Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.
Why Your Dog Smells Bad All of the Sudden
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, and 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 issues that you need to look into.
7 Most Common Reasons Why Your Dog Smells Bad
- Skin Infection
- Ear Infection
- Bad teeth/periodontal disease
- Urinary tract infection
- Impacted anal glands
- Cancer, either of the skin or open and draining
- GI infections and systemic problems
1. Skin Infections (Pyoderma)
Infected skin, or pyoderma, is the most common cause of a stinky dog. This is a list of the most common causes of pyoderma:
- Allergies (food, inhalant, and even contact)
- Demodicosis (demodex mange, or red mange)
- Dermatophytosis (ringworm)
- Autoimmune disease (like pemphigus foliaceous)
- Endocrine disease (like hypothyroidism)
- Hookworms, that dig into the feet and leave sores that become infected and smelly
- Foreign body (like a thorn in the foot that leaves a hole that becomes infected)
- Skinfold 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.
Solutions for Dogs With Stinky Skin
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 to take your dog 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:
- 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.
- 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. Long-term use of antibiotics can lead to other problems like a GI infection or a yeast infestation on the skin.
- Epsom salt: 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 two months. A deep infection can sometimes be treated by soaking with Epsom salt (use two tablespoons for each liter of warm water).
- 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.
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, consider these options.
- Switch 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. I feed my own dogs fresh chicken and other raw ingredients. In many cases, the underlying problem will resolve with improved nutrition and the skin will look better in weeks.
- Offer fatty acids. In addition to the diet, the dog is probably deficient in fatty acids and would benefit from a supplement like salmon oil.
- Use soothing shampoos. Use a shampoo that is not just going to kill the bacteria, but actually soothe and improve the coat. An oatmeal shampoo is a good option unless you are dealing with a yeast infection.
- Consider holistic methods. 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.
- Consult a homeopathic practitioner. Homeopathic medications might provide relief and clear up the skin.
Coconut Oil for a Dog’s Skin
This video demonstrates the use of coconut oil, one natural treatment for infected skin. This helps most often when it is used with shampoos and sometimes with other conventional therapies.
It may help, but does not work in all cases. If your dog has a chronic case of mange, it will not even make him feel any better.
2. Ear Infections
Ear infections are also common in dogs. Some of them will make a dog smell really foul.
What can be done about it?
- 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.
- Ear mites can be treated easily with olive oil.
- A grass seed or other foreign body in the ear might be irritating and can cause a lot of pus and stink.
- 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 dog with 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 with 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.
3. Infected Gums and Oral Health Issues
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 pus and smelly discharge.
How can you keep your dog from developing a foul odor from the mouth?
- 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.
- If your dog eats commercial kibble or canned food, or if he has abnormal teeth, the only thing to do to prevent the infection and avoid the smell is to brush the teeth once daily.
- 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 their mouth. Have their 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.
4. Urinary Infections (May Indicate Other Underlying Health Conditions)
Usually, dogs that smell like urine are getting their own pee on their feet or belly. With my Pitbulls, this is never a problem but with my Maltese, I always had to have the groomer give him a "sanitary cut" so that he would not have long hairs on his belly. When the dog would urinate, some of it always managed to get on his hair if he was kept long.
Sometimes, however, a dog that smells like pee can be a sign of a serious health problem. Take him to the vet and have his urine collected for a urinalysis. It is also a good idea to have his kidneys checked at this time to make sure that he does not have a kidney infection.
5. Impacted Anal Glands
Does your dog smell like bad fish when scared? That is pretty normal. If you notice that your dog smells fishy almost all of the time, and the foul odor is mostly coming from the back end of your dog, and 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 anal glands be treated?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 problems.
- 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 healthy skin: vitamin A, zinc, B complex vitamins, and vegetable oil.
- Dr. Goldstein, a holistic veterinarian and author of “The Nature of Animal Healing," also recommends a homeopathic cure called “Hemorrhoid” from Biological Homeopathic Industries.
6. Cancer of the Skin
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!
7. GI and Systemic Infections
A systemic infection is also less likely the 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 and is smelling up your house for no reason, please have him examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Address the Source of Your Dog's Odor
If your dog has a problem and is smelling up your house, you should not just ignore the problem or douse him with something to cover it up. If the engine of your car starts knocking, do you turn up your radio?
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: What can be done for a foul smell from a dog's mouth?
Answer: The first thing to do is find out what is causing it. If the dog has periodontal disease, he will develop pockets of pus under the gumline. They may not even be visible when you look in his mouth, but you can usually see the gums are red and inflamed. The best way to get rid of the smell, in this case, is to have the teeth cleaned and make sure that the vet cleans underneath the gum line.
If it is cancer or a foreign body that is causing local necrosis, the smell will be terrible. Kidney disease will also cause foul breath.
The best thing that I can recommend is that you take your dog in for an exam and find out why his mouth smells so bad.
Question: Can I feed homemade spicy food to my dog?
Answer: I have no idea what is in your homemade spicy food. Dogs should not be fed onions.
I am not even sure why you want to feed your dog this food. If it was not made up for the dog, then it is not a good idea.
© 2014 Mark dos Anjos DVM
Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 27, 2020:
Michelle, you can clean it with water, hydrogen peroxide, or chlorhexidine. I would prefer to flush it out with water each morning to decrease the amount of pus, then apply peroxide to clean it out. (peroxide does cause tissue damage but this is not a concern with a tumor).
peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 07, 2015:
Now i understand, thanks for yr answers. I thought eating meat would cause stinky dogs
Bob Bamberg on October 15, 2014:
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.
Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 15, 2014:
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.)
Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 09, 2014:
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.
Barbara Fitzgerald from Georgia on October 09, 2014:
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.