Smelly Dog? Here’s Why—and How To Get Rid of Dog Smell for Good

By: Yvonne VillasenorUpdated:

smelly dog: dirty dog in bathtub
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Smelly Dog? Here’s Why—and How To Get Rid of Dog Smell for Good

Not sure why your dog smells like Fritos, fish, or is just flat-out stinky? You’re not alone. We love our smelly dogs unconditionally. Funky odors on the other hand? Not so much.

We spoke to a veterinarian to learn more about the common reasons for dog odor, when it’s time to go to the vet and how to get rid of the smell on your dog and in your home.

Why Does My Dog Smell So Bad?

As pet parents, we know that our canine companions will smell from time to time. (And with their superior sense of smell, it’s clear they love us even with our morning breath and post-gym stink.) While their smelliness is more obvious in instances where they’ve had a heyday romping and rolling around in mud, there are other times when you can’t help but wonder why your precious pup is so stinky.

Like us, the longer a dog goes without a bath, the more their normal bacteria breaks down natural oils, causing smells to be released, build up and linger on their skin and coat. But that’s just one of the ways a dog can get smelly, says Dr. Kari Murdoch, DVM, a veterinarian with The Vets in the greater Chicago area, Illinois.

Common causes of a stinky dog odor include:

Each of these conditions can cause a distinct, foul smell that ranges from fishy to yeasty coming from either your dog’s skin, ears, mouth or bottom, depending on the cause.

Other causes for dog odor can include systemic problems, such as metabolic diseases like kidney disease and liver failure, or certain tumors, Dr. Murdoch adds.

If you notice that your dog has a persistent or unusual smell, consult with a vet to rule out underlying health problems and treat any symptoms.

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How To Get Rid of Dog Smell on Dogs

If your furry friend has a funky aroma, fear not. There are (fortunately) several ways you can help them get back to smelling fresh and clean.

To eliminate smelly odors on your dog, try these tips from Dr. Murdoch:

1Bathe your dog regularly.

Choose a dog-friendly shampoo that suits your pet’s skin type and condition, and make sure to thoroughly wash your dog to remove all traces of shampoo, as it can contribute to lingering smells if not fully rinsed out.

If your dog is a wrinkly breed, like Bulldogs and French Bulldogs, Shar-Peis and Pugs, give their skin folds extra attention.

Find out more about how to bathe a dog.

2Brush your dog.

Brush your dog regularly to remove loose fur and distribute natural oils to help minimize any odors and ensure a healthier coat.

3Take care of their teeth.

Practice good oral hygiene by brushing your dog’s teeth with a dog toothbrush and toothpaste and providing dental treats. Doing so can combat bad dog breath, reduce tartar and prevent dental disease.

4Keep an eye on their ears.

Keep your dog’s ears clean and dry to prevent odors associated with ear infections and other ear problems. Remember that not all dogs need routine ear cleanings, and that unnecessarily cleaning can actually cause problems for your pup, so check with your vet if you’re not sure.

“Regular grooming, dental care and routine veterinary checkups are essential in maintaining a dog’s overall well-being and minimizing odors,” Dr. Murdoch says.

You can also schedule appointments with a professional dog groomer who can bathe your pup, trim their fur and clip their nails. (And express their anal sacs if your dog is scooting and/or has a fishy smell.)

The Best Shampoo for Dog Odor

There are a plethora of dog shampoos formulated to bring the stink to a minimum and make your pooch smell like they’ve just returned from the doggie salon.

When shopping for the best shampoo to combat odors, Dr. Murdoch recommends looking for products that use natural ingredients, like oatmeal and aloe vera, to help moisturize your dog’s fur and soothe their skin.

“It’s essential to choose a shampoo suitable for your dog’s specific needs, such as addressing skin conditions or allergies,” she says. “Consulting with a vet for personalized recommendations is always a good practice.”

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When To Go to the Vet for Dog Odor

If your dog’s odor persists even with regular grooming, Dr. Murdoch says this may indicate a potential health issue, such as a skin infection, dental problems, or anal gland issues.

In addition to a foul odor, any changes in your dog’s appetite, behavior, or skin condition warrant a visit to the vet so they can conduct an exam, review test results and develop a treatment plan for your dog if necessary.

Dr. Murdoch recommends scheduling regular vet wellness checkups to catch and address potential issues early on, too.

How To Get Doggy Smell Out of the House

We love our little stinkers more than anything. But what we don’t love are unpleasant odors staying in our home, especially if our dogs are healthy and groomed.

Dr. Murdoch offers the following tips for how to get pungent dog smells out of your home:

“Regularly washing your dog and their belongings, along with maintaining a clean living environment, can help keep your home smelling fresh,” she says.

FAQs About Dog Odors and Smelly Dogs

Q:What if a dog stinks no matter what their pet parents do?

A:If a dog has an odor even with regular grooming and cleaning, there could be an underlying health issue causing the persistent smell, like a skin infection, dental problem or anal gland issue. Consulting a vet can diagnose and treat the issue.

Q:Are there home remedies for a smelly dog?

A:For mild odors, home remedies like regular grooming with frequent baths using dog-friendly shampoos can help. Pet-friendly wet wipes can be used if you need to quickly freshen up your pup. To eliminate bad breath, maintain their oral hygiene with regular teeth brushing and dental chews.

Q:Why do dogs smell when wet?

A:A wet dog smell can occur due to the release of volatile compounds from the natural bacteria and yeast that normally live on a dog’s skin and fur. These create a stronger scent when wet. A damp environment can also create conditions favorable to the overgrowth of bacteria and yeast, ultimately adding to the odor. This smell can be managed and prevented with regular bathing and thorough drying right after a bath, swim or romp in the rain.

Q:What does it mean if a dog’s ear smells bad?

A:A dog’s ear can smell bad due to an ear infection or other ear-related issues caused by a buildup of wax, bacteria or yeast in their ear canal. If, in addition to a smelly odor, you notice itching, redness or discharge, schedule an appointment for your vet so they can treat the infection with cleaning, medication or other treatments.

The bottom line: A dog can smell for various reasons. Some medical conditions can cause even the cleanest dog to have an unusual, persistent odor. In these cases, it’s always best to schedule an appointment with a vet to determine the cause. However, most bad smells can often be treated and prevented with regular grooming and preventive care. Want to learn how to groom your pet at home like a pro? Check out our cheat sheet on home pet grooming 101.

Expert input provided by Dr. Kari Murdoch, DVM, a veterinarian with The Vets in the greater Chicago area, Illinois.


By: Yvonne VillasenorUpdated: