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Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? Owner’s Guide

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? Owner’s Guide

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Unusual odors can find their way into our nostrils when we least expect them. But, the shock can be even greater when the odor comes from our beloved canine companion!

You might be wondering why your dog stinks sometimes. Specifically, the question “why does my dog smell like fish?” may often cross your mind.

Well, specific odors that come from our pet’s skin or other parts of their body can be a normal occurrence. They are a part of the normal flora that live on and in our furry friends.

However, sometimes, they can be signals of actual medical conditions. So, in this article, we will dive deep into all the odors that can come from your beloved pooch that may or may not be a sign of trouble. We will mainly focus on answering why your dog leaves a fishy smell wherever it goes.

Some dog breeds are smellier than others

cocker spaniel in front of flowers

Depending on a canine’s sex, age, breed, and conformation (how their body developed), one dog can have more odor than another.

For instance, Cocker Spaniels and Golden Retrievers have oilier coats than Boston terriers. What does this have to do with odor, you might ask? Well, the more oil that is produced by your pet’s skin, the more likely there will be an odor accompanying it.

Similarly, if your pooch has skin folds like a Shar-Pei or an English Bulldog, then the skin can collect dead skin cells and yeast in those folds and release an odor. Odors that we notice on our pups are nothing more than bacteria breaking down the sweat and oil from the glands in the skin.

Certain glands called atrichial glands found in a dog’s footpads can also have a stinky smell that some people liken to the smell of corn chips (quite random, we know!).

To remedy this, you can bathe your pooch with a gentle shampoo and conditioner or take it to a professional groomer to see if they can give you any advice. But, bathing your furry bestie too often can disturb the production of natural oils on its coat and skin. This can lead to more smells and health problems in the long run, so try to keep bathing to once a month, unless your dog gets very dirty.

The key thing to know is that as long as these odors are not related to a health condition, they aren’t something you should worry about.

Why does my dog’s breath smell like fish?

black pug with worried expression

Fishy odors that come from your dog’s mouth may be linked to illnesses such as diabetes, periodontal disease, or kidney disease. Bad breath linked to periodontal disease is caused by the production of volatile sulfur found in bacteria.

Other sources of your pup’s bad breath are most often byproducts of bacterial metabolism. Just like humans, dogs have bacteria living on their gums, plaque on the teeth, and the top of the tongue.

Brushing your pup’s teeth with an enzymatic toothpaste two to three times a week will help prevent plaque formation on your dog’s teeth and help decrease the smell of your dog’s breath. On top of this, you can use dental treats or those designed to scrape off tartar and plaque. Bully sticks are your best bet when it comes to cleaning your dog’s teeth naturally.

If your dog is letting out a fish-like odor every time it opens its mouth, the cause could be one of the following conditions:

• Dental calculus, plaque, and tartar

• Stomach upset

• Food stuck in the teeth

Gingivitis

• Other: decaying teeth, tumors, tooth root abscess, or infection

If your dog enjoys eating stinky things like fishy treats, cat poop (let’s face it, we can’t stop them every time), or loves a fish-based diet, then the answer to the fish-like smell from its mouth is quite obvious.

Why does my dog’s pee smell like fish?

scared dog looking at camera

Even though your beloved furry creature may eat a slightly different diet than you, its urine shouldn’t smell different from your own. If you notice your dog’s pee having a strong odor that wasn’t there before, it is most likely a sign of urinary tract infection or UTI.

Urinary tract infections usually come from bacteria in the urine that doesn’t belong there. This results in urine that smells like fish!

As soon as you notice this kind of smell in your dog’s urine, you should contact a veterinarian to schedule an analysis. The vet will conduct an analysis of your dog’s pee which looks for red blood cells, white blood cells, crystals, protein, and any other indicators of urinary issues.

In addition, a urine culture is usually performed to determine if any bacteria are present in the urine. If your vet suspects a urinary tract infection, your pooch will be put on antibiotics to clear up the infection, which will hopefully clear up the smell too!

Why does my female dog smell like fish?

sad dog lying down

Female dogs have normal bacterial flora that lives in their reproductive organs, but a foul, fishy smell could be caused by an underlying medical condition.

If you have ruled out anal gland issues and still notice a light-colored fluid coming from your dog’s vagina, it could be the result of an infection of the female reproductive organ called vaginitis. Vaginitis is usually caused by bacteria and/or yeast infections.

The uterus can also be affected by similar diseases, causing a white-yellowish discharge to flow from the vagina. An infection of the uterus is called pyometra. This infection is a very serious condition that requires an emergency medical procedure, and if you suspect your female dog has a pyometra infection, you should take her to a vet immediately.

This health issue occurs in female canines that have not been spayed. However, if your pooch still has this discharge, despite being spayed, it is a cause for concern. The stump of the uterus, if left in the body by the surgeon, can still get infected.

Also, the way your dog’s vaginal area develops while it’s growing can predispose your female pooch to getting urinary tract infections, depending on how it is shaped. This means that if you are smelling a foul odor coming from your dog’s rear end, it could also be a sign of a UTI.

Just keep in mind that all of the conditions we mentioned in this section require medical attention, and if you suspect any of them, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

My dog smells like fish when scared

scared corgi hiding

All canines have special scent markers on their rectum called anal glands. These are the sweat glands that our four-legged friends smell whenever they meet and greet one another!

You can imagine anal glands as little sacks on each side of your dog’s anus filled with a smelly, oily secretion that releases whenever your dog poops.

