It’s the puzzle every dog owner dreads: why does my dog smell?
There are lots of things that can turn dogs into the source of bad smells. The long list includes: rolling in something, their diet, bad breath, getting wet, and much more.
Pinpointing the source of the smell is the first step to neutralizing it.
So in this article, we’ve got a full rundown of the things which can make your dog smell. Read on to narrow the list down for your dog.
Why Does My Dog Smell?
Lots of dogs have a distinctly doggy odor. Some more so than others!
When dogs have medium or long hair or a lush double coat (like Labradors!), it traps a layer of warm, humid air close to their skin.
This can amplify their natural body odor, and make it more noticeable to human noses.
Meanwhile dogs with short, single coats sometimes smell a little less obviously – although it’s not a given!
Furthermore dogs of all types also tend to emit distinctive odors from their mouth, ears and feet. These aromas are caused by the natural and normal colonies of bacteria and fungi which live there.
It’s Normally No Problem!
Usually these smells aren’t overwhelming in healthy dogs.
But lots of things can turn a dog’s mild aroma into an eye-watering whiff.
Let’s start by looking at the role of diet.
Is Their Diet Making Your Dog Smell?
They say “you are what you eat”, and that applies to our body odor as well!
Onions, garlic, spices, and red meat all make a perceptible difference to human body odor.
Either because of smelly compounds they contain, or because our bodies make smelly compounds as a by-product of digesting them.
Of course, our dogs shouldn’t be snacking on garlic or onions, and they’re rather better adapted to digest red meat than we are.
But nonetheless, there are innumerable anecdotes from dog owners that a change in diet sometimes also causes a change in body odor.
How This Causes Smells
It might be due to compounds released during digestion changing their natural “musk”.
And of course, it can also be a result of their diet causing bad breath or flatulence.
So we’ll look at those sources of doggy smells next.
Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell?
Halitosis, or bad breath, is a frequent canine criticism.
The source of the unpleasant smell in canine halitosis are volatile sulfur compounds, which smell incredibly unpleasant to humans!
Chronic bad breath can be caused by plaque, calculus and tooth decay in the mouth. It can also be caused by a large number of the wrong type of gut bacteria.
Bad breath can be improved by cleaning your dog’s teeth every day with a toothbrush and a specialist doggy toothpaste.
If your Lab has large build ups of calculus, they might need a professional veterinary clean to kickstart their new regime!
Halitosis originating in the gut can often be resolved by a change of diet, or by adding probiotics and/or prebiotics to their existing diet.
We recommend consulting your vet before attempting to fix halitosis through a change of diet.
When Gas Makes Your Dog Smell!
Perhaps your dog’s breath is as sweet as a daisy, but they’ve got problems at the other end.
Excessive gas is a pungent, and sometimes even uncomfortable problem for lots of dogs.
It is usually caused by swallowing air whilst eating or drinking.
Vigorous exercise, and rushing to finish food in the presence of another dog can make the problem worse.
Several foods are also linked to increased gas, including
- beans, peas and other legumes
- cruciferous vegetables, including cauliflower and broccoli
- and lactose containing foods, such as cows milk, cheeses and yoghurt.
Most Common Cause
But the most common cause in pet dogs is probably the fiber used in kibble to make it dry.
Flatulence in dogs can sometimes be remedied by changing the protein source in their diet, replacing the carbohydrate with plain rice, and offering four small meals instead of one or two larger one.
Always ask your vet’s advice before attempting to remedy any health problems with a change of diet.
Why Does My Dog Smell? Could It Be Allergies?
Even healthy dogs have all kinds of microorganisms living all over them, which release a benign but distinctive aroma.
For example Pseudomonas and Proteus bacteria living on their feet cause the distinctive foot smell which is a mix of corn chips and popcorn.
But allergies are frequently linked with bacterial and yeast infections that have a pungent smell all of their own.
This is particularly the case in dogs who have food allergies which cause digestive upset (more smelly gas!) and dogs with atopic dermatitis.
If you think your dogs might have allergies which are causing an unpleasant body odor, seek veterinary advice.
