Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?

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A fishy smell from your dog can mean quite a few things, especially problems with the anal glands.

If you have noticed that your dog regularly emits an unpleasant fishy smell, you might be relieved to learn that it is actually a common issue. As it turns out, many dog owners complain that their dog smells like fish. You might also be surprised to learn that the cause of the fishy odor is very rarely something the dog ate or accidentally rolled in.

While some dog owners worry that the smell could signal that their dog is suffering from a health issue, others find the smell irritating and gross. Discovering the root cause can help you address the issue and get your dog back to smelling the way it should – like a dog!

Why Your Dog Might Smell Like Fish

As it turns out, there are actually a wide variety of potential explanations for why your dog could have developed an unpleasant fishy odor.

Although it is generally a good practice to have your dog examined by a veterinarian if you notice any persistent and abnormal smells, the fish-like smell is such a common issue that we will take the time to go over some common causes.

You should be able to narrow down where the smell is coming from, and, with help from a veterinarian, come up with a treatment plan to address the issue. We will also go over some preventative tips, which will help you avoid the issue resurfacing in the future!

So, if you have noticed your dog smells like fish, do not worry, you are not alone, and, best of all, you can usually address the smell.

Again, a veterinarian should be able to help narrow down the cause rather quickly, but there is a good chance that one of the following issues will be the cause of your dog’s fishy smell:

Dental Disease and Other Oral Health Issues

Dental disease is actually common in dogs. Unfortunately, periodontal disease, or dental disease, as it is more commonly known, is also the most common cause of halitosis (bad breath) in animals. In many cases, bad breath that results from dental issues also has a fish-like odor.

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What are Some of the Causes of Dental Disease?

In most cases, bad breath happens to dogs when tartar and plaque have built up on the surface of the teeth. When this occurs, it means an abnormal amount of the bacteria that naturally live in the dog’s mouth has begun to stick to the surface of the teeth.

On its own, this natural buildup of tartar and plaque is rarely enough to cause bad, fish-scented breath. If left untreated, this tartar and plaque can progress to the point where the bacteria on the surface of each tooth start to travel upwards towards the gums.

When the bacteria gets to the point that it is starting to impact the health of the gums, they will become irritated and even visibly inflamed. This condition is known as gingivitis, which is something you have probably heard of before from your dentist.

Not only is gingivitis a harmful and irritating condition for your dog, if left untreated, but it can also worsen the dog’s bad breath and contribute to the fishy smell you might be noticing around your dog.

When Does Gingivitis Become a Serious Issue?

While gingivitis can be a serious health issue on its own, once it gets to the point that the bacteria has traveled beyond the gum line, it can start to spread to and reproduce in the area where the root of each tooth meets the dog’s jawbones.

Bacteria that begins to impact the health of the jaw bone is extremely serious, as it can lead to abscesses, tooth decay, and, of course, extremely foul-smelling breath. If the roots of the teeth are rotting and the health of the dog’s jaw bone is beginning to become impacted as a result of poor oral hygiene, the smell can become nauseating.

If your dog’s breath has an especially bad smell, rather than just a light fish smell, it could be a sign of a significant dental issue. In which case, it is incredibly important that you take your dog to see a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Dental disease can lead to serious health complications, so you should not think of bad teeth as just a trivial issue. The truth is, dental disease and other serious oral health issues can threaten your dog’s overall health in a very serious way.

Other Dental Issues that Can Contribute to Fishy Breath

While significant tartar and plaque buildup can lead to fish-like odors, you also need to keep an eye out for broken teeth and individual tooth infections. Just like human teeth, dogs can suffer from cavities. Again, if these issues are left untreated, the result can be stinky, fish-like breath.

Trapped pieces of food and other foreign objects, like sticks, toys, and bone shards, can also become lodged in the teeth and gums. If they remain in the teeth and gums for a long enough period, the result can be inflammation and infection that can contribute to bad breath and fishy smells.

It is important to keep an eye on what your dog is eating. Even when it comes to their toys, make sure that the toy is not falling apart, as the pieces can easily get lodged between teeth, or worse, the dog could choke.

Be particularly careful with hard chewable, like bones, hard marrow, and antler pieces. Veterinarians often end up having to remove shards of these chewables from the gum lines of their patients.

What Can You Do to Prevent Dental Issues and the Resulting Fishy Breath?

One of the best things you can do for your dog’s oral health is to keep an eye on it. Far too many pet owners neglect their dog’s oral health, which often results in serious issues as their dog ages.

Just like our own, a dog’s mouth needs attention, and there are plenty of simple things you can do to help improve your dog’s oral hygiene.

Canine toothbrushes are widely available and tend to be very affordable. If your dog is older, it might be difficult to brush them while they’re sitting still; however, if you have a puppy, you can usually condition them to accept a brushing routine from a young age.

Chew toys that remove plaque and tartar from the teeth are also helpful, and you can find them at most pet stores. There are also a variety of dental treats, which can help improve your dog’s dental health. These treats remove plaque, and some even contain natural ingredients that help freshen your dog’s breath. Best of all, dogs tend to love them, so you can reward your pup while simultaneously cleaning its teeth!

You can also speak with your veterinarian about diets that help with oral hygiene. It is also a good idea to schedule your dog for professional dental cleaning, especially since the tartar buildup on the dog’s teeth is becoming more noticeable.

Ear Infections (Otitis)

While it may sound strange, another common cause of fish-like smells in dogs is ear infections. Not only are ear infections painful and irritating for your dog, but certain types of infections can also contribute to the fishy smell you are noticing.

