Smelly Dog?

Smelly Dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • A healthy dog doesn’t smell bad. Dogs aren’t obsessed with cleanliness like many people are, of course, but a normal dog smell is not unpleasant. In fact, many dog owners love how their pet smells most of the time.
  • There are many things that can cause your dog to have a chronic unpleasant odor, and all of them need to be investigated, including: a possible yeast infection, a problem with the anal glands, gassiness, an ear infection, problems with the teeth or gums, a dietary issue, or an underlying illness.
  • If your dog has a bad smell more often than not, it’s time to make an appointment with your vet to find and resolve the cause of the problem.

By Dr. Becker

Dogs don’t smell like freshly showered people – they’re not supposed to!

They have their own canine smell, which varies from dog to dog, but it’s not unpleasant. In fact, many people will tell you they love to bury their nose in their pet’s fur and inhale that wonderful doggy scent.

A healthy dog who is regularly brushed and bathed (and hasn’t just rolled in a pile of poop or dead animal remains, as many love to do) should not smell bad. If your dog has an unpleasant odor, there’s a reason and you need to find out what it is.

Is It a Yeast Infection?

A yeast infection is a very common cause of stinky dogs. Yeast has a very pungent, musty, unique odor that has been compared to moldy bread, cheese popcorn, or corn chips. Some people actually refer to a yeast infection on a dog’s paws as “Frito Feet.”

Stinky paws or musty-smelling ears are usually a sign of yeast overgrowth. So is scratching. Itchy ears, itchy paws and butt scooting are all signs of a potential problem with yeast.

Speaking of Butt Scooting …

Inflamed, infected or impacted anal glands will also cause an unpleasant odor to follow your dog around (literally).

The anal glands or sacs sit just inside the rectum, one on either side of the anus at about 8:00 and 4:00 o’clock. The glands secrete a very smelly, oily substance thought to be a territorial marker. If there’s a buildup of that substance in the anal glands, and especially if your dog spends any time licking or digging around back there, you’ll notice a smell that is often compared to rotting fish.

While We’re on the Topic of Your Dog’s Rear-end …

Passing gas (flatulence) can also be the reason for a smelly dog. If you’ve ever driven any distance with a gassy dog in a vehicle with the windows rolled up, you know what I’m talking about. Some flatulence is normal, but a chronically stinky situation is not.

There are several reasons dogs create excessive amounts of gas, including poor diet and intestinal parasites. If your dog’s smelly gas is more or less constant, it’s time to make an appointment with your vet, especially if he has other symptoms of a GI issue like abdominal distension, diarrhea with or without blood or mucus, constipation, or weight loss.

Stinky Ears

If your dog has an unpleasant odor but you can’t seem to locate the source of it, check her ears. As I mentioned earlier, a yeast overgrowth in the ears can cause a musty odor.

A bacterial infection with ear discharge might also be the source of the smell. Ear infections were the number one reason dogs visited the vet last year.

Ear mites can also cause a waxy secretion and strong odor.

Bad Doggy Breath

Your dog’s breath will never smell like yours after a session with your toothbrush and dental floss. Dogs don’t care about minty fresh breath.

But if your pet’s mouth is clean and he’s otherwise healthy, his doggy breath should not be offensive. There really shouldn’t be much mouth odor at all unless he’s just eaten, in which case you might smell remnants of his meal on his breath.

Chronic bad breath in pets has the same causes as halitosis in humans. Most often it’s poor oral hygiene, but sometimes something wrong in the GI tract can also cause bad breath.

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Poor Diet and/or Food Intolerances

What you feed your dog affects every inch of her, inside and out. A dog who is fed a biologically inappropriate diet or one that contains ingredients she’s sensitive to is at risk for a wide variety of illnesses, some of which can give her an unpleasant odor.

This is especially true for dogs with poor skin and coat condition due to a problem that started with their diet. Often these pets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.


Some illnesses and chronic conditions can cause an unpleasant smell, including certain cancers, diabetes and kidney disease.

Behaving Like a Dog

Sometimes dogs stink themselves up deliberately.

Some dogs will roll in another animal’s poop if they get the chance. Some will eat another animal's poop or even their own.

Some dogs roll in dead animal remains. Others pick up dead, decomposing animals in their mouths and carry them around, or present them to their owners as gifts.

If your favorite furry friend has one of these distasteful tendencies, all you can really do is supervise him closely and limit his opportunities to channel his wilder nature. If he does manage to roll in something offensive or sample some random poop, a bath or a round of tooth brushing should get rid of the smell.

One exception to this is, of course, the dreaded skunk encounter. For a simple, effective remedy for skunk smell, view my video Far Better than Tomato Juice as a Skunk Rinse.

A Chronic Bad Odor Shouldn’t Be Ignored

If your dog smells bad most of the time or you notice the same odor intermittently (which can happen with, for example, anal gland problems), I urge you to make an appointment to have your dog seen by your vet.

It’s important to your pet’s health and quality of life to find and resolve the underlying cause of chronic bad odor.

+ Sources and References