Baby’s Breath

English: Chihuahua puppy
Image via Wikipedia

It’s worthy of note how often, when people meet Gandy (or any puppy for that matter) they comment on the soft pink tummy and always, and usually in nostalgic tones, they’ll have something to say about “puppy breath.”

It is one of those distinctive aromas, that may carry us back to our childhood pets, back to a time when we spent many more hours at floor level, breathing the same air as our pets, and sharing bites of peanut butter sandwiches and licks of lollipops with our baby dogs. Puppy breath was our atmosphere.

We are notoriously poor at putting fragrances and tastes into English words. Perhaps other languages do a better job of it, and they should. Smells, especially, are so intimately tied to memory and emotion. We should be able to accurately describe what is different about the smell of a lemon compared to the smell of an orange. Can you? The best we can do is to know it when we smell it. And that, in far less olfactory detail than our dogs.

So what combination of known smells make up the scent we know as puppy breath?

My best shot would be to say it is 3 parts ground dark-roast coffee in the canister; one part distant wood smoke; one part warm milk; and one part, new leather shoes. And your best shot? (it may help if you hold your nose up to your monitor and sniff this baby Chihuahua’s breath.)

The smell is decidedly different from and far more pleasant that most adult dog breath (same goes for people puppies and adults) because as a new-born, it takes some while for the gut to become fully inhabited by the microorganisms of digestion and normal gut ecology–these being the same bacteria that cause the gases and byproducts of digestion and putrefaction. I’ve never known many adult dogs whose breath I would seek out. If they could only be taught to brush. Or at least gargle. But then, with their keen senses of smell, you know they wish the same for us. Especially first thing in the morning. Eh, Gandy?

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About

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

4 Comments on “Baby’s Breath

  1. Ha! Loved this. Egads, I have a heck of a time illustrating olfactory senses, but you’ve done it beautifully here.

    You are officially blogrolled over at SS, dear Fred. 😉

  2. But the big question is, do her toe pads smell like cheetos? (I had a friend who swore all dogs’ pads smelled like cheetos, and to my limited sampling, it was true…)

  3. Carrie, my recently passed baby of nine years age had feet with a distinctive odor but to my sense of smell it was Fritos, corn chips.
    Also I would add that even as an adult, not myself or any other person ever complained about her breath unless she had just recently eaten some tuna or some other fragrant feast. We did everything we could to keep her teeth tartar free but stopped short of having them cleaned by a professional for an estimated cost of over $500.00. It was more than our fixed income could bear.
    Fred, I loved this piece. You are the only person I’ve ever known to attempt describing, in finest detail, puppy breath. I couldn’t do it nor would I even attempt it but I don’t mind confessing that it’s one of my favorite odors. I smell every puppy’s breath I get an opportunity to and try to stay there sniffing until my nose gets accustomed to it and can no longer sense it. I wonder if anyone has reproduced it in an artificial form? I’d become a customer immediately.

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