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Bad Breath

Shih Tzu Bad Breath


A common issue that owners must contend with is their Shih Tzu having bad breath despite a good routine of grooming and care. When there is a chronic (ongoing) issue of breath smelling bad, the medical term is Halitosis. There are several reasons why a Shih Tzu puppy or older dog may start to have this issue and not all are due to health conditions. 

This section will discuss:
  • Overview of canine breath
  • Medical issues that can cause bad breath
  • Non-medical reasons
  • Age related Halitosis
  • Steps that you can take to keep your Shih Tzu's breath smelling fresh and clean
Overview of Canine Breath

There are two common trains of thought that are opposite sides of the spectrum. Some will quote the old saying that a dog's mouth is sterile; this is a long standing myth that revolves around the mistaken idea that a dog's mouth is cleaner than a humans. 
This is far from accurate as dogs have germs present in the mouth at all times and like humans, can suffer from an array of dental issues including infection and decay. On the other side of the coin, are those that say that it is normal for a dog to have 'dog breath'. This is a bit of truth to this, however there is a catch.

This only applies to the fact that many dogs ingest dog food and this has a smell of its own. After eating, the scent of this manufactured food can linger and therefore it is true that a good portion of puppies and dogs will smell like dog food. However, this being said, while it is not the most tantalizing smell in the world, it is not foul smelling or offensive as what would be true of an actual bad breath issue. 

#1 Reason when a Shih Tzu has Chronic Bad Breath

Dental issues is the most common reason for canine Halitosis. It should be noted that an acute smell can be due to a piece of food that has become wedged between teeth. As the food decays, it can emit quite a terrible odor. More typical however, is an issue in which bacteria and decay have developed around the teeth and at and even below the gum line. The culprit may be plaque; once it builds up a normal brushing at home will not remove it and therefore brushing the teeth even on a regular schedule at this time will not resolve the bad breath problems. 

It is very important to have any possible dental issues to be taken care of as soon as possible. A buildup of tarter and plaque will rot away teeth making them weak and for many dogs, eventually causing them to fall out. In addition, a dental infection can spread via the bloodstream into the body. It can reach a dog's brain, heart and lungs, among other organs. 

What to do: If you have been regularly brushing your Shih Tzu's teeth with a quality brush and paste, the teeth should still be examined at least once per year during regular wellness checks. If your Shih Tzu has been having an issue with really smelly breath even if you have been performing at-home cleanings, a checkup will be in order to check for issues. Some dogs have soft teeth and are more prone to issues even with routine care. A scraping may need to be done and teeth will be evaluated for potential issues which are always easier to deal with when caught early.  
If you have not been brushing the teeth and your Shih Tzu has an ongoing problem with very stinky breath, you will want to first have the veterinarian perform a 'full dental' that will clear away both plaque and tarter so that you can start with a fresh slate afterward. Choose a good 3-sided brush that is appropriately sized for toy breeds and a quality paste that has the right mixture of abrasive elements to properly scrub away particles that become stuck to teeth. Set aside a certain time each day to clean the teeth for a good 3 minutes. 

Less Common Health Issues that Can Cause Bad Breath Problems with a Shih Tzu

There are a range of health conditions that can cause a dog's breath to smell bad or odd. It should be noted that most are rare but should be considered in cases of a Shih Tzu having an issue that is not easily cleared up and dental issues have been ruled out.

Diabetes - With this, abnormal sugar levels in the bloodstream can cause the breath to have an unusual fruity or sweet scent. 

Liver disease - Typically this condition causes very strong bad breath however will have other symptoms that include a yellowing of the eyes and/or gums, decreased appetite and/or stomach distress including vomiting. 

Kidney disease - If a dog's breath has the distinct smell of urine, an issue with the kidneys is always a top concern. 

Lung disease - There can be issues with the lungs, including cancer, that cause a foul smell to be emitted when the dog breaths. 

Non-Medical Reasons

If a Shih Tzu has a sudden problem with stinky breath odor, this may be a case of the dog having ingested something that smells bad and particles of that are still in the mouth. Examples are rotted food taken from the trash or even feces in the case of Coprophagia.   

If this is the case, a good cleaning with canine toothpaste should resolve the issue. To prevent this problem, trash cans should be kept under counters if at all possible.

Problems with Coprophagia will need to be dealt with. Many cases are due to a lack of proper nutrition and reassessing what you are feeding your dog is a good idea. If your Shih Tzu's breath smells like poop and you suspect that he/she is eating his/her own feces, one method that works very well is to offer a supplement that is sprinkled onto meals; it tastes very good when a dog is ingesting it however it works to make stools taste horrible.  

