth procedure and recovery. Each patient is monitored for their blood pressure, heart rate, Oxygen saturation, and Carbon dioxide levels. Our drugs are much faster to clear the body and our goal is to have each patient up and walking out on their own by the end of the day. 

What makes for a long or complicated anesthetic event during a COHAT? A really yucky mouth! It takes a long time to clean, probe, and polish teeth that have heavy calculus and infected gums present. Often if we have waited a long time our pets have painful gums, loose or infected teeth, or fractures in the tooth enamel. These extraction sites are sutured close to prevent infection from occuring in the socket of the teeth.  If patients have extensive gingivitis, periodontal disease, or dental extractions, they are discharged with pain medications, antibiotics, and instructions to be fed soft foods for a few days to allow for the gums to heal. 

What can we do to shorten this time and extensive dental work? More frequent cleanings when the teeth are stage I and II so that the teeth and gums are not as infected or inflamed. Home care with brushing, treats, oral rinses, and water additives that are approved by the VOHC to prevent the reaccumulation of the biofilm for bacteria to stick to the teeth. No hard chew toys like antlers or similar items that are risks for splintering the teeth and exposing the root within the crown of the tooth. 

The benefit of a healthy mouth is less pain for our pets, less inflammation to the body and long term organ damage, and a longer life span. Talk to your veterinarian team about scheduling an exam to discuss dental care plans for your pet. February is National Pet Dental Month that is sponsored by the AVMA and that is the month when we have historically focused on dental health in the veterinary clinic. Truly though, every month should be dental month! So let this February be the start of a clean mouth for more effective care of our pets dental needs and we can all get back to more wet noses and happy kisses from our furry family!