4 Reasons Your Dog Smells Like Fish

Written by Amber LaRock
Published: October 4, 2022
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You are sitting on your couch enjoying a relaxing evening at home, only to be suddenly overtaken by a strong fishy odor. You do some investigating and follow the scent trail, when you suddenly realize that your dog is the one responsible for the overpowering scent. The smell is so strong that you can’t figure out where on their body it is coming from, so you head to the internet to determine the underlying cause!

Luckily for you and your nose, we have gathered a list of the 4 most common reasons why your dog smells like fish. Ranging from an impacted anal gland to an underlying skin infection, let’s break down the potential causes and how to treat them below!

Is It Normal For A Dog To Smell Bad?

Before we dive into the details of a fishy odor in dogs, we should first answer the question of whether or not it is normal for your pup to have a strange smell about them. While you shouldn’t expect your dog to smell like roses, they should not have an overpowering odor that fills a room. Your dog should not be smelly enough to stop you in your tracks, so if this is the case for your pup that smells like fish, there is likely an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.

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Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?

Now that you know that a strong fishy odor in dogs is not normal, let’s dive into the 4 most common causes of this strange fishy smell in your pup. We will also list the most common symptoms associated with each underlying cause so you can best determine what is going on with your smelly furry friend.

1. Their Anal Glands Are Full

how to express a dogs anal glands
When the anal glands of the dog become full, it gives off a foul odor.

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Many pet parents are shocked to learn that their dogs have anal glands that secrete smelly fluid each time they pass stool. These glands are located just inside of the inner anus, and there is one on both the right and left side sitting at about 5 and 7 o’clock in relation to the tail. The dog’s anal sacs contain sweat glands that naturally excrete fluids, and these fluids are designed to leave your dog’s unique scent behind each time they poop. This scent is essentially their identifying factor for other dogs.

As we mentioned above, your dog should excrete a small amount of anal sac fluid each time they pass stool, and some fluid might even release when they are frightened or caught off guard. However, if their anal sacs are not functioning properly for any reason, this could cause them to become impacted. This will then cause the anal sac fluid to harden within the anal gland, making it even more difficult for the anal glands to express naturally. If the anal glands become too full, your pup may begin to sport a strange fishy odor.

Dogs with impacted anal glands may experience a fishy odor left behind on surfaces they sit on, scooting their behind, licking their back end, and even swelling around their anus. These symptoms often indicate that it is time to have your pup seen by the vet to manually express their anal glands. Sometimes their anal glands can even become infected and rupture if they are not expressed, so it’s important to have them seen quickly if you notice any sign of anal gland discomfort in your canine friend.

2. They Rolled Around In Something Smelly

why do dogs roll in the grass
Dogs can roll into very strange scents.

©Rita_Kochmarjova/Shutterstock.com

Sometimes dogs do strange things that we just don’t understand. One of these weird canine habits includes rolling around in strange scents they encounter outdoors, causing them to be covered in an overpowering foul stench. While this makes absolutely no sense to us, this is actually a sign of your pup tapping into their wild instincts.

When your dog rolls around in something smelly they find outside, this is typically referred to as scent rolling. Our dog’s wild ancestors are believed to have rolled around in strong odors such as dead animals to mask their natural scent, as this may have helped to camouflage them during their hunt. Our pups today may not be going on any hunting adventures, but they may still channel their inner wolf from time to time!

3. They Have Dental Disease

French bulldog
The cause of a fishy odor can be a dental disease.

©Hryshchyshen Serhii/Shutterstock.com

If you only seem to notice a fishy or foul odor when your dog is up close and personal with you, it is possible that their smell is due to an underlying dental disease. Up to 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have some form of dental disease, and this can easily lead to bad breath in our furry friends. The foul odor in their mouth is often due to a combination of both the bacteria and their gum inflammation, as well as the tooth decay that occurs as a result. If your dog has a severe form of dental disease, the smell of their breath can be quite overwhelming.

A dog with dental disease will often experience bad breath, blood left behind on their bones, blood left behind on their toys, blood in their water bowl, difficulty eating their kibble, discolored teeth, facial sensitivity, drooling, a decrease in appetite, and even facial swelling. If you notice any of the listed symptoms in your canine friend, have them assessed by your vet to establish a dental care routine moving forward.

4. They Have A Yeast Or Bacterial Infection

Yeast or bacterial overgrowth in dogs can be really smelly. These overgrowths often manifest as either ear infections or skin infections in dogs, and both of these possibilities can cause you to notice a fishy or foul smell each time you are close to them. The overgrowth of these agents will often lead to both the inflammation of tissue and the presence of pus or moisture, which will only further exacerbate their smell as their condition progresses. Not only is the smell impossible to ignore, but both ear and skin infections can make your dog miserable.

Ear infections in dogs can lead to redness of the pinna or ear canal, oozing around the ear, pawing at the ears and face, rubbing their face on the ground, and even facial sensitivity. A dog with a skin infection or yeast overgrowth on the skin may develop skin odor, itchy skin, skin redness, sores on the skin, constant scratching or biting at certain areas, and pain when these irritated areas are touched.

Any form of bacterial or yeast overgrowth can be extremely uncomfortable for dogs, so have them seen by your vet from the moment you notice the symptoms listed above. Most dogs will require medical intervention such as antibiotics or medicated baths, so refer to your veterinary team for these issues.

How Do I Get Rid Of My Dog’s Fish Smell?

Unless you know that your dog’s fishy odor is due to rolling around in something smelly outside, then we have them assessed by a veterinarian. Each of the factors we discussed above requires medical intervention to get under control, as well as skilled guidance to relieve their discomfort. Whether your pup has stinky dental disease or a smelly ear infection, this likely means their current condition is causing them some form of pain. Just as bad as we want to eliminate their overpowering odor, we also want to eliminate their pain! The best way to do this is by reaching out to your vet and scheduling an appointment.

There is nothing worse than trying to cuddle with a stinky pup. Take a look at the potential underlying factors we discussed above, and reach out to your vet for guidance on what to do next!

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About the Author

My name is Amber, and I am a Licensed Vet Tech with a degree in Veterinary Technology. My love for animals and their pet parents drove me to work remotely in this field, aiming to provide pet education and guidance whenever it's needed. There’s nothing I love more than helping you feel empowered about your dog or cat’s care!

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