What’s that Smell? 8 Reasons Why Your Dog Might Smell Bad

What's that Smell

Have you ever heard someone say that something “smells like a wet dog”? Poor dogs… they get blamed for any bad odor, don’t they? Truth is, your dog shouldn’t smell bad! Sure, some of his “parts” aren’t going to smell like roses, but overall, a bad smell is generally a problem.

Okay, this may be kind of gross for some people, but a true dog lover will understand… I actually like the way my dog smells. To me, his fur smells sweet and fresh. I remember a friend of mine who, while snuggling and rubbing her face in her dog’s fur, said, “Smells like “life”!” I totally get that!

Years ago, when I worked in the Grooming salon at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, I got to where I could pretty much detect health problems of our guests by the way they smelled. A pungent, yeasty smell was often bad skin issues, or sometimes overly yeasty ear wax; a potent, sharp, spoiled milk kind-of smell was usually an ear infection. And, of course, abnormally bad breath is most certainly an indicator of health problems. I have also noticed by working with dogs that some breeds, like hounds, for example, have a distinctive scent, as do cocker spaniels and others, but some, like poodles, have no discernible scent whatsoever.

Just like us, all dogs have a unique smell, caused by the oils in our skin or what we have ingested. Sniff a dog’s feet and they’re probably going to smell like frito chips or popcorn… Not a bad smell, but some people find it offensive. A dog sweats through his feet, and we can pretty much surmise that a sweaty area is not going to smell good, even on us. But put your nose in your dog’s fur or kiss the top of his head, and you should not detect any bad odor. Bad odors can be the sign of a serious disease.

While we at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts do not claim to be experts on dog health, our experience with handling so many dogs gives us a certain insight. We may not be able to diagnose your dog’s particular malodorous issue, but we can most certainly tell you what is a normal smell and what isn’t.

8 Reasons Why Your Dog Might Smell Bad

Ear Infection

There are so, so many different reasons for a dog to have smelly ears… from lack of cleanliness, continual moisture (from swimming, perhaps), excessive hair on top of or inside the ear canal, etc… And the degree to how bad the ears smell is also significant. A light, yeasty smell may mean nothing more than your dog just needs his ears cleaned. An ear infection has a much stronger, sickening smell and should be reported to your veterinary right away. Stinky, infected ears can often be recognized from a distance… You’ll think, wow, that dog stinks, but upon closer inspection, you find that the dog does not stink, but the smell from his ears is overpowering.

Skin Issues

Remember me saying that my dog smells sweet and fresh? Guess what? He has canine seborrhea, a condition that, when not controlled, results in a musty, sort-of stinky cheese smell due to the buildup of sebum and yeast on his skin. His odor was what prompted a visit to his vet a few years back. Once diagnosed, we were put on a rigid regime of bathing, medicine, and ear cleaning which we follow religiously. There is no cure for canine seborrhea, but it can definitely be managed. He now smells like a “normal” dog should smell.

Although it is probably one of the most common, canine seborrhea is not the only skin issue that can cause an odor. Allergies, hormonal imbalances, fungus, parasites and localized inflammation can lead to an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria on the skin and cause an unpleasant smell. Your dog’s discomfort will lead to excessive scratching and licking which can cause a secondary bacterial infection. A secondary bacterial infection worsens the odor even more so. Any unpleasant smell to your dog’s skin should be brought to your vet’s attention before it progresses into something truly damaging.

Many dogs have overlapping folds in the skin… think bulldog, shar peis, pugs, some mastiffs, etc.. These folds can retain too much moisture and microorganisms resulting in the buildup of infection-causing bacteria. Skin folds require consistent cleaning to keep them dry and odor free. If your dog’s skin appears irritated, red or smelly around the folds, he may already have dermatitis or an infection. Over-bathing in an attempt to fend off the odor can cause your dog to have too little oil, causing skin irritation. Talk to your vet about how to achieve a proper balance to keep your dog’s skin folds healthy.

