It's a situation every pet parent has experienced: Your pup comes in for an enthusiastic kiss, but their stinky breath is more like a slap in the face. "Halitosis (bad breath) is a common condition in dogs," says Shadi Ireifej, DVM, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at pet telehealth service VetTriage.com. "Whereas in humans, we accept it as being normal after we wake up from sleeping, or as a sign of dental or oral disease, in dogs it is accepted as normal without any immediate association to dental or oral pathology."
First, the serious news: Chronic bad breath often points to an underlying medical condition. "Halitosis should never be considered a normal phenomenon in dogs," says Ireifej, who encourages pet owners who notice a constant smell to make an appointment with a vet before considering over-the-counter remedies.
"Dental disease is by far the most common and frequently under-diagnosed," Ireifej says. Lodged foreign bodies, tumors, or growths could also be the culprit. Sometimes bad breath isn't from halitosis but a condition called uremia that results from kidney failure or disease or from ketosis (which stems from diabetes mellitus).
If your dog gets frequent check-ups and you keep up on your dog's dental routine, occasional bouts of bad breath can still happen for the same reasons it happens to humans. Food particles lingering in the mouth after a meal invites plaque and tartar build-up. Digestive issues, particularly if you recently changed your dog's diet, can also lead to bad breath.
When this is the case, dog breath mints and dog breath fresheners can do wonders. These are treats, additives to water, or even breath sprays that help neutralize bacteria between brushings.
Before you start shopping, get acquainted with the different categories of dog breath mints and dog breath fresheners on the market.
Dog breath mints are chewable treats that clean teeth while they improve breath with freshening ingredients like spearmint or peppermint. "These are beneficial, as long as your dog enjoys them, because they provide an abrasive surface to manually dislodge organic debris and perhaps tartar/calculi," Ireifej says. "Just be sure that if you are treating a dog with food allergies that the protein ingredients in these products are not those that your dog is allergic to."
Dog water breath fresheners are liquid add-ins that promote better breath with ingredients that reduce plaque and tartar. Usually, these products are tasteless and odorless. "However, if you are noticing that your dog or cat is drinking less, then adding such products to their water for the sake of oral health is not worth it," Ireifej says. "Maintaining hydration is far more vital than the questionable efficacy such products will have in your pet's mouth."
Don't hesitate to run one of your picks by your dog's vet, too. They can help you decide which product is right for your dog's specific needs.
These flat, thin, easy-to-chew treats are infused with baking soda and peppermint—but your pup will just taste chicken, the main flavor in these dog mints. The crunchy texture has a mildly abrasive effect on plaque and tartar. Though they’re small, they’re pretty powerful: One reviewer reported that the effect was instant and lasted for two hours.
Shop now: Arm & Hammer Dental Advanced Care Fresh Breath & Whitening Dental Mints, $5; chewy.com
These natural dog breath fresheners have a special texture that helps scrub away plaque, massage gums, and whiten teeth. The treats are infused with parsley and kelp for a freshening effect. The bone shape is familiar to pups—especially those who get suspicious of any new treat—and the recipe is formulated to be easy to digest, making these a good option for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
Shop now: Health Extension Fresh Breath Mint Flavored Dental Dog Treats, $10; chewy.com
The wheat-free recipe makes these some of the best dog breath mints for pups that have food sensitivities. The recipe is simple and straightforward: Oat flour, fresh mint, and real apples are the main ingredients. Reviewers have noted that smaller dogs may need to have these treats broken in half. Luckily, the “B” shape makes it easy to divide these in two.
Shop now: Bocce’s Bakery Daily Support Breath Aid Mint & Apple Recipe, $9; chewy.com
This powerful dog water breath freshener is double-strength to stand up to advanced dental issues like halitosis, swollen gums, or discolored teeth. The tasteless, odorless additive kills bacteria that causes bad breath but also strengthens enamel and helps whiten teeth. One reviewer said it worked so effectively, they could “stick [their] whole face in his mouth and breathe deeply without gagging.” While you may not want to get so up close and personal (but we don't judge), you may notice a big improvement as well.
Shop now: Dental Fresh Advanced Plaque & Tartar Water Additive for Dogs, $18; chewy.com
These small cookies are made from yogurt and flavored with peppermint and spearmint to create a natural dog breath freshener. (This means you will have to refrigerate these treats.) While they are small, reviewers have noted that you can need to break them into smaller pieces if you have a toy breed, like a toy poodle or Maltese (or even the hybrid of the two, the Maltipoo).
Shop now: Claudia’s Canine Bakery Pawpermints, $25; amazon.com
This unique dog breath freshener is kind of like a cross between doggie mouth wash and a mint. To use it, just pump the foam into your dog’s mouth, or pump it into your hand and allow your dog to lick it off. The water-based formula includes freshening ingredients like spearmint, green tea leaf extract, baking soda, and chlorophyll. It’s not just for better breath: Reviewers observed a noticeable reduction in tartar after regularly using the foam.
Shop now: Tropiclean Fresh Breath Instant Fresh Breath Solutions Foam, $11; amazon.com
While many water breath fresheners promise to be taste-free, bluestem takes a different approach with flavors like chicken and vanilla-mint. Flavor-free is also available, if that's what your pup prefers. The additive freshens breath in two ways: It contains coactiv+ technology that breaks down biofilms bacteria love, and it reduces plaque and tartar. Third-party testing showed that dogs had a 25-percent reduction in tartar after using the product for 84 days.
Shop now: Bluestem Oral Care Pet Water Additive Breath Freshener, $15; amazon.com
These toothbrush-shaped treats contain mini breath strips that’ll get your pup’s mouth smelling minty fresh right away. As your dog chews the treat, the nubby texture will get in the hard-to-reach spots to help break down the smell-making build-up. The grain-, potato-, and gluten-free recipe is easy to digest for those with sensitive stomachs.
Shop now: Merrick Fresh Kisses Breath Strips, $13; amazon.com
Made with sweet potatoes, yogurt, and turkey, these natural dog breath mints have familiar flavors for picky pups. The twist? The bones also include clove and peppermint oil to help fight odors. If your pet is on a specialized diet, it’s good to know that the grain-free recipe is free of animal byproducts, flavors, colors, and preservatives.
Shop now: I and Love and You Fresh All Rover Breath Bones, $5; target.com
One of the best bargains on our list, these dog breath mints come in a 20-ounce package so you can go longer between buys. The treats have a more subtle effect with spearmint and fennel lower on the ingredient list. The main ingredients are whole wheat flour, oatmeal, wheat bran, chicken fat, and chicken. If your dog doesn’t have a strong breath issue but you still want a little freshening, these might be just right.
Shop now: Old Mother Hubbard Mother’s Solutions Minty Fresh Breath Dog Treats, $8; walmart.com