As we touched on above, something may have gotten stuck between the teeth may be the cause of a bad smell coming from the mouth. The culprit may be food, a splinter from a stick or other small object that is wedged and causing over salivation and even possible swelling and bleeding. Essentially, when your Shih Tzu is outside and sniffing the ground he or she can mouth just about anything in the blink of an eye

If possible, you can do an inspection with a flashlight to see if you can spot anything. With the help of an assistant, you may be able to remove it either using floss or a small plaque scraper. However, if your Shih Tzu is not tolerant to this or removal is proving to be difficult, it will be best to have the veterinarian take care of this. 

Also, as we mentioned earlier, food itself can cause a case of bad breath. Wet commercial food can tend to stick to the teeth which can cause a Shih Tzu to smell like dog food with each breath for hours after eating. Even dry food can cause issues if it contains high levels of fish oil, which in turn can cause a Shih Tzu's breath to have a rotting fish smell. 

If food is found to be the cause and a dog's breath is stinky enough to really be causing an issue for owners who find that they have to turn their heads away when they are close to their dog, a change in brands may be warranted. Do take care to make changes gradually, since a fast switch can cause intestinal upset. 
If a Shih Tzu has Bad Breath when Burping

Some dogs have no bad breath issues at all, except for a problem with letting out burps that are very foul smelling. Burping itself happens when the body rids itself of excess air from the stomach. The smell from partially digested food will travel out with the burp and can be very unpleasant. The extra air that is in the stomach is most typically due to a dog eating and/or drinking too quickly. This can be resolved by using slow-feeder dishes for both food and water. If your Shih Tzu really is attached to his bowls, another option is to use a portion pacer which is an appropriately sized stainless steel ball that works to distribute the food and cause a dog to eat around it; which in turn promotes slower ingestion.

If there are any other signs of stomach distress including but not limited to vomiting, dry heaving, change in appetite, loose stools and/or constipation, a vet visit will be needed to diagnose the issue which will be a more involved matter than just bad breath. 

Shih Tzu Puppy Bad Breath

While it does not occur with all pups, it is entirely possible for a puppy to have bad breath only during the teething stage. Starting around the age of 4 months old and usually ending by the 7 month mark, a puppy's adult teeth will begin to cut through the gums. During this time, a pup's breath can have an odor that some say smells like sour milk, while others will describe it as having an overpowering sweet smell or a mixture of the two. 

Due to some slight oral bleeding in the warm, moist environment of the mouth, certain bacteria can develop that produces this sort of smell. Brushing the teeth can provide a temporary fix and offering an additive to the water to destroy bacteria may help (more ahead). With brushing, some pups really enjoy the feeling of the bristles since it 'scratches the itch' that can often be intense during this time.

Time will eventually resolve the bad breath problem, as it does go away once teething has ended. 

How to Keep your Shih Tzu's Breath Smelling Nice

There are a couple of things that you can do to keep your Shih Tzu's breath fresh and clean. While just one method alone will not do much, when all of these elements are combined the result is quite good.

1) The #1 method to treat bad breath problems is to brush the teeth every day. This task is often overlooked by busy owners who feel that there is just not enough time in the day. However, it really only does take 3 to 5 minutes (from setup to finish), so putting aside this small amount of time will not only clear up stinky breath but also keep your Shih Tzu healthy. Dental decay evolves into fatal issues for hundreds of dogs each year; with proper at-home care and yearly professional checks, this can be eliminated and extend the overall life span of our pets. 

2) Quality dental chews - This is the best at-home treatment for non-medical bad breath problems that canines experience. Good canine dental chews will do several things: They will have the proper abrasive texture to help scrape a certain amount of plaque from the teeth as they are being chewed. They will also have natural (not chemical) antiseptics to clear out bacteria. Lastly, a breath chew will have ingredients that offer a temporary pleasant smell so that when given once daily, will give a pleasant, agreeable odor when he breaths on you. Other elements to look for are nutritional benefits including antioxidants and dietary fiber, which will make them a well-rounded snack. 

3) Dental care water additive - This is also referred to as a canine drinkable 'mouthwash', however if you obtain a quality brand, it is actually a very safe completely tasteless liquid that is added to a dog's water bowl. In general, only one teaspoon for every 8 ounces is needed. It has no flavor at all, so a Shih Tzu will not even notice any difference. However, it kills bacteria both in the mouth and in the dish. This can greatly reduce the buildup of plaque and tartar and an added extra bonus is that it makes a dog's breath smell great. When this is used each day, breath problems often improve with time. Day one will produce good results, but with continued use day 7 will have even more marked improvement and so on. 

Do take care in regard to copycats, as sub par products will not only cause water discoloration but can also have a drying aftereffect, which can cause even worse bad breath.


While a Shih Tzu's breath may not always smell like roses, it is never normal for a puppy or dog to have really stinky breath. There is always in underlying cause that should be diagnosed and appropriately treated. Since our dogs cannot speak to us, it is our responsibility to be proactive in resolving any issues and bad breath is not one to ignore. 

*** If you would like to see our recommendations for brushes, paste, chews and canine 'mouthwash', look to 'Dental Care' in the Shih Tzu Specialty Shoppe
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