Q: My 6 year old Westie has breath that smells so bad I make him leave the room when we eat. He is off his food but I manage to feed him table scraps. What could be the cause of this?
A: The most likely cause of bad breath with a reluctance to eat is dental disease. Force feeding table scraps is not the best way to manage this condition as he will not be getting a complete diet and over time may become deficient in a number of important nutrients.
If there is an offensive odor coming from your dog’s mouth, the dental disease is likely to be advanced with large numbers of bacteria present. Sometimes an abscess will form behind a tooth. Bacteria sits on the gum line, cause damage to dental ligaments. If enough damage is done to these ligaments, the tooth will no longer be functional. The gums often become red and inflamed and bacteria along the gum line can get into the bloodstream causing infections to spread to other organ systems. All of these processes can be very painful and could be the reason he is off his food.
The only way to manage advanced dental disease is through scaling and polishing the teeth under general anesthetic. There may be some non-functional teeth that require extraction. Toothbrushing and dental chews do not treat dental disease but once the disease is corrected they can help prevent the recurrence.
The first step would be an examination by your veterinarian. Other organ diseases can have an effect on appetite and breath odor but they would usually be suspected on initial clinical examination and verified on a pre-anesthetic blood test.