It's an antisocial extension of tartar, digestive problems and the occasional dead treasure that was found in the garbage and then eaten. It's killer dog breath, or killer cat breath, and your customers of the human kind would really like your help in ridding their beloved pets of this malodorous problem.

Several natural products you can carry will do the trick. They range from hard biscuits to breath mints, soft chews, rinses, toothpastes and wheatgrass—all formulated for pets, not humans.

Products to freshen breath

Jenny Williams, marketing manager of Los Angeles-based Dogswell, says products laced with mint, parsley, peppermint, cinnamon and rosemary work well to clean up a dog's mouth. “Pretty much what works for humans' breath works for dogs,” she says. “And natural treats are the way to go.”

Dogswell makes Breathies, chicken-breast jerky that removes plaque, contains mint, parsley, cinnamon and chlorophyll for fresh breath, and comes in oh-so-fetching chicken and duck flavors.

Boulder, Colo.-based In Clover has developed Savvy Snax, a “nib” that's hard on the outside, chewy on the inside and attacks killer dog breath in three ways. Rebecca Rose, president of the company, says green tea in Savvy Snax kills the bacteria that cause smelly plaque. The prebiotic FOS (fructooligosaccharides) feeds good bacteria to the dog's gut to help with digestion. And chlorophyll and anise freshen breath. The treat is for dogs, she says, but her cat loves it, too, and it certainly won't hurt felines.

More severe bad breath should be treated with something like In Clover's OptaGest that contains helpful enzymes for digestion in both cats and dogs, she says.

Chronic bad breath

Hard biscuits will help scrape plaque off dogs' teeth, says Phil Brown, DVM, of Boise, Idaho-based Nutri-Vet. Brown says bad breath usually comes from tartar and occasionally from an abscess or digestive problem. Transitory bad breath, the kind that goes away after the next meal, comes from whatever potentially disgusting thing the dog just ate; transitory bad breath doesn't need to be treated.

Chronic bad breath calls for a two-stage treatment, Brown says. First, brush the dog's teeth. Then give the dog a hard-biscuit reward—something natural and nothing sugar-laden, he says.

For extremely bad breath, carry Nutri-Vet's Dental Health Soft Chews, a new product that contains Co-Q10, quercetin and vitamin C, each antibacterial and antiplaque, Brown says. “They're like brushing the dog's teeth with a soft chew.” Another effective product for rancid-as-decomposing-mice breath: Nutri-Vet's Breath Fresh Dental Rinse.

“I have an Afghan [hound] whose breath would rot your tie off,” Brown says. “Breath Fresh Dental Rinse fixed that.” The antimicrobial rinse contains chlorhexidine for reducing plaque, and chlorine dioxide, yucca extract and mint oil that help freshen breath and lessen digestive-tract odors. Add a capful of the rinse to the dog's water every day, and odors are supposed to disappear in 48 hours.

And the advice you're always welcome to dispense when the customer describes the pet's breath as “eau de dead woodchuck”: Let your vet clean your pet's teeth. In most cases, Brown says, that will freshen its breath.

Brush up

Brushing pets' teeth is the single most effective way to keep their breath fresh, says Boise, Idaho-based Nutri-Vet's Phil Brown, DVM. Here are some tips you can pass on to your customers:

  • Start brushing its teeth when the dog or cat is young. Cats especially won't allow you to brush their teeth if they didn't get used to it when they were kittens.
  • Don't use human toothpaste on your pets' teeth. “Human toothpaste is usually made to foam, and that kind of scares the animal,” Brown says, and some ingredients in people toothpaste aren't recommended for animals, either. Use nonfoaming dog or cat toothpaste in appealing flavors like chicken, he says. Remember, your pet isn't going to rinse and spit. It's going to swallow the toothpaste.
  • Introduce the pet to dental care with a fingerbrush— a little mitt that fits over one finger—and some gauze.
  • Start slowly, Brown says. “Work your finger in and around the gums.” That's enough the first few times, Brown says. Work up to a thorough brushing.
  • Give the pet a treat every time you brush its teeth.
  • Pets that are fed canned food will have more tartar buildup and will require more frequent brushings.
  • “Be persistent. Be brave. Be gentle,” Brown says.

    Teeth brushings are meant to supplement the occasional teeth cleaning by a vet. When a vet cleans teeth, the pet has to be put under anesthesia, so it isn't something you want to do often. But it should be done occasionally, Brown says. How often will depend on how good the pet's home dental care is.

 

Catering to cats

Because cats often don't get outdoors, do eat wet canned food and don't usually eat prey that still has grass in its stomach, they sometimes have special breath needs.

It's also more difficult to take care of their teeth “because they're snotty animals,” says Boise, Idaho- based Nutri-Vet's Phil Brown, DVM. He has two cats he dearly loves, so he says he feels qualified to say that respectfully.

“Cat breath can be really foul for digestive reasons,” adds Boulder, Colo.-based In Clover's Rebecca Rose. “It's almost impossible to clean a cat's teeth, so be as preventive as possible with a cat.”

That said, breath treats for dogs also work for cats, though ones with a flavor that appeals to dogs may not be as appealing to the felines. For that reason, it's a good idea to carry breath treats flavored especially for cats. Dogswell's Breathies come in a cat version flavored with chicken, for example.

Many products are formulated for both dogs and cats. Ark Naturals, based in Naples, Fla., makes Breath-Less Plaque Zapper, which has no taste or odor. It helps the animal maintain saliva in a natural balance to disrupt growth of plaque.

An alternative to treats and rinses is wheatgrass, which especially benefits cats. Perfect Foods of New York sells flats of fresh Cool Cat Wheatgrass Pet Treat. Customers can juice the wheatgrass or feed little bits of the grass to their cats. Wheatgrass is “the most nutritious food,” says owner Harley Matsil. Feeding it to your cat adds to the animal's overall health, improves its digestion and freshens its breath, Matsil says. The wheatgrass also makes the cat throw up hairballs.

The wheatgrass is good for dogs and their breath, too, Matsil says. But “cats seem to need it more,” maybe because they're often in the house all day and don't get a chance to eat small amounts of grass for their digestion. The live wheatgrass pods will last a few days unrefrigerated, for a week refrigerated and even longer if watered and well-cared for.

Amy Bernard Satterfield is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo.