If your dog smells, we can help! In this complete guide to dogs that smell, we look at why dogs sometimes smell, the best ways to make your Lab smell sweet again, and how to get rid of that dog smell in your home.
Does your Labrador smell? Dog smell is a common problem so if you have a stinky dog you’re not alone. But there’s a difference between normal dog smell and strong odors that can be avoided. Some nasty smells could also be a sign that your dog has a health problem. You’ll find some common types of dog odor listed in the menu to the above. But let’s start with natural Labrador body odor.
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Do Labradors smell?
Most Labradors do have quite a distinctive smell. Visitors from dog-free homes will notice it immediately they enter your house – even though you’re no longer aware of it. “So what?” some of you may say, “What’s a bit of body odor between friends?”
You should remember though that people vary in disgust. Maybe you’ve noticed your friends aren’t visiting so much any more. Or you might be reading this because even your family has started complaining. You’re likely to have become used to the smells gradually but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. They might even be caused by a serious health problem that developed over time.
But why is it that some Labs are naturally a bit more smelly than other dogs. Let’s have a look. We’ll start with general dog body odors.
Wet dog smell
Bred to work in and around water, Labradors have a dense double coat with an oily outer layer which offers almost perfect waterproofing. These oils in your dog’s fur are part of the source of his distinctive doggy smell. And they can smell particularly strong when your dog is damp and drying off after a swim. The worst of the smell will disappear once he is completely dry. Towelling him thoroughly after a swim will help. Give particular attention to drying between skin folds because remaining dampness can cause skin infections.
However, this ‘wet dog smell’ is part of being a Labrador and not something that you can avoid altogether. You can reduce your dog’s body odor by bathing him with shampoo (just making him wet won’t really help). But remember that this will interfere with your dog’s ability to keep himself warm whilst swimming, as it disrupts his oily waterproofing.
Sometimes, even though you bath him regularly, a really foul doggy smell just returns in a day or two. Let’s find out what might be the reason for this.
My dog’s coat smells worse than normal body odor
Odor is a common sign of a skin infections – even some that are not clearly visible. Infections can be from bacteria, fungi and other parasites. The germs usually take hold when something disrupts the normal function of the skin. A number of underlying conditions can cause a skin infection in dogs. These include:
- long-term dampness
- allergies (ranging from fleas and shampoos to foods)
- abnormalities in the glands that produce the natural oils
- metabolic disorders like thyroid problems
- a dry skin which can be caused by diet (too few fatty acids) or too much bathing.
Have your dog checked by the vet if you think that a skin condition might be the problem.
If you read the above list carefully you’ll have noted that too much bathing can make your dog smell even worse. Bathing is therefore best confined to the summer, and to those occasions when your dog has decided to smear himself in something unpleasant. Which brings us to rolling…
My Labrador keeps rolling in things
Labradors love rolling in stinky substances that we find disgusting – dead animals and fox poo are favourites. If you walk in places with a lot of public access, your dog may also find discarded nappies and other sources of human faeces with which to decorate himself. This is perfectly normal canine behavior. When you get home you’ll need to get to work with a hose to get the worst off. And then decide whether or not you need to bring out the shampoo.
When a dog smells like fish
If you notice a strong and rather fishy smell coming from your Labrador, this is not part of his normal Labrador smell, but is probably due to an anal gland problem. The anal glands are located either side of your dog’s anus, just under his tail. They’re normally emptied regularly during defecation. You dog uses these glands to leave his scent around for other dogs. This scent is also the reason why dogs sniff each other’s bottoms when they meet and greet.
These anal glands can become overfull and even clogged – and smelly. Together with build-up of the secretion, clogging can also cause infection. You may notice an unpleasant fishy smell in addition to your dog’s attempts to relieve his discomfort by scooting around on his bottom. Anal glands are usually emptied when your dog passes a stool. So if his stools are too soft, or without enough bulk, it can cause clogged sacs.
The problem can also be caused by poor muscle tone in obese dogs. And some dogs just have excessive secretion from the gland. If this is your problem a trip to the vet is in order, and you’ll need to take a look at your dog’s diet to ensure that the problem doesn’t recur. Another part of your dog where an infection is usually the cause of a smell is it’s ears.
My dog’s ears smell
It’s normal for your dog’s ears to have a light yeasty smell. An unpleasant smell coming from your dog’s ears is a sign of a health problem. Labradors are more prone to ear infections and parasites than dogs with upright ears. That’s because the ear flaps create a warm, moist environment where germs can thrive.
Excess wax in your dog’s ears can also cause a build-up of germs. Check your dog’s ears regularly and clean them if needed. Dogs with ear infections may scratch at their ears and rub their heads on the ground. Even if your dog isn’t doing this he needs to see a vet about any odor coming from his ears. You may need to treat him with antibiotics or use an ear cleaner prescribed by your vet.
My dog’s urine smells
Concentrated urine smells a bit stronger than very dilute urine. If your dog hasn’t had enough to drink his urine may smell stronger than usual. Persistently strong smelling urine in a dog that is well hydrated, or urine that smells foul, may be a sign of a health condition. Usually an infection in your dog’s bladder or urinary tract.
You’ll need a vet to diagnose a UTI and to prescribe antibiotic treatment if the test comes back positive. It will save time if you can take a urine sample with you when you visit your vet’s office. Another sign of ill health is if your dog has bad breath.
