What to Do If Your Dog Has Unpleasant Odors

Golden retriever dog in bath
Sometimes a bath isn't enough to stop an odor on a dog. JanuarySkyePhotography / Getty Images

Dogs aren't exempt to getting dirty and smelly but sometimes the cause of a smell on a dog isn't just because it's time for a regular bath. Various infectious, dental issues, and even run-ins with wildlife can cause extra odors on a dog and may need more than shampoo to fix.

What Causes Us to Smell Bad Odors?

When you're talking about body odor, bacteria that is present on the skin that starts to break down proteins into acid is the cause of this smell. Our olfactory neurons are special cells inside our nose that communicate with our brain and tell us that this smell is present. But what about smells other than body odor? Sometimes things that smell contain chemicals or components like sulphur and yeast that emit their own distinct odors and we recognize them as offensive scents.

What Causes Bad Odors in Dogs?

There can be many reasons why a dog has a bad odor. Sometimes a bath may be all that a dog needs but other times veterinary attention is necessary to fix the source of the smell.

  • Ear infections - Some of the most common pet insurance claims are for ear infections in dogs so the ears are also likely sources of unpleasant odors. Ear infections can either contain yeast or bacteria and both types of infection can smell. Simple dirty ears will not have an odor to them like infected ears will have so if your dog's ears are dirty and smelly, they may require veterinary treatment.
  • Skin infections - There are several reasons why a dog might develop a skin infection. Allergies, hormonal imbalances, fungal infections, external parasites, inflammation, wounds, bleeding tumors, and other skin issues can cause smelly bacteria and yeast to grow on the skin's surface. Medications and other treatments are usually required to combat this smell.
  • Dental disease - Bad breath is difficult to ignore, especially in a dog that regularly licks your face. If bacteria is left to cause dental disease, foul odors and potentially even internal organ dysfunction will follow. Regular teeth brushing and professional dental cleanings at the animal hospital are typically necessary to keep bad breath and tooth decay away.
  • Skunk spray - This distinct smell only comes from one source. If your dog has been sprayed by a skunk it will need a special bath to get rid of the smell.
  • Rolling in something smelly - Dogs love to roll around in smelly things but it results in a smelly dog. If your dog has been having a little too much fun outside in the yard, a simple bath will undo this damage.
  • Dirty water - If your dog has recently been swimming in dirty water, an unpleasant odor might linger even after your dog has dried. If this occurs, it's time for a shampoo!
  • Gas - Dogs occasionally experience flatulence and unfortunately we have to smell it. But what causes this gas? Digestive upset from dietary changes like a new food or treat, eating something in the yard, medications, and even just stress can result in some noxious fumes coming from your dog's hind end. Bland diets, probiotics, and decreasing stress may help with this issue.
  • Anal gland issues - Anal glands are two small sacs on the hind end of a dog that contain foul smelling liquid. If a dog expresses its glands, a very unpleasant odor will be present. A good bath can easily clean this up thankfully.
  • Internal organ issues - Some types of problems that affect the internal organs of a dog can result in bad breath. Both kidney failure and diabetic ketoacidosis can give your dog a bad smell that is coming from its mouth.

How to Make the Odor Go Away

Depending on the cause of the unpleasant smell, regular or medicated baths might help. If there is an infection somewhere on the body, antibiotics, antifungals, and other medications will need to be prescribed by a veterinarian. Occasionally surgery may be necessary to remove the source of the smell, such as that which is a result of diseased teeth, an infected tumor, or problematic anal glands, but usually medications and cleaning can help stop the odor.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.