Your vet might recommend an elimination diet to identify allergens in their food, or topical skin treatments (such as shampoos and lotions) to restore healthy and (relatively) odorless skin.
Dog Odor Caused By Infection
Of course, infections aren’t limited to dogs with allergies – even dogs with a perfectly balanced immune system can fall foul of a nasty bug.
Some of these, like an infected wound or fungal ear infection are often pretty whiffy too.
Dogs with floppy ears, and especially dogs with floppy ears who like to swim are particularly prone to ear infections.
Their ears are perfect for trapping warmth and moisture so that bacteria from mucky water can flourish.
So make sure to dry your Lab’s ear gently but thoroughly after they’ve been practicing their water retrieves!
Ear infections and infected wounds need veterinary attention – they’re likely to prescribe a course of antibiotics.
Sources Of Doggy Smells – Their Anal Sacs
Next up – a delicate subject for many a dog owner, but an important part of canine anatomy which it’s important to keep healthy!
Healthy dog feces are very firm. So to help them pass through the anus comfortably without straining or tearing the skin, dogs have anal glands which secrete a slippery lubricant.
The smell of this lubricant is pretty distinctive – a kind of metallic, fishy smell. Once you’ve smelled it once, you’ll certainly recognize it a second time!
Fortunately the smell is not usually perceptible under normal conditions in healthy dogs.
But a sudden increase in smell is a common sign that a dog is having problems with their anal glands.
Such problems include failure of the glands to to empty properly during pooping, and anal gland infection. These issues can be caused by factors including diet, and structural anomalies in the sacs (such as being positioned too high up inside the anus).
So, you guessed it, consult your vet!
Wet Dog Smell
We’ve seen so many reasons to consult your veterinary surgeon in this article so far.
So we’re going to finish on a couple of straightforward and easy to resolve reasons why your dog might smell.
And the first is – they’re wet.
Wet dog smell can really hit the back of your throat.
Labradors have thick double coats, which are perfect for protecting them from cold wind and rain, and even keeping their skin warm while they swim.
But such dense coats take a while to dry out once they’re soaked through. If your Lab still pongs an hour or more after a wet walk or swim, it’s likely they’re still damp.
Drying them as thoroughly as possible, and keeping them in a warm, well ventilated room until they’ve dried out will help.
Why Does My Dog Smell? Have They Rolled in Something?
Finally, every dog’s favorite reason for smelling terrible – they’ve found something to roll in.
Be it fox poo in the woods or a rotting fish on the beach, dogs lead rich and exciting olfactory lives.
And what better way to celebrate finding something that really lights up their noses than by rolling in it and taking the stink home as a souvenir?
We don’t get it, but they don’t get why we spend so much time on our phones or read books either. It’s a live and let live world out there.
When your dog rolls in something nasty, we can guarantee you’ll feel much better about it if you’re already prepared to clean them up.
So keep old towels in the car and by the back door, and have a bottle of shampoo at home for short notice baths and showers.
Why Does My Dog Smell?
Most dogs have a natural cologne which is just part of them.
In healthy dogs it should be fairly benign and inoffensive.
If their smell becomes intrusive or unpleasant it can be a sign of something wrong with their health.
If you’ve ruled out environmental causes like rolling in something, then your veterinary surgeon can help you rule out or confirm medical causes, and plan treatment.
And if you’d like to compare notes with other Lab owners about what’s normal and what’s not, do drop into our forum!
References & Further Reading
- Di Cerbo et al. Therapeutic Effectiveness of a Dietary Supplement for Management of Halitosis in Dogs. JoVE Journal. 2015.
- Roudebush. Flatulence: Causes and Management Options. Small Animals/Exotics Compendium. 2001.
- Saridomichelakis & Olivry. An update on the treatment of canine atopic dermatitis. The Veterinary Journal. 2016.
- Meason-Smith et al. What is living on your dog’s skin? Characterization of the canine cutaneous mycobiota and fungal dysbiosis in canine allergic dermatitis. Microbiology Ecology. 2015.
- Campbell et al. Evaluation of fungal flora in normal and diseased canine ears. Veterinary Dermatology. 2010.
- Scarff. An approach to anal sac diseases. Veterinary Nursing Journal. 2010.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website