My dog’s breath smells
Although we talk about ‘dog’s breath’, bad breath is actually not normal in dogs. It can indicate a problem either with the dog’s teeth, or his digestive system, or even another disease. Have a look in your Labrador’s mouth. Are his teeth clean and free from cavities? If you’re unsure, get your vet to check this out.
Dogs should have clean and white teeth. If his teeth are dirty, you need to do something about it. If you are feeding your dog on kibble, you may need to clean his teeth for him each day. Check out our article on dental hygiene for dogs.
We all know that a dog will have a stinky breath after eating something smelly – and you’ll want to clean his mouth! Also make sure that his bad breath isn’t from something foul he eats regularly, but that you’re might not aware of. Like your cat’s poo in the garden.
Some diseases can also cause bad breath in dogs. These include diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and digestive problems. If teeth are not the cause of the problem, the next step is to consider his diet and his digestive health. Poor diet or digestive problems can also cause problems at the other end of your dog!
My dog has bad gas
Some dogs have a really bad gas problem. So much so, that at times it’s unpleasant to be in the same room as the dog. Just like us humans, most dogs get gas occasionally. Constant gas is not normal in a healthy dog. It can be caused by problems with the dog’s diet, or by digestive troubles. You could try switching to a different brand of kibble or to a raw food diet.
If you know that your dog has an appropriate and balanced diet (you can use that link to check), then a trip to the vet to make sure he is well, is a good idea.
Labrador smells and health checks
Other than the natural doggy body odor we talked about at the beginning of this article, your dog should not stink, and his breath and ears should not smell foul. Being unwell can sometimes cause body odors. Now, let’s return to the issue of general ‘doggy’ body odor, a particular problem in Labradors, and how to get rid of that doggy smell from your home.
How to get rid of dog smell in your home
We’ll take a look at a few things you can do to keep your home smelling fresh and clean.
Once you have dealt with any medical issues that are causing your dog to smell, it’s time to tackle the basic causes of Labrador body odor. The first is dead hair. Labradors shed in small quantities of hair all year around, and a lot whilst moulting. This is a key source of odor – both on the dog and in your home – because shed dog hair is surprisingly smelly.
Daily grooming is a great way to help minimise this problem. Unless the weather is terrible, you’ll want to do this outside as it generates a lot of ‘floating’ hair around the dog. Using a de-shedding tool* on your Lab when he is shedding will help to reduce the smell.
Check out our article on shedding for tools and tips. You need to be careful with these tools as they can damage your dog’s coat if used too enthusiastically.
Once you have removed the dead hair, a good quality dog shampoo will help get your dog smelling sweet again.
Many dog-owners are saying that applying coconut oil to your dog’s coat keeps it odor-free and shiny. Not much research has been done in this area and most of the reported benefits are from dog owners themselves.
There is some evidence that coconut oil has some action against germs when applied to the skin. And it can’t do any harm – so if you want to, give it a try to see if helps your dog. As you know, dog hair doesn’t stay on your dog. So the next step would be to rid your home of loose dog hair.
The next step is to vacuum your home very frequently to get rid of any hair that you miss during your daily grooming sessions. Remember to clean your vacuum regularly. If the air it blows out smells doggy, wash those parts that you can and replace the filter when necessary. Check out this article to find out how I tackle this problem in my home, which I share with three dogs and a cat.
#3 Air fresheners and filters
Once the hair problem is under control you should see a big improvement in general Labrador body odor in your home. If you’re still unhappy then you can try out a doggy deodorant* that you spray on your dog’s fur (though arguably your dog won’t approve).
Less offensive to your dog are natural charcoal air purifying bags*. You simply place these in the room and they help to absorb unpleasant smells.
And a final option, is an electric air filter*. I own one – not for dog smells but because it helps to reduce dust and I have a dust mite allergy. But it leaves a room smelling very clean too.
How to get rid of dog smell from your home – a summary
Whilst you can treat anal gland problems, or other health problems that cause doggy odor, if you keep any breed of gun dog, you might not ever completely eradicate the doggy smell from your home. But you can make a big difference. Regular vacuuming and hair removal, together with daily grooming will go a long way. Air fresheners and filters will go a bit further.
There is no need to put up with a really stinky dog. Daily attention to clearing up hair and an occasional bath when he gets really smelly, will help to keep your home from smelling like a kennels. And if you cannot get your dog smelling sweet with regular grooming, occasional bathing, dental hygiene, and a balanced diet, it’s time to contact your vet for a thorough health check.
Don’t forget to add your favorite tips for a sweet smelling Lab. Drop them into the comments box below!
More information on Labradors
For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy Labrador don’t miss The Labrador Handbook*. It covers every aspect of caring for your Lab from puppyhood to old age. We think you’ll love it!
Affiliate link disclosure: Links in this article marked with an * are affiliate links, and we may receive a small commission if you purchase these products. However, we selected them for inclusion independently, and all of the views expressed in this article are our own.
Burke, A (2016) Get rid of that stanky dog breath. American Kennel Club.
Eisenschenk (2015) Review of virgin coconut oil: is it helpful for dogs. Pet Dermatology Clinic.
Moriello, K A. (2018) Ear infections and otitis externa in dogs. Merck Manual – Veterinary Manual.
Moriello, K A. (2018) Overview of pyoderma. Merck Manual – Veterinary Manual.
Rubin, SI (2018) Disorders of the rectum and anus in dogs. Merck Manual – Veterinary Manual.
Tybur JM et Al. (2017) People vary in disgust. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
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