Bad Breath

Bad breath is normally the result of a build-up of odor-producing bacteria in your dog’s mouth, however, it can be something far worse. Persistent bad breath can be caused by an abnormality in not only your dog’s mouth but his respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract or internal organs. Some diseases will cause your dog to have bad breath, namely diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease.

Generally, the issue comes from poor dental health, heavy tartar build-up, dental infections and periodontal disease, none of which should be taken lightly.

Anal Glands

Often described as a “fishy odor”, anal gland smell is not for the faint of heart. Anal glands are small secretory glands on both sides of a dog’s rectum and are a very natural and necessary part of your dog’s anatomy. Unfortunately, many dogs seem to have problems with them, causing pain, “mess” and most certainly a nasty odor. Normal, healthy anal glands should not emit an odor unless you’re a dog and you’re sniffing them out. If your dog’s anal glands smell bad, they may need to be expressed, or he has a problem, both of which will require a veterinary visit.

Gas Attacks

Guaranteed… if you’re in a room of people and begin talking about dogs, someone will bring up how bad their dog has gas. Occasional burping, gurgling, and flatulence are normal, but excessive gas could indicate a problem. A foul, putrid smell is not normal either. When gas is daily and consistent, it could be a sign that something is wrong and you should bring it up with your vet. The solution may be something as simple as a change in food or as serious as the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

Some dogs are famous for their gas issues… pugs, bulldogs, boxers. That’s due to the way their faces are structured…those adorable squished-up noses cause them to suck in air while they’re eating, leading to too much air in their digestive system. There are tricks to helping these little guys consume less air… like maybe raising their bowl, or giving them probiotics. Talk to your vet about possible solutions.

Urinary Tract Infection

If your pup smells like urine, he could have a urinary tract infection. Oh, your poor dog… it’s more common than you would think, and oh, it is so miserable. If it is a bladder/urinary tract infection, you will notice other signs like an increased frequency to “go outside”, more trips to the water bowl, or straining or pain when urinating. You may see blood in his urine. Regardless, any abnormal urine odor needs to be discussed with your vet. There are other reasons for a strong urine smell, like kidney stones, diabetes, or maybe even some type of fungal infection, all requiring immediate medical attention.

Lack of Grooming

I guess this one goes without saying, but a dirty dog is a stinky dog! If you find bathing your dog on a regular basis too much, please let us help. We have many customers visiting the Holiday Barn Pet Resorts spa on a regular schedule…say, for example, every 3-6 weeks. As an extra incentive, each time you schedule your dog’s return visit, you receive $5 off. Not only do we bathe him thoroughly, but we clean his ears and can brush his teeth upon your request. Unless your dog has a malodorous problem like the ones we have been discussing, your dog will smell amazing after his Grooming visit!

Brushing your dog goes a long way in helping to decrease any unpleasant smells between baths. Brushing gets rid of dirt, dead skin cells, dried saliva and anything else hiding out in your dog’s fur. You’ll probably be surprised at how much better your dog will smell after a simple, but thorough brushing.

One more thing… Be sure to keep Fido’s bedding clean. My dog has a bed in nearly every room of the house (I know… spoiled rotten). It’s quite a chore to keep all of his beds clean, but it makes a huge difference in not only his smell, but the way the house smells too. It also helps to wash your dog’s plush chew toys and fleecy ropes. The buildup of saliva can cause your dog’s breath to smell sour.

Wet Dog

Let’s get back to that “wet dog” thing… It’s for real! Despite the fact that you wash and brush your dog regularly, microorganisms like yeast and bacteria live in your dog’s fur. It’s normal. As long as your dog stays dry, there is no unpleasant smell. But guess what? Those microorganisms leave behind fecal matter (gross), or (easier to stomach) “organic chemicals”. There’s a whole science behind what happens when these organic chemicals get wet, but I’m no scientist…. The simplest description I can come up with is that these compounds separate from your dog’s fur when wet, become condensed, and then kind-of disperse into the air causing that yucky smell. Towel drying alone won’t fix the smell. He needs to be thoroughly dried, either by the sun or blower.

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