Why Does My Dog Stink?

Smelly Health Issues and How to Resolve Them

Dog holding toy
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If you have a dog, chances are you've experienced "doggie stink." In most cases, dog smells are a result of your pet rolling in something with a strong odor (such as feces) or being sprayed by an angry skunk. Rolling is a natural behavior; animal behaviorists think it is a way to "scent camouflage" themselves from potential predators. 

Most of the time, it's fairly easy to eradicate dog smells with a good shampoo. Sometimes, however, skin, coat and health conditions can cause foul odors that may or may not be helped by simply bathing your pet. Smells that can't be removed by bathing may be health concerns and merit a visit to the vet.

illustration of reasons why your dog stinks
Illustration: Ashley Nicole DeLeon. © The Spruce, 2018

Health Issues That Can Cause an Odor

It's easy enough to determine if your dog has been rolling in something nasty. If your ordinary pet shampoo doesn't get rid of the odor, you may want to check with your vet for options; some scents, such as skunk, are notoriously stubborn. If no form of shampoo makes the difference, however, your pet may have a health issue that is creating the smell. When that’s the case, you’ll want to consult with your vet about possible smell-producing medical problems.

  • Breath: Some diseases, like kidney failure and diabetes, can cause a change in the smell of an animal's breath.
  • Diseased teeth and gums: Dental disease and infected gums can produce a very foul odor. Additionally, a sore mouth may cause increased drooling. The malodorous saliva can coat the fur, furniture, etc., and you may not recognize that this is originating in the mouth.
  • Infected ears: Bacterial infections of the ears are often extremely smelly. Vets often diagnose this type of infection by smell upon entering the exam room. Your dog will usually be scratching or shaking the head, but not always. A bath may make ears worse if water is trapped in the ear canal.
  • Flatulence: Passing "gas" may indicate a dietary or intestinal problem. Some flatulence is normal, but if this is regularly occurring, please see your veterinarian. A change in diet may fix the problem, but there may also be a more serious issue.

Problems With Anal Sacs

In addition to the health issues listed above, problems related to anal glands/sacs are perhaps the most common cause of persistent doggie odor. Anal sacs are two small scent-sacs in the area of the anus. These are a type of "marking" glands.

When a dog has a bowel movement, these sacs are normally squeezed, and a very smelly, oily secretion is released with the feces. If these sacs become infected or impacted (and thicker secretion than normal can't empty properly), problems result. This can be a very painful situation when they become infected. If a dog is scared or overly excited, these glands can secrete the smelly, oily substance on the surrounding fur, causing bad odor. Your veterinarian can show you how to check and even empty the anal sacs at home to prevent problems with odor.

To be safe, always consult with your veterinarian if you notice an odd odor or anything "not quite right" with your pet. An ounce of prevention is definitely better than a pound of cure.