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Is That a Fishy Smell From the Dog?

I've been an online writer for over 11 years. I've been interested in raising and caring for exotic pets for quite some time.

They didn't talk about this in "Lassie" . . .

They didn't talk about this in "Lassie" . . .

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?

No matter how many dog books you read, dog movies you see, or dogs you walk by on the street, nothing can prepare you for the "fishy" smell. This is what my mom and I call the smell that emanates from the dog's anal glands.

I'm surprised they never talked about this in Lassie. I think it might go something like this, "Woof! Woof!" "What is it, girl? Is Timmy down the—Oh my gosh! What is that smell? Lassie, did you just do a fishy?"

So, what is this terrible smell and what can you do about it?

What on Earth Is That?

Usually for no reason and without any warning whatsoever, your dog's anal glands will spontaneously empty. There will be a sudden stink reminiscent of fish left too long in the sun. Your dog will often leave a clear or brown mucus-like small discharge from the anus onto the carpet, couch, or whatever they happen to be sitting on. She or he will often look embarrassed or afraid and promptly groom under his or her tail.

The discharge usually does not leave a stain and is entirely gone within 24 hours. In the meantime, break out the Lysol and make the best of it. The only thing that makes the smell go away entirely is time. After a few months, you start to get used to it. Once you whiff it, it can be a source of great amusement for the family to tease the dog about his or her "fishies." Don't go overboard with the teasing, though.

Why Is This Happening?

This "fishy" smell is actually normal. Ideally, the anal glands only discharge when a dog is pooping or when extremely scared. But, like everything else in life, the anal glands don't often work as they should. Sometimes, through no fault of the dog at all, they will suddenly empty. I cannot emphasize enough that the dog cannot control this.

When a dog scoots his or her behind on the carpet, literally dragging the anus along the carpet, this is a sign that the anal glands are uncomfortably full and need to empty. The discharge usually is non-staining, starts dissipating after an hour, and is entirely gone in 24 hours. A dog can scoot and still have spontaneous "fishies."

Do I Need to Go to the Vet?

If your dog has "fishies" but is otherwise acting normally, eating normally, and excreting normally, there is not much a vet can do. If your dog is constantly licking and cleaning his or her behind, then something is wrong. Anal glands can get infected and sometimes need to be surgically removed. Check also for sores or abnormal redness, or even blood or pus.

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The vet can teach you how to empty your dog's anal glands yourself. This is called "expressing the anal glands" and is one of the services dog groomers, and some vet offices provide, usually at a separate cost. There are even tutorials online about how to express your dog's anal glands yourself. But, only do this for big, very mellow dogs, please. You might need to actually insert your forefinger into the dog's anus, which can be a bit of a shock for the dog.

Do I express my dog's anal glands? No. She's nervous enough as it is. And I have poor eyesight. Besides, the smell is not that much of a bother. I check that her anal glands are not infected, and the rest I leave for the vet.

It is often said that soft stool and not enough fiber in the diet can lead to more "fishies."

Don't be angry at your dog for having "fishies." Considering the love and affection your dog provides for you, a few stink bombs are a small price to pay. If anyone in your family complains about the dog's "fishies," remind the complainer of all the times they don't exactly smell like roses.

How to Express Your Dog's Anal Glands

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


RenaSherwood (author) on October 30, 2007:

That's a good way to deal with it -- let the vet do it :-) Thanks for taking the time to read my humble article.

Whitney from Georgia on September 28, 2007:

A lady my mother knows, has her dogs' anal glands emptied at the vet. One of the three, had to be rushed to the vet, and that's what he prescribed, so now she brings them all in every so many months or so.

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