But, some canines’ anal glands can suddenly leak the smelly, oily material when they become scared, stressed, or if they suddenly relax in certain positions.

We’ve all seen dogs scooting around the floor on their rear end, and some of us may have found it funny. However, in most cases, this is a sign that a dog has anal gland problems. A veterinarian or professional groomer can manually empty your dog’s anal glands from time to time to stop the scooting and prevent the smell from reoccurring.

Anal sac disease

french bulldog at the vet

Anal sac disease is a term used to describe problems with the anal glands, which is a very common occurrence in small dog breeds. Large or giant dog breeds are usually not affected by this problem.

Impactions

In normal conditions, a dog’s anal glands are naturally expressed in small amounts each time they go potty. However, as we’ve mentioned above, these anal glands are sometimes not emptied completely, and the fluid becomes dry, which leads to impaction.

When impacted, the anal glands cannot express properly, which is very painful for a dog. The sacs then feel hard to the touch, and when drained manually by a groomer or vet, they produce a thin, pasty, brown substance. If left untreated, impacted anal glands can become abscessed.

Anal glands can become impacted due to several reasons. Your dog’s stool could have been too soft to express your dog’s anal glands while defecating, or there could be an underlying anal sac problem. Keep in mind that obese canines have a higher chance of getting impacted anal glands as their sacs do not empty completely.

Infections and abscesses

Your dog’s anal glands can also get infected. In this case, if left untreated, they can also become abscessed.

If a dog’s anal sacs are abscessed and infected, it will be excruciatingly painful, and your dog’s rear end may become swollen or discolored. If left untreated, these abscesses can rupture through your dog’s skin.

Abscesses are painful and need prompt medical attention. A dog suffering from abscessed anal sacs usually needs pain medication, antibiotics, and sometimes may require surgery.

Anal sac tumors

​​​​Tumors limit your dog’s anal gland secretions and make the glands feel enlarged and firm to the touch. In most cases, tumors cause anal sacs to not express at all, which may require a biopsy from your vet and an ultrasound to diagnose the problem.

Symptoms of anal sac disease

dog lying on floor

There are several other symptoms of anal sac disease besides a fish smell. Dogs with an irritated anal sac may bite or lick their rectum, have difficulty defecating, or scoot on the floor.

You may even notice your dog vocalizing while pooping because it is very painful. If you inspect its rear end, you may also feel a hard lump near the anus or notice pus and/or blood in your dog’s stool.

Even though it may seem laughable, the most common cause of scooting is anal sac disease, which is nothing to joke about. If you notice any of the symptoms we mentioned above or any change in color around the rectum, take your dog to a veterinarian for an evaluation.

You should also know that certain conditions can increase the chances of anal sac problems. These are the following:

• being overweight or obese

• suffering from food or environmental allergies

• skin mites

• hypothyroidism

• yeast or bacterial infections of the skin

When is dog odor considered a medical condition?

sad dog resting in bed

The best way to determine whether the smells you are noticing are normal or pathological is to consult a veterinarian. A vet will look at your dog’s history and do a physical examination first to see if there is a cause for the odor.

If your dog has no history or signs of skin disease or illness, your vet can tell you what the natural odors are for your pooch. If you notice a change in your dog’s normal smell, it could mean a possible systemic illness or skin disease.

Obvious causes of a foul smell can be from fecal or urine soiling, odor from infection, physical injury, skunk sprays, or something your pooch simply rolled or stepped in.

Here are the most common smelly skin diseases:

• fungal skin disease

• dandruff or seborrhea

• bacterial skin disease

• ear infections

All of these diseases have mild odors depending on the severity, meaning you may realize some of them only when you get close to your pet.

On the other hand, severe body odors that need medical attention include combinations of skin and ear infections with parasites, odors from autoimmune skin disease secretions, and septic ear infections.

No matter the cause, you should never neglect a foul smell coming from your dog. The best way to approach this problem is to contact your vet, who will help you determine whether the smells are harmful or just something you can ignore.

How to keep anal sac disease at bay

cocker spaniel eating from a bowl

You should know that anal sac disease is not always possible to prevent, no matter how hard you try, so don’t get bummed out if your dog develops this condition despite your best efforts.

With that said, here are a few things you can do to help prevent anal sac disease in your pup:

• Make sure your dog’s diet consists of high protein content and lots of supplements such as vitamins and minerals. Also, the dog food you feed your pooch should have high amounts of fiber. This will promote healthy bowel movement and prevent soft stool.

• Try to keep an eye on your dog’s stool to make sure it is not too soft or too firm

• Provide your dog with regular daily exercise and make sure to keep its weight at an appropriate level

• Make sure your pooch always has access to plenty of fresh and clean water

Conclusion

corgi resting on a bench

Photo from: @pawfectsoulmates

As dog owners, we all want what is best for our furry besties. Sometimes, this requires us to get on all fours and get our hands dirty.

In this article, we’ve explained that when it comes to the question, “why does my dog smell like fish?” there can be more than a few answers. Bad eating habits, serious medical conditions, and some things in between can all trigger a fishy smell in our pooch.

To tackle the foul odor, you might have to inspect and keep an eye on your dog’s anus for some time. Yes, we know, it’s not something anyone would want to do, but it is a small price to pay when it comes to the well-being of our beloved companions.

Regardless of whether or not you think the problem is serious or nothing to worry about, make sure to consult your vet if your dog releases a smell you haven’t noticed before, as some of the underlying health problems may require immediate medical attention.