Why Swimming May Make Your Dog Smell Musty

Dog swimming

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Does your dog smell bad swimming? Some dogs will have a musty or sour odor after they get wet. This odor is similar to the smell of laundry that did not fully dry after getting washed. You may find that the odor lessens once your dog dries but quickly returns after your dog gets wet again. The stench can be even worse in dogs with thick coats.

Why Some Dogs Smell Musty After Swimming

A dog's coat can be quite useful in the water, especially when it comes to sporting dogs like retrievers. Their thick, oily coats are water repellent, enabling them to dry faster and protecting their coats from the cold, hash water.

Unfortunately, a dog's coat can also trap and absorbs various organic materials from the water. Depending on the water source, your dog's coat may absorb bacteria, algae, animal/fish waste from, plant material, dirt, and other debris. This material may remain in the coat as the dog dries, leaving behind a foul odor. In addition, the presence of a skin infection can make the odor even worse.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce or even eliminate your dog's coat odor after swimming.

How to Remove or Reduce Your Dog's Odor

There are some steps you can take right after your dog finishes swimming that can decrease the odor on the coat.

  • Use a hose with a shower-like nozzle to rinse your dog out after he is done swimming for the day. This stream of clean water can help remove some of the odor-causing material in the coat.
  • Sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on your dog's coat while still slightly damp. Rub it into the coat well, then brush your dog out. This can help reduce odors until your dog gets wet again. Be sure not to use too much or it may become caked on the coat.
  • If your dog is a frequent swimmer, consider keeping the coat trimmed or shaved short.
  • Try a pet-specific deodorizing spray to mask the odor until you can give your dog a bath.
  • When able, bathe your dog with a soap-free, pet-specific shampoo. Use a gentle formula, especially if you will frequently bathe your dog. An oatmeal-based shampoo is a great choice. Harsh shampoos and over-bathing may strip the natural oils and make the skin dry and itchy. Avoid medicated shampoos unless specifically directed to do so by your veterinarian.
  • Be sure your dog is thoroughly dry after swimming or bathing. If the coat remains damp for a long time, microorganisms like bacteria and fungus can thrive and reproduce, making the coat odor worse and potentially leading to a skin infection.

Dog Odor and Skin Infections

Skin infections are common in many dogs. While infections are typically caused by allergies or other skin problems, they may be worsened by frequent swimming, especially if the coat takes a long time to dry completely. When dogs shake after getting wet, they are able to remove a lot of water from their coats. However, this is not enough in dogs with water repellent or thick coats. Dogs with skin folds may develop infections in the creases where air does not reach the skin to dry it.

The odor of a skin infection is generally worse than the usual "wet dog" smell. It is often sour and quite foul. A sour smell may be the first sign of a skin infection. Take a good look through the fur and see if you notice any bumps, sores, boils, or rashes which can occur anywhere. The skin may also look red, flaky, or excessively greasy. You may feel a greasy or waxy coating on the skin. Many skin infections also make the dog itchy.

If you think your dog has a skin infection is present, contact your vet for advice. In some cases, your dog will need medical treatment in the form of antibiotics or antifungals. Your vet may also recommend applying a medication topically and/or bathing your dog with a medicated shampoo.

If your vet does not feel that your description warrants an in-person visit, you may be able to use an over-the-counter product to ease your dog's skin. Or, you may try a homemade solution made from equal parts water and vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar). Spray the mixture on your coat and do not rinse. Allow the coat to air-dry. You can also use this spray as the last step after shampooing with a good de-greasing shampoo and towel drying your dog well. Once your dog is dry, the vinegar odor should fade.

If your dog is prone to skin infections, ask your vet about nutritional supplements and special diets that can prevent their recurrence.