Bad Odor in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Stinky?

The average dog shouldn’t be any stinkier than the average person! Unless the reason your dog stinks is that they just rolled in something nasty, put on your thinking cap.

Bad Odor in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Stinky?

I know how unpleasant having a stinky dog in your home is. My guys come home from their adventures wearing all sorts of colognes which I don’t appreciate. I am sure, however, that they are not impressed with the choices of fragrances we use either.

A poor cologne choice–at least according to our human standards–results in a stinky dog.

A good roll in deer poop or dead fish will undoubtedly do the trick. So would an encounter with a skunk. When the source of the bad odor is evident, all you have to worry about is “destinkifying” your dog. A good bath should take care of it, although I can tell you that it can take up to three baths to get rid of deer poop smell.

My dogs never came home wearing skunk spray, but I imagine getting rid of that stink isn’t a walk in the park either. By the way, if you need a skunk rinse, here is how you can make one yourself. You will need the following:

  • 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons dish soap

Mix the above ingredients, put on some gloves, and apply it to your dog’s coat–but avoid getting any of that in your dog’s eyes. Apply thoroughly and let it do its work. Do not wet your dog before you do this. After the solution neutralized the skunk oils, wash your dog with dog shampoo and rinse. You can find detailed instructions here.

As unpleasant as all that is, you can fix it yourself. But what if your dog smells terrible without an apparent cause?

When should you worry about bad odor in your dog?

Bad odor is not always just a nuisance–it can be a symptom of a health issue. If your dog is still stinky after a good bath, you might need to look further. That’s how we discovered Jasmine’s skin infection and infected anal glands. I bathed her, and the next day she smelled terrible again.

First, try to locate where the odor is coming from. Is it the mouth? The ears? The rear end? Is your dog smelly all over?

1. Bad breath.

The most common but not the only cause of bad breath is dental disease. Do not take that lightly. Dental disease can cause a lot of pain, and the bacteria associated with dental disease can lead to life-threatening infections affecting the heart, kidney, and liver!

Other oral diseases, such as mouth ulcers and melanoma or other tumors of the oral cavity, can also cause horrible breath. Foreign bodies lodged in the mouth can cause infections or even tissue death.

Even scarier—systemic issues, such as kidney failure or diabetes can be the culprit behind bad breath.

Some poisons, if ingested can cause foul breath as well.

Other signs and symptoms depend on what is causing the bad breath. You can read more about bad breath in dogs here.

2. Infected ears can generate quite a bit of bad odor.

Ear infections can be quite painful–a reason enough to treat them. Moreover, untreated ear infections can lead to serious complications, including deafness, problems associated with the sense of balance, and chronic ear inflammation that requires lifelong management.

Severely affected ears might require surgery. I’m sure you don’t want your dog to go through all that.

Other symptoms of ear infection can include

  • excessive head shaking
  • pawing and scratching at the ears
  • rubbing against furniture or carpet
  • head tilting
  • discharge from the ears

3. Anal sac disease

Healthy anal sacs produce an incredibly foul-smelling liquid, but under normal circumstances, it is only released when a dog defecates or is terrified enough to use them as a defense mechanism.

If you are routinely smelling anal sac material during the day to day life, something is wrong. Impacted glands may release at inappropriate times (like when your dog scoots across the carpet), and the micro-organisms in an infected anal sac can produce quite a  pungent odor of their own.

Other signs of anal sac disease you might notice

  • scooting/dragging bum on the ground or floor
  • chewing or licking of the rear end
  • swelling around the anus
  • tail chasing
  • straining to poop
  • discharge
  • aural hematoma

4. Skin diseases

Allergies, seborrhea, and bacterial or yeast infections can also be behind your dog’s bad odor. With Jasmine, I have learned to use my nose for early detection of skin in trouble.

You might notice the bad odor first but other signs of a skin infection include

  • itching and scratching
  • flaky skin
  • greasy coat
  • hair loss
  • lesions

5. Gas (flatulence)

Everyone farts, but if your dog produces immense amounts of stinky gas regularly, something is amiss. Abnormal flatulence can be a sign of a dietary issue or gastrointestinal diseases.

Some gas makes it in the system with food, especially if your dog gobbles down their food. Slowing down their eating can help.

Some gas is a normal byproduct of the digestive process. When foods, particularly carbohydrates, don’t digest properly, though, the bacteria in the gut throw a frat party. They stuff themselves with all that unexpected feast, and the result is a gassy dog.

The reason why the food doesn’t get digested can be the food itself, or dysfunction of the digestive tract.

Examples of diseases that can result in excessive flatulence include

  • intestinal parasites
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)

It is important to determine whether you merely need to change your dog’s food or whether your dog is suffering from a serious health problem.

Healthy dogs don’t stink!

Pay just as much attention to bad odor as any other symptom.

If your dog smells bad for medical reasons, bathing won’t do anything neither for you or for them. You need to nail down the cause and deal with that instead of trying to eliminate or mask the odor.

Related articles:
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Further reading:
Unpleasant Odors in Dogs

Categories: Bad odorSymptoms

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

16 Comments
  1. I can always tell when our girl Shih Tzu needs a bath – she smells like a loaf of bread! Yeasty – which isn’t a bad smell exactly, but not normal. The anal sac smell – wooo! We had that once with one of our dogs – and from then on, we went to a vet versus a groomer for cleaning. Great post!

  2. My first dog had a musky smell. He was actually really healthy, and had the stomach of steel! He just had what we called “man smell” lol. My foster Rosie only gets an odd smell when she has gotten in to something she cannot stomach, or her ears are infected. This is a helpful list, I don’t think people think about the health aspect that can affect dogs, and cause body odor! It’s the first thing we check here!

  3. Interesting comment that Healthy Dogs Don’t Stink. I think my mom’s dog is having a lot of skin issues. He smells great right after a bath but tends to “stink” a couple of days later.

  4. Marjorie Dawson

    You made me laugh with three three washes to get rid of deer poop rule. I will remember that for a long time * giggle*

    Terrific post and so useful for every single dog owner.

    • LOL Well, that’s how it worked every time so far. It seems more effective to tough it out for a day and then it dries up and comes off by itself–if you can take it for that period of time.

  5. We’ve been pretty lucky so far, usually when one of our dogs smells bad it is because they rolled in something.

  6. Many of these reasons are the same for a stinky cat, too. Luckily, mine don’t go outside so I don’t have to worry about them coming home smelling like a skunk! I’m glad you’re getting a lot of good responses to this post.

    • Yeah, I guess there are some things that are easier with cats–such as not having to worry about the perfume of choice they might come home with.

  7. Odors can be a symptom you don’t want to miss! My friend had a dog that had chronically stinky breath (stinkier than normal dog breath) and it turned out that the dog had an abscessed tooth. Once the tooth was removed, the odor calmed down a lot. I imagine that the dog was quite relieved too.

  8. Louie seems to have anal glands that leak. It smells more metallic than fishy. The vet says they aren’t infected so I’m not really sure what is going on.

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