We all have our own smell and in every dog owning home there may be an undertone of furry friend. However, sometimes this smell can become a throat clenching, breath holding, eye watering fog. In this article we will look at the possible causes and remedies. 

Everyday smells

Picture this… after a walk, your dog proudly struts around with a brownish splodge under the collar. The smell is rank, bitter…everywhere. Your lovely dog has rolled in faeces, probably fox faeces, and is sporting the dog equivalent of designer perfume. A bath with dog shampoo will quickly resolve this, to their great disappointment.

The wet dog smell is not to be underestimated.  A chemist called Andy Brunning, who blogs about everyday smells explains this odour. Dog skin is covered in bacteria and yeast, they produce waste products. When the coat gets wet, water evaporates because of the body heat of the dog. This water vapour takes the smelly waste products with it, filling the room with ‘atmosphere’.

Beds, toys and chews can also become smelly. The smell may be a strategically buried ancient treat. Long coats can become dirty and matted. Older dogs can have mobility or continence problems leading to faecal material or urine becoming stuck in the coat or on the skin.

These everyday smells can be managed by grooming and bathing, taking care of any underlying health problems. However, if the smell is not resolved by a bath it is time to investigate further.  

The Skin…

When the smell envelopes your dog or your hand stinks after stroking them, the skin is usually the culprit. All skin is covered by microbes, usually bacteria and yeast. If these bugs overwhelm the skin’s natural barrier because of damage or illness, they cause infections which smell. 

Damage to the skin can occur more easily where skin is thin (the belly, armpits and between the back legs) or chafed. Chafing can be seen in areas of enfolded skin, such as skin folds on the face or body as well as the ears, feet, anus and vulva. These areas should be checked, cleaned and dried if the skin becomes inflamed and sore. If there are pustules/pimples or the skin is itchy and uncomfortable, visit your vet for treatment. 

Some illnesses can affect skin health, such as hormone conditions (an underactive thyroid or Cushing’s disease), allergy, digestive problems and urinary incontinence. Your dog’s hair is protected from drying out by an oily substance, called sebum. This oil coats every hair, if the skin is unhealthy more sebum is produced so the coat looks greasy and smells. 

…and Ears   

Ear infections can be especially pungent. Skin is folded in the ear, wax is produced there and often the ears cover the ear resulting in the moist, warm environment that microbes love. Ear hair may also trap the wax giving the microbes a rich food source. Gently plucking a few ear hairs a day when the ears are not sore can sometimes help with this. Also using a pH neutral dog ear cleaner can reduce the wax accumulation. Dogs with long ear flaps may benefit from having their ears ventilated by folding back the ear flaps for part of the day. 

Visit your vet if you suspect an ear infection. It can be dangerous to put anything in the ear without checking the eardrum is intact.

Anal gland disease

You may notice a strong metallic, fishy smell around your dog or house. This may mean that their anal glands are not emptying normally. Anal glands are two sacs that sit either side of the dog’s anus. They fill with pheromone to mark your dog’s territory. They usually empty when the dog passes faeces. If they don’t empty they become impacted and infected. The dog is usually very uncomfortable scooting their bottom on the floor, scratching, nibbling and licking around the anus and sometimes biting their feet in pure frustration.

Your vet can empty the anal glands for you and in the long term a higher fibre diet or fibre supplement can solve this stinky problem.

Smelly breath

Dog breath is never pleasant, particularly if your dog eats their own, or other pets’ faeces. This can start because of health or behavioural problems. If you are concerned about an underlying problem visit your vet, otherwise try and clean up the faeces before your dog has access. 

Diseases of the mouth can smell, most commonly this is due to dental disease. Bacteria live in all mouths but when plaque and tartar form on teeth, the bacterial population increases. These bacteria cause dental infection which results in a rotting smell. Hair and food can get caught in the tartar and inflamed gums, adding to the odour. Regular tooth brushing from an early age is the answer to managing dental disease. 

Foreign objects like bones and chews can get lodged across the roof of the mouth causing foul smelling infection. Unfortunately some dogs develop masses in the mouth which become infected. Any of these conditions can cause the production of pungent, thick saliva. A visit to the vet for an oral examination will pick up these conditions.

There are some diseases which cause halitosis. In advanced kidney disease, your dog’s breath may smell of ammonia. There are usually other symptoms such as increased drinking and a poor appetite. Diabetes prevents your dog using the sugar in their food to fuel their bodies. So, the body makes chemicals called ketones, which can make the breath smell sweet.


Dogs take pride in eating rotten food so often noxious smells will be temporary and related to their last disgusting snack. They can also eat very fast, gorge themselves or have a problem digesting certain foods. So, to reduce flatulence try to avoid scavenging, feed a bland, easily digested diet and slow their eating down with a food mat, food dispensing toy, snuffle ball or a suitably sized ball in their bowl. If the flatulence continues then see your vet in case they have a disease affecting digestion.

Most dog smells are cleared by a bath. If the smell is still present then you may need a visit to your vet.

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