Why Does My Dog Smell?

Why Does My Dog Smell?

Health & Safety

There are several reasons why dogs smell!

1. Ear Infections

Infected ears can smell horrible. Infectious organisms such as fungi and bacteria like the ears very much as a place to replicate since the environment is warm and moist. Breeds with long ear flaps such as Spaniels may be particularly susceptible since their anatomy restricts the air-flow. Dogs with inherently hairy ear canals can also be more prone to these problems. Ear infections can arise in response to foreign material such as a grass seed in the canal or a build up of wax. Sometimes they can be symptomatic of an allergic reaction to something in the environment or to one or more dietary protein.

To prevent ear infections, ears should be cleaned regularly with a safe and gentle cleanser designed for this purpose. Dogs with very hairy canals may benefit from them being very carefully plucked. Your vet or groomer can show you how. Avoiding the most common dietary allergens which remain to be wheat, dairy products, beef and soya (plus foods which contain unspecified cereals and meat derivatives) may help to reduce the risk of an allergic response. If your dog is already fed a high quality hypoallergenic diet and none of his treats or extras are likely to be provocative, then a change to a food with an alternative primary protein source and carbohydrate source may help if a food allergy is the root cause. The bacteria and fungi that grow in the ears are opportunistic, which means they have a tendency to replicate very quickly when the immune system is upset. Dogs with ear infections should always see the vet. In recurrent cases an ear swab is advisable to find out exactly what is growing and enable effective treatment to be prescribed. Pain relief may also be necessary as this problem can be very uncomfortable.

2. Dental Problems

Bacteria are naturally present in the mouth but plaque or tartar accumulation can increase the population to unhealthy levels that can cause the breath to smell. When the dog licks to clean himself, the bad odour can be transported via the saliva to all reachable areas of the coat. Good oral hygiene, regular teeth cleaning and safe dental toys can help to prevent this problem. If you suspect your dog has gingivitis (inflamed gums) or any tooth related issues, then a visit to the vet is recommended.

If you own more than one dog, it’s possible that one dog with gingivitis may be grooming another who has a healthy mouth but the transference of bacteria from the original dog could be making both of them smell!

3. Yeast Overgrowth

A yeast overgrowth is typified by a musty odour to the skin and/or ears. Veterinary treatment is recommended, and anti-fungal drugs may be necessary. Yeast infection is often secondary to another underlying condition, so it’s important to establish any primary cause of the problem as well as simply treating the symptoms.

It is a common misperception that nutritional yeast is a frequent dietary allergen, and that dogs with a yeast overgrowth should not eat it. Many also believe that foods containing yeast may “feed” existing yeast colonies thus helping them to replicate more quickly, but the favourite foods of yeast are actually simple sugars and fats. The main causes of yeast infections are :

  • Ingestion of mycotoxins from contaminated grain-based foods
  • Chemical overload
  • Over-vaccination
  • Antibiotics (these can kill the friendly bacteria which would normally suppress yeastover-growth)

Yeast overgrowth can be symptomatic of allergies as described in the ear section. Regardless of cause, dogs with yeast overgrowth often benefit from immune boosting supplements such as probiotics and extra essential fatty acids.

4. Flatulence

None of us are in any doubt that wind smells! There are various reasons why some dogs experience flatulence which can range from eating very quickly (and taking in a lot of air whilst doing so) to eating too much in one meal (or too much altogether). Certain foods can make dogs windy too. Some are just not very digestible (uncooked vegetables for example) and others may simply not agree with an individual. It is not always the main diet that’s responsible; sometimes treats and extras (even if only given in moderation) can be the culprit especially if the dog has a low tolerance threshold to one or more of the ingredients. A review of everything the dog eats and the volume can be very helpful. An anti-gulp bowl is a good investment for the rapid eater.

5. Anal Gland Problems

Anal gland problems are typified by an offensive fishy smell which is much worse than any of the other scents"" outlined! There are various reasons why dogs might experience problems in this area ranging from passing stools that are not well enough formed to trigger the natural anal gland emptying mechanism to infectiouscauses. Some dogs are unfortunately born with their glands not positioned optimallyand may always need a helping hand to empty them. In cases of loose stools, good dietary management can be very helpful. As always it is important to establish why the stools are not well formed and address that rather than try to mask the symptoms. A vet check is sensible, and if it is felt that an individual dog has a higher requirement for fibre than normal, a commercial fibre supplement formulated for dogs may be added to the main diet. A very cheap alternative is to add one teaspoon of well-cooked lentils to every 100g of food, but do bear in mind that lentils don’t suit all dogs.

6. Coprophagia (Stool Eating)

A dog with a tendency to eat stools (be they his own, those of other dogs or other species) is likely to have very smelly breath. He’ll also be more at risk from bacteria (which also smell). Coprophagia tends to have roots in behaviour and potential causes may include attention seeking, boredom, exploratory behaviour, copying and hunger. Coprophagia is a form of pica, which simply means “a depraved appetite.” A dog with pica will often become obsessed with eating certain materials, and faeces are unfortunately a popular non-food item to ingest. This problem is more often than not, psychological, but there are some medical conditions which can give rise to such behaviour including primary gastrointestinal maldigestive and malabsorptive disorders such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, severe inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal lymphosarcoma. Hyperadrenocorticism and diabetes mellitus can cause an increased appetite to such an extent that a dog may look to non-food items to ingest. Anaemia (iron deficiency; which has a variety of underlying causes) may also be implicated. For this reason, it is always sensible to seek veterinary advice if your dog suddenly starts eating faeces or other non-food items in order to rule out a medical problem. With the majority of these conditions, many other symptoms besides the coprophagia will be evident, particularly diarrhoea.

If a clean bill of health has been given, some suggestions to help reduce the problem include:

  • Increasing the frequency of feeds (to promote more stable blood sugar and better serotonin levels (the hormone responsible for dietary satisfaction)
  • Consider changing to a lower calorie diet so that higher feeding portions can be given without making the dog over-weight (wet food is a very good way to add volume without going overboard on the calories)
  • Ensure the dog has sufficient physical activity and mental stimulation too; feeding toys are a good investment
  • Work on some training techniques to ensure you can teach your dog to leave faeces alone when told
  • Be extra careful with hygiene and pick up your dogs’ own faeces quickly to limit access opportunities; regular worming is essential for a poo eater

7. Rawhide / Pigs’ Ears

If you have ever smelled a half chewed raw-hide chew or pig’s ear, they often reek. That smell can hang around the dog for a long time and make the breath smell too. Substituting these for clean chews such as recreational nylon bones may help if this type of chew is the culprit. Hide chews and similar may often contribute to flatulence and loose stools in sensitive dogs too.

Other Causes

Another very common reason for a malodorous dog is that he’s found somewhere smelly to roll in and is picking up whiffs of foxes or other animals that have marked their scent or defecated there. If your dog hasn't had a bath for a while, this might make a big difference!

If you have a smelly dog then do check your dog's ears, skin, mouth and teeth and also assess the stools over a day or two. If you are in any doubt as to what's normal and what's not, then do consult your vet.




Pets for studWanted pets

Accessories & services

Knowledge hub


Support & safety portal
Pets for saleAll Pets for sale