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Why Does My Dog Smell Bad?

Updated on November 17, 2016
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a small animal veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

The Maltese is one of the dog breeds that does not stink much, if healthy.
The Maltese is one of the dog breeds that does not stink much, if healthy. | Source

Some dog breeds (like the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, and Maltese, among others) do not have a foul odor. Most other breeds have a strong smell from time to time.

Rolling in an old carcass will do that. As dog owners, it is something that most of us are used to.

If your dog did not stink before, but suddenly has a foul odor, something is wrong. Assuming he did not get out and roll in a fresh pile of horse manure, swim in a stagnant pond, or snuggle up with an old dead animal, there are some serious health reasons that you need to look into.

Six Most Common Reasons Your Dog Smells Bad:

Skin Infection
Ear Infection
Impacted ana| glands
Bad teeth/periodontal disease
Cancer, either of the skin or open and draining
GI infections and systemic problems
When the skin becomes infected, from any cause, the dog begins to stink.
When the skin becomes infected, from any cause, the dog begins to stink. | Source

Skin Infection

Infected skin, or pyoderma, is the most common cause of a stinky dog. Pyoderma, for example, can be caused by:

  1. Allergies (food, inhalant, and even contact)
  2. Demodicosis (demodex mange, or red mange)
  3. Dermatophytosis (ringworm)
  4. Pemphigus folicaeus (an autoimmune disease)
  5. Endocrine disease (like hypothyroidism)
  6. Hookworms, that dig into the feet and leave sores that become infected and smelly
  7. Foreign body (like a thorn in the foot that leaves a hole that becomes infected)
  8. Acne
  9. Skin fold infection, in breeds like the English Bulldog and Sharpei

There are some other less common causes, but, as you can see from this list, there are a lot of reasons for a dog to develop stinky skin.

So what can be done about it?

You should be performing a physical examination of your dog each week at home. If there is something abnormal, you will recognize it right away and can do something about it.

The best thing to do when you notice a skin infection is take your dog in to the vet for a physical exam. Based on the exam, your dog might need to have his skin scraped for mange, may need blood work, and sometimes will even need to have his skin biopsied and examined under the microscope.

Some of the treatment options will be:

  1. Shampoos: Some vets will send home a specific shampoo to treat your dog´s bacterial infection. If you cannot take your dog to the vet, you can try using one of the anti-bacterial shampoos, and they work a lot better if the hair is clipped over the infected area and the shampoo is left on for at least 15 minutes at each bathing. (The shampoo shown on the right is chlorhexidine, the same substance most surgeons use. It will kill all bacteria, but only with plenty of contact time.)
  2. Antibiotics: In almost all cases of pyoderma, your dog will need to be put on antibiotics. Some of them work well but will require weeks of treatment before your dog is healed.
  3. Epsom salts: The infection might be deep so there is no guarantee that they are going to work, and your dog will need to be bathed regularly for at least 2 months. A deep infection can sometimes be treated by soaking with espom salts (use 2 tablespoons for each liter of warm water).
  4. Staphage lysate injections: These injections only work in about 1/3 of the dogs, but, if your dog has not responded to antibiotics and shampoos, it is worth giving it a try.

  1. If this condition persists, and all of those traditional methods listed above do not work, you should consider some alternative therapies to clear up your dog´s skin. If you want to try some holistic therapies, try:

    1. Switching your dog to a real diet. I am not talking about just another brand of the same processed dog food that is not fit for a dog. Feed your dog real food, the kind of food you would eat yourself if you were a dog with a choice. In many cases the bad skin improves quickly.
    2. In addition to the diet, the dog is probably deficient in fatty acids and would benefit from a supplement like salmon oil.
    3. Use a shampoo that it not just going to kill the bacteria, but actually sooth and improve the coat. An oatmeal shampoo is a good option.
    4. To treat allergies, some holistic veterinarians will prescribe herbal remedies. Locally grown raw honey (that contains the flower pollen your dog is allergic to) helps in some cases.
    5. Homeopathic medications might provide relief and clear up the skin.

Some dogs are prone to recurrent ear infections.
Some dogs are prone to recurrent ear infections. | Source

Ear Infection

Ear infections are also common in dogs. Some of them will make a dog smell really foul.

What can be done about it?

  1. If the dog has inhalant allergies, his ear problems should be taken care of (ear washes and antibiotics) at the same time as the allergies are being treated.
  2. Ear mites can be treated easily with olive oil.
  3. A grass seed or other foreign body in the ear might be irritating and can cause a lot of pus and stink.
  4. Several herbal and homeopathic therapies are available. There are so many alternatives (depending on the cause of your dog´s ear problems) that you need to consult a holistic veterinarian to find out what might work.

Like a skin infection, a dog with an infected ear should be examined by your vet. If the eardrum is intact a cleaning solution can be dispensed and the dog will be treated with the appropriate antibiotics or fungal treatment.

Smelly ears are difficult to deal with. If your dog has allergies and floppy ears like a Cocker Spaniel, and has suffered recurrent ear infections, a cheap and efficient way to clean the ears is dilute vinegar. There are some household remedies (like women´s gynecological cream) that might help.

If your dog´s ear problem is not clearing up, consult a holistic vet in your area to examine some of the alternative treatments.

