Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? 5 Common Causes Behind the Stink
Cuddling with a dog is one of life's great joys … but not when your pup reeks. Canines can have a lot of stinky odors like gas, poop, and the notorious wet-dog smell. But perhaps one of the worst is when your dog smells fishy.
"A fishy smell can mean different things to different people," says Alicen Tracey, DVM, a member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board. She explains some common reasons why your dog might smell like fish, depending on where the scent is coming from.
1. Dental Disease
Does your dog have death breath? A foul odor coming from the mouth can be a sign of bacterial overgrowth. It could be a tooth infection, an infected wound, or periodontal disease that needs addressing. Other symptoms your dog may have an infection in the mouth include:
- Avoiding chew toys
- Eating less
- Dropping food while eating
- Pawing or rubbing the face
"Anytime your dog has a smell that's not normal, you should see your veterinarian," Tracey says. If your vet doesn't find an oral or dental infection, the next step is a dental cleaning. Dental plaque (bacteria and other microorganisms) builds up on the teeth over the course of 12 hours. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, plaque hardens into tartar after three days and it encourages more bacteria to grow. At that point, routine brushing doesn't get rid of it. The only way to remove it is through professional cleaning.
To prevent tartar, many pet parents give their dogs dental chews. "They're helpful, but they don't take the place of brushing your dog's teeth once a day," Tracey says. "It's like thinking you could eat carrots and get clean teeth. It helps to brush off some of the plaque, but it's no match for daily brushing."
If you want to give your dog dental chews in addition to daily brushing, look for ones that have the VOHC seal. That stands for Veterinary Oral Health Council. It means they've tested the product and determined it helps slow down plaque and tartar buildup.
2. Anal Glands
"Nine times out of 10, a fishy odor coming from a dog's backend is related to the anal glands," Tracey says. These small sacs sit on either side of the anus and hold a skunky liquid. Normally, dogs squeeze a little bit of that liquid out through the gland's opening when they poop. It helps canines leave their scent for other dogs.
Sometimes the glands get so full it's difficult to push the liquid out. The glands can also get infected. Canines may release the liquid when they're stressed or scared, too. If there's something wrong with your dog's anal glands, you may also notice your pooch:
- Licking the area
- Scooting along the carpet or grass
- Snapping at his backend
Take your dog to the vet if your pup's butt smells awful and the stench doesn't go away. Your veterinarian can express your dog's anal glands. This gets the liquid out and relieves the pressure. Your vet can also check to make sure there are no other concerns.
Some dogs need routine anal gland expression, whether that's monthly or once or twice a year. "We don't know why some dogs have more trouble with their anal glands," Tracey says. "It could be that the liquid inside is thicker, making it more difficult to pass. Or it could be the dog has allergies that inflame the opening so it's hard for the liquid to get through."
3. Urinary Tract Infection
Sometimes the fishy smell is so strong that pet parents can't tell exactly where it's coming from. If the anal glands are healthy, the next likely culprit is a urinary tract infection (UTI), Tracey says. Left untreated, a UTI can spread to other organs. But it's easily remedied with antibiotics from your vet. Other signs your dog may have a UTI include:
- Bloody urine
- Drinking more
- Frequent peeing
- Licking the genital area
- Straining or yelping during urination
4. Skin/Yeast Infection
A low level of yeast is naturally present on canine skin and you can often smell it. Many pet parents say their dogs smell like corn chips. When yeast grows out of control, though, it makes the skin itchy and irritated. Dogs with allergies are more likely to get yeast infections.
The areas most prone to yeast infections include the paws, face, ears, genital area, and along the tummy. Signs that your dog may have a yeast infection in those locations include:
- Excessive licking
- Loss of hair
Your vet can prescribe an anti-fungal medication to get rid of the infection. Depending on the severity and location, that may be an ointment, cream, mousse, or oral medication.
5. Vaginal Infection
Is the fishy smell coming from your female dog's genital area? It could be a UTI or a vaginal infection (vaginitis), which your vet can treat with medication. Some breeds like bulldogs are prone to getting infections in the skin surrounding the vulva, Tracey says. Other signs of a vaginal infection include:
- Discharge that has pus or mucus
- Excessive licking of the area
- Peeing frequently
- Reddening of the area
Also, female dogs that aren't spayed can get pyometra, a uterine infection. The life-threatening condition causes bloody or pus-like discharge that's smelly. To treat it, vets surgically remove the uterus and ovaries (spay).
The bottom line: If your furry pal has a funky aroma, see a vet. "Sometimes pets smell differently than people and it's all right because, well, they're animals," Tracey says. "But if you notice a strong and unusual odor or your pet has additional symptoms, your dog needs veterinary care."