All dogs smell, anyone who owns one knows that but there is a difference between ‘Eau de wet dog’ and a proper SMELL. Sometimes these can creep up on us unawares and it’s only after some time away from your pet or when visitors come and politely, but firmly, distance themselves from your pooch do you notice and other times they can appear overnight. However, like any other change in your pets behaviour or health, they should always be taken seriously.
So, what could cause your dog to smell (worse than usual!) and when should you worry? Lets look at our pets, if you will excuse the pun, nose to tail;
Ear infections are common in dogs, especially breeds with floppy, furry appendages, but any dog can develop odourous, painful problems. They will often shake their heads, scratch at their ears and when you inspect under the ear flap you usually find a discharge, which can vary from a thick, black waxy to a creamy pus-like consistency, red, sore skin and quite a stink! Any dog with these symptoms should be taken to a vet as soon as possible. Ear infections left to fester can cause permanent damage and will be very sore for your pet.
I have said it before and I will doubtless say it again; Doggy breath is NOT normal! A dog with a healthy mouth should have little or no smell coming from it and if they have, there is a problem. Smelly breath is usually due to bacteria colonising the plaque, tartar and gingivitis on the teeth and gums. Between them these are literally rotting your pets teeth away, which is very painful and will eventually lead to teeth loss. Not only this, these germs will escape into the blood stream, travel round the rest of the body and put the organs under serious strain. The heart, kidneys & liver will all suffer, sometimes to the point where they are permanently damaged.
Regular check-ups with your vet will pick up any problems early and often simple chews or regular brushing will prevent further issues. However, if your dog is particularly badly affected, your vet may suggest dental work under an anaesthetic to remove all the tartar and infection, extract any teeth which are beyond saving and restore the mouth to health.
Coat and Skin
We all know dogs love to get wet, dirty and roll in the most disgusting things (fox poo anyone?) but normally a good shampoo or just a bit of drying out will sort most problems. However, some pooches seem to carry a distinct ‘smell’ around with them wherever they go. In some cases these can indicate significant health problems and in others just a few tweeks to their care can make the world of difference.
There are a significant minority of dogs who suffer from skin allergies, which not only make them itchy but also can make them very smelly. The odour arises from an abnormal amount of bacteria and yeasts living on the skin and until the disease is under control, it can be very difficult to get rid of. Medicated shampoos available from your vet can be very helpful but some pets will need oral treatments to bring the problem under control, especially in the early stages. It also helps to keep the skin and coat in the very best condition possible. There are several dietary supplements available for dogs which are brilliant for keeping coats and skin in tip top condition, ask your vet what they would recommend.
For dogs that just have a bit of ‘BO’ again regular baths, with a proper doggy shampoo, can be very helpful, as can dietary supplements. In many cases it is worth investing in a regular trip to the groomers as they will be able to bathe them fully, strip and clip the coat, if it is appropriate to the breed, and dry them properly afterwards.
The bottom end!
‘Silent but deadly’ is the best description for many of man’s best friend’s emanations! Usually it is just an occasional thing or can be related to a bin raid or unsuitable treats (!) but in some pets it can be a constant (and very unsociable!) problem.
Excessive gas production is caused by poor digestion, which can be related either to a problem with the guts not functioning properly or an unsuitable diet. In most cases it is the latter and a change of food (or several until you find one that suits them) is all that is needed to settle the digestion. The best diets to pick in these circumstances are the ‘hypoallergenic’ kind which tend to contain fewer additives and are usually wheat & gluten free, which makes them much gentler on dog’s stomachs. Have a chat to your vet about what they would recommend you try.
However, some individuals have actual gastrointestinal disease and for them flatulence is usually just one of several symptoms relating to poor gut function. These pets often need testing (which can include blood samples, faecal samples, xrays and biopsies) to make a specific diagnosis and treatments include medications, dietary supplements and, again, hypoallergenic diets.
For many dogs, especially the smaller breeds, these little bottom glands can be the bane of their (and their owner’s) lives! The anal sacs are two small, thin walled glands situated on either side of the anus (people don’t have them, thank goodness!) which produce a smelly, watery scent. They are why dogs sniff each others bottoms and their mechanism of emptying is very simple; As the solid faeces slides past them, it squeezes the gland and forces out the liquid. However, if the dog doesn’t poo for a while or has diarrhoea, the gland won’t be emptied and can become blocked. This is painful, feeling a bit like a zit that needs to be popped, and will cause many dogs to display signs including chewing at their tails, licking at their bottoms or, the classic, scooting along on their bottoms. Sometimes they will succeed in expressing the glands, which causes a truly remarkable smell (once smelt, never forgotten!) that is often described as ‘fishy’.
Most dogs with these symptoms will need their glands expressing by a vet,and trust me, this is a job best left to the professionals! In some cases it can become a recurring problem as the glands are left thickened and scarred by repeated blocking. For those individuals a proper flushing out of the glands under a sedation can be helpful and for particularly badly affected pets, your vet may advice removal of the sacs completely.
So hopefully now you know a few of the things that can turn your beloved family pet into a truly malodorous mutt! Why not try our Symptom Checker for further information and if you are concerned, do contact your vet.
You may also be interested in our post Why Do Dogs Smell.
Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS – Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com