3 min read

Why Do Dogs Have Puppy Breath?

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By hannah hollinger

Published: 04/22/2019, edited: 08/10/2021

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Ah, puppy breath. Pet parents all over the internet describe this sweet scent using the most poetic terms, like “intoxicating” and “magical”. And if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of those irresistible puppy kisses, you’ll probably agree!

However, not all pup parents are head-over-paws in love with their fur-baby’s breath. No matter where you fall on the puppy breath spectrum, there’s no denying that a young puppy’s breath is a unique aroma that doesn’t quite compare to anything else.

But why do dogs have puppy breath? The answer isn’t clear-cut -- surprisingly, many veterinarians can’t even agree on what causes it! Insuring your puppy as soon as “pawssible” is essential for preventing high vet care costs. Start comparing insurance plans from leading insurers like Healthy Paws and Embrace and save over $270 a year.


Why Do Dogs Have Puppy Breath? What the Experts Say:

There are a few official theories about where puppy breath comes from:

  • The mother’s milk

  • The absence of bacteria, plaque, and tartar in the mouth before teething begins

  • The bacteria which inhabits the mouth after teething starts

  • Gases leaking up through the developing esophagus from the stomach

The most common answer to the puppy breath question involves the lactose found in mother’s milk. However, some veterinarians say mother’s milk correlates with, rather than causes, puppy breath -- especially since puppy breath often lingers long after dogs are fully weaned.

Puppies who aren’t yet weaned from their mothers haven’t developed any of their teeth. Because no teeth have broken through, bacteria, plaque, and tartar -- the most common culprits of bad breath in dogs -- aren’t present in the mouth yet. (So yes, there is at least some truth to that old wives tale that a puppy’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s!)

Conversely, another theory suggests that puppy breath is actually caused by the bacteria which inhabits the mouth as the adult teeth erupt and the gums start to bleed.

Some pet parents also believe that puppy breath indicates intestinal worms. This assumption is somewhat understandable, given that most puppies acquire roundworms from their mother’s milk. However, there’s no evidence to support the claim that puppy’s breath is caused by intestinal worms.

Considering that many veterinarians can’t seem to agree about where puppy breath comes from, it’s hard to pinpoint a single cause. However, since puppy breath typically disappears by the time the adult teeth are fully formed, around the age of six months, the answer to the puppy breath question probably lies somewhere in the teething process.


When Your Puppy’s Breath Doesn’t Smell So Sweet

Should you worry about puppy breath? Not at all, unless it’s foul-smelling.

It’s true that common dental issues, like plaque and tartar build-up, aren’t present in a young pup’s mouth until after their adult teeth have erupted. However, while plaque and tartar are common causes of bad breath, they aren’t the only causes.

Other causes of bad breath in puppies may include:

  • eating their own feces

  • blood and bacteria collected in the gums during teething

  • problems with tooth eruption, such as an impacted tooth


Puppy Teething Timeline

A puppy’s deciduous teeth -- commonly called “baby teeth” -- typically begin erupting at four weeks of age. This is around the same time most puppies will begin the weaning process and switch to a soft, easily chewable puppy food.

Permanent teeth begin replacing the “puppy” teeth at 12 weeks of age. The canines and incisors develop first, followed by the premolars and molars at 16 weeks. Most dogs should have all their permanent teeth by the age of six months.



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