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Ear infections are very common in dogs, especially with breeds that have long, floppy ears. If you suspect your dog is suffering from an ear infection, you should always book an appointment with a veterinarian. Your veterinarian should be able to quickly diagnose a condition known as “otitis”, which, essentially, means excessive inflammation of the ears.

What is Otitis and How is it Caused?

Otitis, or ear inflammation, can result from several issues. In most cases, otitis happens from the spread of unhealthy bacteria within the dog’s ears. It can also occur from some yeast species, usually picked up from the environment in which the dog lives.

As mentioned previously, long-eared breeds are at a much higher risk of developing otitis than short-eared breeds, as their ears can trap bacteria, and they receive far less airflow. Dogs are also at a much higher risk of developing otitis if they swim regularly, as trapped water can lead to bacterial infections. Seasonal allergies can also be an issue. Itchy dogs spend more time rolling around outside and rubbing their faces on various surfaces, which increases the chances that they will pick up an infection.

Whether picked up through the water or from a hard surface, once bacteria or yeast enters the ear canal from the dog’s environment, it can quickly reproduce, spread, and quickly result in a painful and smelly ear infection.

How Can You Recognize an Ear Infection?

Unsurprisingly, ear infections can be very irritating and painful for your dog. You will most likely notice a change in behavior if your dog has an ear infection. Most dogs rub their ears along surfaces, such as pieces of furniture or along walls. They will also groan and try to bat their ears with their front paws. They will also shake their head from side to side frequently, as the infection can make the dog feel like something is trapped within its ears.

In terms of visual signs that the dog’s ears are infected, you might notice unusual swelling and redness. The inside of the ears can also look much dirtier than usual. In some cases, the ears will even feel warm when you touch them. Then, of course, you might also notice a fishy smell, especially if you position your nose close to the dog’s ears.

What to do About Ear Infections

Fortunately, most types of ear infections can be diagnosed by your veterinarian quickly. The veterinarian will use a simple ear swab test, which checks the ears for the presence of excess bacteria and yeast.

If your dog does have an ear infection, your veterinarian will most likely recommend medicated ear drops to soothe the irritation and kill the harmful bacteria causing the infection.

If an ear infection was causing the fishy smell, it should go away almost immediately after the ear infection has been treated and cured.

Anal Gland Issues and Anal Sac Disease

While it may sound a little gross to us, another common cause of the fishy odor in dogs is issues relating to the dog’s anal gland.

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Anal glands are small, pea-shaped secretion glands in the dog’s rectum. These unique glands produce secretions that help lubricate waste, so the dog can pass it in a healthy way and without pain. With a blocked anal gland or impacted anal gland, it cannot express itself properly, and the fluid within the anal glands becomes trapped and dries.

The result, usurping, can be discomfort for the dog and, you guessed it, smelly, fish-like odors. In some cases, untreated impactions can lead to infections and, eventually, abscesses or ruptures, which is why it is so important to treat anal gland issues as quickly as possible.

Signs of Anal Gland Issues

Aside from the fish smell, you would likely notice; other indicators of anal gland issues and anal sac disease are as follows:

  • Abnormal and regular licking of the behind
  • Dragging and scooting of the rear along the ground
  • Difficulty defecating properly
  • Vocalization while defecating, which is usually a sign of a more severe case
  • A hard and noticeable lump near the dog’s rectum
  • Blood and pus upon within the stool regularly

Many things can cause anal gland issues. In some cases, the anal glands cannot express due to allergies; however, in other cases, the root cause could be a more serious issue, such as an anal sac tumor. In these more severe cases, the tumor will have to be removed surgically to prevent blockages from occurring in the future.

How Are These Issues Treated?

Since anal gland issues are common, you will be relieved to learn that they are often fairly easy to treat. In most cases, the veterinarian manually expresses the gland, which helps remove the trapped secretion. In these cases, the dog will experience immediate relief, and the fishy smell will go away with the removal of the trapped and hardened secretion.

The veterinarian can also flush the gland, which will help eliminate any trapped material. If the veterinarian suspects the anal gland is suffering from an infection, they can use an antibiotic to treat it.

The best way to deal with anal gland issues is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. In most cases, your veterinarian will recommend that the dog consumes more dietary fiber. If the dog is particularly prone to anal gland irritation, it can switch to a type of food formulated to maintain anal gland health.

Smaller breeds are more prone to anal gland issues and anal sac disease than the larger breeds, so your veterinarian might even suggest adding a common causes to your dog’s diet, even if it has not yet experienced anal gland issues. Think of this as a preventative, which will protect your dog from unnecessary irritation while simultaneously preventing you from having to deal with that unpleasant fishy odor in the future.

Why Your Dog Might Smell Like Fish – Final Words

No matter what is causing your dog to have a fishy smell, the issue can, and in most cases should be treated. As with most canine health issues, the best way to deal with fishy smells is to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Do your best to help maintain your dog’s oral health. Not only are dental issues uncomfortable for the dog and smelly for you, but they can also lead to serious and expensive complications down the line. Given that dental chews, brushings, and annual cleanings by a professional can go a long way towards protecting your dog’s oral health, they are well worth pursuing.

Make sure that you also keep an eye on your dog’s ears, especially if you own a long-eared breed. If your dog spends a significant amount of time swimming, you need to be extra careful.

If you notice your dog is behaving differently when it tries to eliminate waste, be sure to monitor the situation and tell your veterinarian if it continues.

While fishy odors might just seem like an inconvenient and annoying issue to us, an unpleasant smell can be a sign that your dog is suffering from a more serious health issue. As always, look after your dog’s health by providing a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, and regular visits to a veterinarian!