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Why Does My Dog Stink?

Have you ever wondered how to get rid of that bad "doggie" odor on your pet? It may not be as simple as changing the shampoo you use. Various skin, coat and health conditions can cause foul odor that may or may not be helped by simply bathing your pet. This Q & A about a smelly dog and illustrates the importance of a thorough veterinary exam to rule out possible causes for reasons your dog may bad odor.

A typical email goes something like this:

My dog has had a terrible odor for weeks. We have tried 4 different shampoos, and none of them have helped! Please let me know what the smell is from, and what would be a good shampoo to get rid of it.

concerned pet owner

This Q & A is to let you know what a veterinarian will check for when you bring in your pet for a check up/malodor problem.

My dog has a terrible odor! What shampoo will work?

The first question a vet will have is this -- what is causing the odor? There are a multitude of shampoos out there, but if it isn't a skin or coat problem, shampoo won't help.

What are the most common causes of doggie odor?

The first thing to consider is the obvious -- did your dog roll in something (decaying matter, feces) or get sprayed by a skunk? Usually either one of these scenarios is fairly easy to diagnose, and your vet can offer advice on what shampoo would be the best for either situation.

Why do dogs roll in smelly stuff, anyway?

Animal behaviorists think it is a way to "scent camouflage" themselves. By rolling in something smelly and perhaps of their intended prey, they won't be detected. I have a "roller" dog, and it looks like she is just having fun. (Until bath time.)

OK, my dog didn't roll in anything, and did not get sprayed by a skunk. What else could it be?
Here are just a few possible smell-producing medical problems:
  • Breath - some diseases, like kidney failure and diabetes, can cause a change in 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 - is the odor on your dog, or from your dog? Flatulence, or "gas" may indicate a dietary or intestinal problem. Some flatulence is normal, but if this is regularly occurring, please see your veterinarian.
  • Anal glands/sacs - this is perhaps the most common cause of doggie odor that won't go away. 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 squeeze, and a very smelly, oily secretion is released with the feces.
If these sacs become infected or impacted (thicker secretion than normal, can't empty properly), problems result. This can be a very painful situation when they become infected! If a dog (or cat) is scared or overly excited, these glands can secrete the smelly, oily substance on the surrounding fur, causing bad odor.

I have heard about anal sacs - what can be done to ensure that they won't 'leak' or get infected?
Your veterinarian can show you how to check and even empty the anal sacs at home to prevent problems with odor. Learn more about anal sacs.

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