Q: My dog has a really, really bad case of dog breath. We've tried mint-flavored treats, but his breath is still barking pretty loud. Do you know of any natural remedies?

 

A: One thing I hate more than bad breath is bad breath punctuated by a bottom note of peppermint. Yuck.

My sister's sweet pooch is a delightful mess of cute, gray curls. But recently she, too, developed an acute case of doggie halitosis. The feisty pint-size pooch’s breath was strong enough to peel paint off the walls, and she simply couldn't understand why we no longer wanted to cuddle and cradle her. We had to take action, fast.

Because bad breath can be a sign of bigger problems, we suggest that you do the same, starting with these tips.

Don’t mask the problem: Avoid doggie mouthwash, mint-flavored treats that simply serve as a Band-Aid on a bigger problem. It’s like popping a peppermint candy after eating a clove of garlic. Nothing like stink with a bottom note of mint. These faux health products provide short-term solutions that masking what could be a serious problem.

Check your dog bowls: Imagine if you had to eat from the same plate for days on end. Food, bacteria and other yucky stuff can accumulate quickly, so wash food and water bowls on a regular basis. I'm partial to stainless steel models, but ceramic bowls also allow for easy cleanup.

Change the water daily: Dogs don’t just sip water, they tend to slurp it — depositing plenty of grass and food along the way. Make sure to add fresh water daily, especially when bowls are kept outside.

Work those chompers: Keep teeth clean and canine brains occupied by investing in chew toys that work those jaws and scrape tarter in the process. Knotted hemp ropes get the job done and offer hours of tug-of-war fun. Dog chews made from deer antlers, which are shed naturally each spring, serve as a great option for strong chewers and can be found online or at indie pet food stores. I'm not a fan of real bones because they can splinter or crack a dog’s teeth. Also, I subscribe to the MNN path to greener living by reducing the amount of red meat and meat products consumed in my home.

Add high-quality treats: Dried sweet potato dog chews, cut up apples and chopped carrots clean teeth while fortifying to your dog’s diet. Remember, there may be a bit of trial and error involved, but most pooches will happily consume these goodies. When in doubt about a fruit or vegetable, check the ASPCA.com for a list of foods that are hazardous to dogs (such as avocados).

Brush up: Don’t make me channel my dental hygienist and start scaring you with the perils of unchecked tartar and the hidden threat of gum disease. (I use that horror story to scare the kids each Halloween.) Instead, brush your dog’s teeth on a regular basis to avoid tartar buildup. Start slowly by using your finger and pet-safe toothpaste — human toothpaste is not safe for dogs. Peanut butter-flavored options help pooches open up and say, “ahhhhh” with relative ease. You may need a friend to lend a hand the first few times. Wuffstuff.com offers handy tips for beginners.

See a pro: Even with regular brushing, tartar buildup will require a professional cleaning by your dog’s veterinarian. This will require the dog to be anesthetized, (Do you want to scrape tartar off a Great Dane’s chompers without drugs?) and the procedure typically isn’t cheap. Fortunately, February is Pet Dental Health Month, and your vet may be running a special on all or part of the service.

Make the call today. Cuddle time with your pooch hangs in the balance.

— Morieka

Also on MNN: How to adopt a dog

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