Even if your dog´s mouth does not look this bad, it can be a source of his bad odor.
Even if your dog´s mouth does not look this bad, it can be a source of his bad odor. | Source

Infected Gums

An infection of the mouth will cause your dog to stink.

When teeth remain dirty after eating, tartar begins to build up. Pockets of bacteria develop along the gum line, and with time those pockets of bacteria develop into a smelly pus discharge.

How can you keep your dog from developing a foul odor from the mouth?

  1. The best way to deal with a foul odor in the mouth is by preventing it before it even happens. A dog with normal dentition can be fed a diet of raw meaty bones.
  2. If your dog eats commercial kibble or canned food, or if he has abnormal teeth, the only thing to do for him is to brush the teeth once daily.
  3. Dogs that already have tartar buildup also have periodontal disease and the pockets of bacteria that you cannot see are causing a foul odor from his mouth. Have his teeth cleaned at your veterinarian.

All the toys and chewies they sell in pet stores will not do it. If you do not take care of your dog´s oral health, he is going to stink.

A diet of raw meaty bones will prevent the development of dental disease.
A diet of raw meaty bones will prevent the development of dental disease. | Source
Swollen perianal glands usually become infected.
Swollen perianal glands usually become infected. | Source

Impacted Ana| Glands

If you notice that the foul odor is mostly coming from the back end of your dog, infected or impacted perianal glands may be the problem.

The perianal glands are two small odor-producing glands that mark the dog´s stool. When a dog eats a commercial diet, he will have loose stools. When a dog has loose stools, the perianal glands are not expressed each time he defecates (goes potty).

The material builds up in the perianal glands and becomes infected. Dogs are said to “scoot” across the carpet in an attempt to express these glands. Guess where they leave some of that smelly gland material?

If still not able to express the gland, it will burst open and release the smelly infected pus onto the dog´s back end.

Any idea how bad that smells?

How can smelly ana| glands be treated?

  1. This problem can be prevented by feeding a natural diet of raw meaty bones. Dogs on a natural diet have small firm stools and have to work to defecate. Each time they do, the glands are expressed.
  2. High fiber diets can also help. If your dog has consistently loose stools, find out what is wrong by taking him in for an exam. In the meantime, a natural source of fiber, like whole pumpkin, can help him express his glands naturally.
  3. DO NOT have his glands expressed every time he goes in for a grooming or an exam. Having the glands continually expressed is more likely to lead to problem.
  4. Dr. Pitcairn, a holistic veterinarian and author of “Natural Health for Dogs and Cats” also recommends adequate exercise, giving a dog free space when doing his business, and nutrients to promote a healthy skin-Vitamin A, zinc, B complex vitamins, and vegetable oil.
  5. Dr. Goldstein, a holistic veterinarian and author of “The Nature of Animal Healing”, also recommends a homeopathic cure called “Hemorrhoid” from Biological Homeopathic Industries.

Some tumors grow rapidly, become abscessed, and smell badly.
Some tumors grow rapidly, become abscessed, and smell badly. | Source


Cancer of the skin can also cause a bad smell. If the dog has a tumor that is on the surface, it is often fast-growing and the middle part of the mass will die since it does not have enough nutrients. That dead tissue becomes infected, and the rotting tissue makes the dog stink terribly.

If you see a growing lump on your dog´s skin take him in as soon as possible. Some skin tumors can be treated early but can spread if not dealt with.

When a tumor begins to rot, and stink, it needs to be removed!

GI and Systemic Infections

A systemic infection is also less likely cause of odor but needs to be ruled out. The infection can be in the GI tract, and may cause your dog to pass a foul smelling gas. This is not the kind of smell you would notice with pyoderma, but if it is a problem you will be aware of it soon enough.

If your dog has an infection of the vulva, a urinary infection, or a disease like Parvo, he will also have a foul odor.

If your dog has a systemic disease please have him examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

This video demonstrates the use of one natural treatment for infected skin. I would prefer that you use this as an addittional therapy with conventional treatment (antibiotics and shampoos.)

It may help, but does not work in all cases, and if your dog has a chronic case of mange will not make him feel any better.

© 2014 Dr Mark


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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Now i understand, thanks for yr answers. I thought eating meat would cause stinky dogs

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Not too verbose at all. Great information, plenty of detail. It's been sitting in my Inbox for days and I just now got around to reading it. Most dogs on commercial pet food have firm stools...even when on the crappy (pun intended) foods that have corn as the first ingredient...must be that powdered cellulose and peanut hulls :) Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi Bob, welcome to my verboseness! Most dogs on commercial dog food have firm stools? Compared to maple syrup, maybe, compared to normal stools from a homemade raw diet, they are runny, even with the peanut hulls. Believe me, I have seen a lot of healthy ones too...Too many, in fact. (Stepped in a few too, yech.)

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Yes, I have Astragalus listed in my hub on alternative therapies for cancer. Many holistic veterinarians believe cancer is a sign of a weak immune system, like demodectic mange, and astragalus is one of the herbs that may help.

      Thanks for commenting on this article. I was too verbose but there is so much on this subject that it was hard to stop at even these most common six.

    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 3 years ago

      Hi Dr. Mark great article and very useful!

      Have you heard of using Astragalus to boost the immune system to help fight off mange. We used it on puppies, and it seemed to help them with it.