WOW, can a dog smell bad sometimes! Lots of things can make them smell bad, and some smells are caused by conditions that should have medical attention.
Dogs are quite talented at immersing themselves in odors that are offensive to people. One of the foulest odors I have ever experienced was my dog, after she had rolled in fresh deer poop..... Holy Cow was that bad! I have a good friend whose little pomeranian first fell into a "nasty, skanky, slimy beaver pond", and them rolled in a well-rotted dead fish on the bank. Then they had to get in the car and drive home.... Yeesh! How about you, what's your smelliest dog story?
Most of the causes of offensive dog smells, that are not medically related, will indeed be brought on by the dog. Their idea of a good smell is very different from ours. As a predator, dogs are actually trying to cover up their own smell when they roll in all of those lovely dead or rotted things. This is supposed to cover up predator smell, to allow them to get closer to their prey. Domesticated dogs don't need to do this to eat, but the instinct is still there, and they act on it.
Then there is the dog caused, and human detested, smell of skunk odor. Again this is caused by a normal dog instinct, this one to chase small creatures. The skunk responds with its only defense mechanism, spraying a potent fluid from its scent glands, hopefully into the attackers eyes, thus stopping the attack and saving the skunk.
Look to the right for the tools you need to help your pet!
If you need a free home made de-skunking solution, see the skunk odor removal page.
There are many many conditions that can make a dog smell bad. I'll start at the front of the dog, and work back, and go through as many as I can for you.
MOUTH ODOR. Even just in the mouth, there are many potential odor causes.
Dental disease, seen to the left, is probably the most common of these, and the odor can be a sign of serious oral infection.
Dogs who are having anal gland issues will sometimes chew back there, in an attempt to relieve the discomfort, and so will have that nasty odor on their breath.
Dogs, or more often puppies, can somtimes be coprophagic (they eat poop), and that can cause some pretty bad breath, as well as expose them to more intestinal parasites than normal.
Dogs can sometimes get items stuck in their mouths - this is called an oral foreign body. For instance, the dog to the right had a stick stuck between its teeth - you can see it near the back of its mouth, going cross-wise between the left and right sides of the upper jaw or teeth. The foreign body causes infection and inflammation, resulting in a bad smell from the mouth.
Finally, dogs with severe kidney disease will have bad breath, because of the disease.
EAR ODOR. This is also a very common source of that bad dog smell. Just flip an ear up and put your nose there, you'll know if it's coming from there or not!
Yeast infections are the most common cause of offensive ear odor.
Bacterial infections are a close second, and are usually even more painful than yeast infections for the dog. Sometimes, a foreign body is the source of the infection - grass seeds called grass awns are a common culprit in this scenario.
Severe allergies can cause a bad odor to dog ears too.
SKIN ODOR. If your dog has allergies, then he likely also has a bad dog smell to his skin. This is often caused by a bacterial or yeast infection, which was able to develop because of untreated allergies.
Skin folds are a common area to smell bad also. Dogs with squashed faces (Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and Pugs are common examples) will have trouble with infections, again either bacterial or yeast, inside the skin folds of their faces. The same breeds and others with short or docked or spiral tails will have the same issues in the skin folds of the tail and tail base.
Alternatively, dogs who's eyes tear a lot can smell bad around their face. The eye discharge is constant enough that the skin is kept very moist right under the eyes. Again, a bacterial or yeast infection sets in and the odor is begun.
Abscesses can have a very bad odor indeed. They can be caused by cuts or puncture wounds, bite wounds, or sometimes from a foreign body that is still stuck, buried beneath the skin. As with ears, grass awns are a common cause of abscesses in the feet or between the toes.
BUTT ODOR. OK, I know, not pretty to talk about. But the dogs hind end can be the source of that bad dog smell, and you should know what could cause it. Diarrhea is probably the most common cause of a hind end odor. Or maybe flatulence (gas). The diarrhea odor comes from feces getting stuck in the dogs coat. Bathing the dog helps. Treating the diarrhea is an even better idea! Flatulence is of dietary origin; sometimes a change of diet will help this.
It's also possible to have an infection back there, which will have a bad odor. Anal glands can become infected and abscess, and they smell pretty bad when they're not infected too.
A severe urinary tract infection can lead to a bad odor around the genital area. This would be very late in the course of the disease - you should have noticed other signs of this problem sooner and begun treatment.
So you see, a bad dog smell can be caused by many medical and a few non-medical things. The majority of the odors caused from medical conditions will require veterinary diagnosis and treatment to either cure, or more likely to treat and control the issue. If you have a concern, go see your vet!
Page last updated 2/11/13