Why Do Dogs Smell?

Last Updated 8 February 2023

This article is written by one of our in-house veterinarians, Dr Elise Barry BVSc and last updated by Dr Gillian Hill BVSc (Hons).

All dogs smell and as much as you may try to disguise it, their woofy odour cannot be quashed. Dogs possess a unique scent emanating from the glands of their skin and hair follicles, and while it may not be particularly appealing to us, this smell is totally normal and specific to your pooch.

Scent marking is the way your dog marks out his territory and it helps other dogs identify your dog and where he's from. Although this doggy cologne is normal, it should only be subtle if your dog is in good health with regular grooming and bathing.

At times your dog may be smellier than normal. Dogs love to roll and cover themselves in abhorrent scents including faeces, rotting material and decaying carcasses. This harks back to primitive behaviour when their ancestors had to hide their smell from prey or it could be used as a way to demonstrate to their pack what they had been up to. This particular problem is easily fixed by removing the offending scent by washing your dog in a dog friendly shampoo and by trying to prevent them from accessing the source of the smell. For more tips check out Why Does My Dog Roll in Smelly Things?

When a Bad Smell Means Something More

While all pooches will have their own distinct brand of 'eau de dog,' unpleasant odours arising from your dog can also be an indication of an underlying disease process. There could be a number of issues going on including skin and ear infections, dental disease, digestive upset or anal gland issues.

Skin and ear infections

Some dogs may have allergies to fleas, foods and environmental allergens which can lead to skin and ear infections. Often these infections can smell yeasty as they are caused by an overgrowth of Malassezia pachydermatis, a normal fungus that lives on your dog's skin.

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Dental Disease

Another often overlooked source of unpleasant doggy odours can be bad breath. Dental disease is very common, with over 80% of dogs showing signs of dental disease by the age of three. Dental disease and its accompanying odour is caused by an overpopulation of bacteria in the mouth.

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Digestive upset

The gastrointestinal tract can be another culprit when it comes to unpleasant doggy odours. Digestive gases and excessive flatulence may be an indication of poor diet, unbalanced gut microflora or gastrointestinal illness.

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Anal Glands

If you notice a fishy smell arising from your dog's rear end it could be a sign of anal gland issues. Anal glands are part of your pooch's normal scent marking system but should be doing their job without causing any noticeable offensive odour.

If you notice your dog scooting (rubbing their backside along the ground), licking their backend or a disgusting fishy aroma then these glands may be impacted or infected and medical advice will need to be sought.

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*Please note these are specialised therapeutic veterinary diets and must be used only under your veterinarians recommendation and supervision.

Although most of us would love it if our pooches smelled like a bed of roses, they certainly do not feel the same way! A little doggy odour is perfectly normal, however if you're concerned your dog's scent is excessively unpleasant or lingering a vet check may be required to find and treat the underlying culprit.

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