Discover The Scientific Reason For Puppy Breath

Written by Sam Hindman
Published: October 24, 2023
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If you’ve ever held a tiny baby dog, chances are you couldn’t help but lean in to give it a small peck on the head. In doing so, you probably caught a whiff of something interesting. People don’t usually associate dogs with having the best smells, but there is one exception. This scent is very distinguishable from other smells, even smells of the same animal: puppy breath!

But what causes puppy breath? Nothing special has to be done for it to appear, and many pet owners have no idea where this fascinating smell originated. In this article, we’ll learn a thing or two about what causes puppy breath and what you can do to make it potentially last longer!

What Exactly Is Puppy Breath?

One of the contributing factors to puppy breath is the smell of their mother’s milk.

©iStock.com/Andrii Zorii

We know and love the sweet smell of puppy breath, but what exactly makes it that way? To figure this out, we have to look at the factors that make up everyone else’s breath. When you eat onions, your breath will smell like them. When you chew gum, your breath will smell like gum. And, when your dog eats its collection of meats and other strongly-scented foods, their breath smells, well, smelly.

Puppies, however, only consume a few things. Specifically, their mother’s milk doesn’t contain any of the stinky bacteria of dog food. Even when they begin having typical dog food, they haven’t been exposed to it long enough for plaque to build up and start causing odors.

Good oral hygiene is the key to that quintessential puppy breath smell. Though this smell doesn’t last forever, usually only for a few months, it is certainly an enjoyable experience while it’s there.

Why Humans Love The Smell of Puppy Breath

There is no true physiological rhyme or reason why humans enjoy the scent of puppy breath. In fact, only some people do! It can be assumed that it isn’t so much the smell itself but what it is attached to that we are so fond of. Dogs are man’s best friend, after all, and there are few things that we appreciate and care for more than our pets. Seeing them in their tiny, infantile form clearly stirs up certain affectionate feelings within us, and these feelings even extend to things as trivial as the smell of their breath!

Can You Make Puppy Breath Last Longer?

human brushing her dog's teeth

While you can’t make puppy breath last forever, good oral hygiene can help you reduce any nasty-smelling breath.

©Aquarius Studio/Shutterstock.com

Since people enjoy puppy breath so much, they may want to extend it as long as possible. Puppy breath, though, is directly linked to your dog’s biological development. There’s no natural way to make it last longer than necessary for their growth. But this doesn’t mean your dog’s breath has to go from great to awful overnight. You can take specific steps to ensure your dog’s breath is as great as possible.

The best way to accomplish this is to brush your dog’s teeth! Many owners don’t do this, and some never even consider it. Still, it should be done at least thrice a week with a soft brush to ensure no plaque and other scent-causing bacteria buildup. Not only will this prevent bad breath, but it will also make it so your dog doesn’t have to worry about any mouth-related ailments or infections.

Cleaning Your Puppy’s Teeth

Since many people don’t consider brushing a dog’s teeth, you might not know how to initiate the process. That’s perfectly fine, as getting your dog acclimated to it while they’re still young is the best way for them to stay comfortable with it throughout their life.

First, you should focus on keeping your dog feeling comfortable and safe. Do not try to sneak up on them but rather ease them through the process. Find a cozy, quiet area in your home, and then hold them tightly with their face away from your own.

Before going in with the brush, try to get them used to it by using a back-and-forth movement with a clean cloth. Once accustomed to the brush, let them smell and taste their dog-safe toothpaste. A vital, crucial thing to note is that you should never use human toothpaste for your dog’s mouth. This runs the risk of severely hurting them.

Try a bit of toothpaste on the cloth, then steadily transition to using the actual toothbrush. If you don’t want to use a handheld toothbrush, you might find it easier to use a specially-made finger toothbrush that slips right over the tip of your finger. Regardless of what you use, thoroughly wash your hands once the process has finished.

Why A Puppy’s Breath Might Smell Bad

Portrait of cute dachshund dog holding pink toothbrush in mouth, front view, copy space. Pet reminds of benefits of observing personal hygiene rules. Puppy is going to brush its teeth

Gingivitis is much more common in older dogs than puppies, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for puppies to develop it!

©Masarik/Shutterstock.com

There are a few explanations if you have a puppy but think their breath is far less than pleasant. Don’t be alarmed, as most of the reasons your puppy doesn’t have traditional breath are common. Here are the three that are most likely to be the bad breath culprits:

Gingivitis

Nearly all (90%) dogs that are older than the age of three have gingivitis. This condition causes some pretty gnarly breath and is far less common in young dogs and puppies. But, if your puppy still has its baby teeth, this could be the explanation.

Sometimes, a dog’s adult teeth will grow alongside their baby teeth instead of underneath them, meaning those teeth never fall out. These teeth will then become overlapped, and that causes food to get stuck. This stuck food will begin to rot and smell quite gross, which could explain the stinky breath.

If your dog has some baby teeth overdue for removal, you should have a vet check them out as soon as possible. Once removed, the adult teeth can shift into the correct spot. But the longer you wait, the less likely this will happen successfully.

Coprophagia

Much like babies of other species, puppies often imitate their mother’s behavior even once separated. One such action that the puppies occasionally pick up is coprophagia, which means poop-eating. You see, their mothers have a natural instinct to keep the den spotless. So, when these little babies make a mess, she licks it up! However, this behavior is much less feasible when done by a larger dog. If your puppy has breath that smells like fecal matter, they’ve unfortunately been chowing down on the wrong stuff.

The good news is that there’s a very high chance your dog will outgrow this. The bad news is that there’s a chance that they can develop worms through this behavior. Keep an eye out, and if this behavior continues even once your puppy has grown a bit, ask your veterinarian for the best intervention strategy.

Teething

Unfortunately, a transition from sweet puppy breath to powerful dog breath is one that seemingly happens overnight. It’s just a part of growing up for canines, and at roughly six months of age, their old teeth will leave to make way for their new ones. When this process happens, there will be a metallic-like smell that comes from their mouths. When you brush your puppy’s teeth during this stage, be gentle! Their tooth sockets can feel a bit sore.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Akifyeva S/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Sam Hindman is a writer at A-Z animals covering a range of topics, including pet care, plant care, pest control and travel destinations. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Multimedia Studies at Point Park University, set to graduate in the spring of 2024. A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when she isn't writing, she's spending time with her beloved cat Archie.

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