Why Does My Dog Smell – And What Can I Do About It?

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Why does my dog smell and what can I do about it?

Find out why dogs smell, discover the best ways to make your Lab smell sweet again, and how to get rid of dog smell from 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.

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…

Why does my dog smell

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 behaviour. 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.

Some people swear that rubbing tomato ketchup into the fur before bathing helps, but a good shampoo is probably more effective.

You’ll find lots of tips for bathing your friend in our bathing and grooming article.

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.

#1 Grooming

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.

#2 Vacuuming

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.

Another option is to purchase a free-standing automatic release air freshener. Or an air freshener that you plug into a socket in the rooms that your dog spends the most time in.

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.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

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!

References

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.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Believe it or not, I accidentally found a “cure” for our beautiful, stinky, yellow lab!
    We started feeding him and our Golden, and our Boxer, Purina One for sensitive skin and stomach formula… and after just 3 days it was working! He had a nasty, sharp stink… our house stinks from him, and we keep all his bedding and blankets washed, and we have a HEPA filter for each room.

  2. My 2.5 year lab has a beautiful shiny non odour coat. I love to give him cuddles and kisses. Bathing is limited to 2-3 times a year, unless he has done something really yuck. Mine is on a raw diet and I think it comes down to the food as that would secrete through their skin. Love my lab and proud to be a lab mommy.

    • Is he in or out most? Mine is on raw food but he does smell and his chocolate coat is not as shiny as other dogs I’ve seen. But we work long ours and he is outside most of the time when we are not home

  3. I find my vacuum cleaner will smell very doggy and it blows the smell back into the house.
    I wash the bits you can wash with mild washing powder and clean/change the air filters frequently.
    Problem sorted!

  4. I never had any odour problem with my black lab after I switched his food so his poo was much firmer, stopping the dreaded visits to the vet to have his anal glands sorted (always only one side). I hosed him down outside after a walk if his legs were dirty or after a swim (in all weathers). He had a lovely thick, shiny double coat, and I used to love to bury my face in his fur and smell him – sweet and clean. Yes, he found it hard to resist fox poo, so that had to be shampooed out, but that was the only time I used shampoo on him. I washed his bedding, rugs and towels every week, and hoovered frequently. He always waited inside the door when he came in so that I could towel dry/wipe his paws. Perhaps he made my job easy?!

  5. Many thanks for tip of coconut oil, I will give it a try on my lab/spaniel cross who has all the disobedience of a spaniel, and all the smell of a lab, worst of both worlds or what! why do we do it?

  6. If your Lab smells no matter what you do, and the vet has declared him healthy, try putting 1/3 cup of organic apple cider vinegar, and 2/3 cup of water in a spray bottle to keep in the fridge. Spray your pup well, and brush, as needed. It will help with dry skin and dull coat, too!

  7. I only use vet bed and definitely no blankets. The vet bed gets washed regularly and it dries really fast. Our dogs don’t regularly frequent the lounge where it is too warm for them. They prefer the kitchen with a tiled floor and non slip vet bed. They don’t like to get too warm. They sleep in an outside utility room with no heating except when it’s very cold outside. They also have easy access to the outdoor area all day. I consider this to be a natural environment. All of this helps to minimize inevitable smells! My chocolate labradors are mother and daughter and aged 15 and 13 respectively.

  8. I wash my 14 month old yellow lab only when he ends up covered on mud or something not so appealing, so not very often as too much bathing can dry their skin & coat out & also removes those very important oils.

    When he has a bath (which he absolutely loves) i use a lovely smelling shampoo and also conditioner on him then once he’s rubbed dry with the towel, which can take some time when he decides he would rather play tug with the towel, I rub some coconut oil into his fur & he smells lovely for at least a couple of weeks if not a bit longer & also makes his coat so soft its as smooth as a baby’s bum.

    I definitely cannot recommend coconut oil enough, whether you add it in with their food or only use it externally on his fur.

    My Toby doesn’t smell at all & neither does my house & I have a lab, 3 cats & 2 budgies. As long as you Hoover and clean your house then it’s not going to stink.

    I hardly ever groom my Tobes only because he absolutely hates being brushed & yes I have tried all different combs & even that grooming glove & he still tries his hardest to bite my hand off & even me not brushing him doesn’t make him a stinky lab.

  9. My lab is 3 years old now and I’ve never used any shampoo on him. I asked friends, family and even occasional visitors if they notice a “doggy smell” in my apartment and they all say no. He swims in the ocean and in lakes, he jumps into muddy puddles and rolls in sand/snow/grass on a daily basis but that only seems to keep him cleaner. Labs have such an amazing coat!

  10. I have found that adding a tablespoon of coconut oil to my lab’s food 2x a day has cut down on the doggy odor. An added bonus is a beautiful, shiny coat.

  11. I have a year old lab and she is pungent, she gets washed often at home and at the doggy salon. When she’s washed it lasts around 2-3 days and the smell is back. this smell is not just dog smell which is normal, you really cant be in the same room as the dog. Once washed her coat is shiny and looks great only to dull within the two days.

    She is on specialised food which is hypoallergenic which cuts down on yeast and other factors that could affect the dogs glands. Vet says she’s healthy but I am at my wits end at this stage at this point.

    • I am having the exact same problem except his coat is not dull at all. It’s a tangy sharp unpleasant smell and it’s not anything he’s rolled in because we’ve been watching him like a hawk.

  12. My mom had a labrador guide dog. And their advise was to never bath your dog unless you really had to!!! He was regularly brushed and never smelt or looked dirty……yes he did find water on his walks sometimes. He’s still alive……an old man now. But everyone comments what a lovely shiny coat he has…..and no smell either.

  13. I agree more than I’d like to! My Labrador Retriever stiiinks! He rarely goes in the water, his butt glands are fine and he never rolls in smelly stuff! We bathe him weekly but it only takes a few days for the strong doggy scent to come back and smack you in the face!

    • I love my dogs they are part of the family. I endeavour to keep my home sweet but to all visitors who come here, it’s fairly simple, if you don’t like the smell stay away, my boys live here.

    • Totally agree. Our Trapper (black lab) is a very nice dog, but just smelly, musky..bleh. Just two days post bath/brushing, and the smell is back. He’s healthy, has always smelled this way.

  14. My daughter says that our black lab’s paws smell like popcorn! I adore the smell of my Emma, I bathe her once a month, unless she decides to go muddy-puddling 🙂

  15. Not sure I agree. I have a black lab and even non “doggy” friends say they cannot smell dog! Some of the smelliest homes are from non animal owners! Nothing worse than sports gear, male odour etc etc

  16. There is nothing better than the smell of hot, sleepy dog, paws – my son and I think they smell like hot biscuits straight from the oven ……. weird or what? But generally our labs don’t really smell and they are in the water most days. They don’t have smelly breath either. Is diet a big factor in all of that then?

  17. Although we have 5 spaniels in the house, visitors often comment how ‘they don’t smell doggy though’ which is always nice to hear! They are in the river pretty much every day, and usually once a week/fortnight, all 5 are popped in the bath for a good shampoo & condition! There’s nothing I love more than having a mutt for cuddles on the sofa, and the delicious smell of their ears and paw pads! Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

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