If you’ve noticed your dog is emitting a fishy smell and you live nowhere near a body of water for them to roll about in any fishy specimens, you might be wondering, “why does my dog smell like fish?”
The most common reason for your dog’s fishy smell is that their anal glands are impacted and need to be released. This is a simple procedure that sees the anal sacs drained.
This is the most common reason why your dog smells like fish, but there are a few other possibilities.
Reasons Why Your Dogs Smells Like Fish
If your dog has recently had his or her anal glands emptied (eliminating the possibility of the fishy smell coming from their anal gland area), other possible causes include:
- Ear infections
- Bacteria or yeast infections of the skin
- Kidney disease
- Skin conditions
- Periodontal disease
- Autoimmune disease
- Urinary tract infection (look for bloody urine or fishy smelling urine)
- Food allergy
- Your dog has rolled in a dead fish!
What Are Anal Glands?
Your dog’s anal glands are two pea-sized sacs near the rectum which produce an excretion/ scent that identifies him/her and indicates to other dogs such things as sex, health, and approximate age. This is why dogs like to sniff each other’s bottoms!
The scent that is released is unique to every dog, but is typically a very pungent fish like odor that also serves as a scent marker.
Generally, a dogs anal glands are expressed (excreted) when he/she has a bowel movement, but occasionally, these sacs can become clogged, meaning your dog smells like fish!
What Causes a Dog to Have Clogged Anal Glands?
Your dog’s health plays a big part.
Your dog’s anal sacs may become full, and may not empty themselves as they should. Some of the causes of anal sac issues include:
- Poor diet (particularly if the diet is lacking enough fiber)
- Inherited health issues
- Not enough pressure has been applied to the glands to cause them to empty naturally (this is something to look out for if your dog is suffering from a stint of diarrhoea)
- Chronic skin dermatitis
- Environmental allergies.
Other Signs of Anal Gland Issues
Pet parents who are worried their dog may have full anal sacs can look out for these other tell-tale signs:
- ‘Scooting’. You may notice your dog is dragging his/her butt along the floor. This is called scooting, and indicates itchiness or discomfort in the rectal area.
- Excessive licking, nipping or scratching at their butt.
- Constipation or unusual straining when your dog poops.
- Blood or pus in feces, or around the anal area.
- Diarrhoea or soft stool issues.
How to Treat Impacted Anal Sacs in Your Dog
The first port of call will be to seek advice from your veterinarian immediately to identify if anal gland problems are the cause of the fishy scent. If anal sac problems are indeed the cause, the vet will either express (drain) the glands, or prescribe medication if he/she thinks the problem may be anal sac disease.
As with most health issues in dogs, prevention is better than cure. Preventing anal sac disease will help keep that unpleasant fishy odor at bay. Keeping the anal glands expressed as and when is required – and not allowing the problem to linger – will help keep your dog’s anus healthy.
If you regularly take your dog to a groomer, they will likely check for anal sac disease, and can express anal glands if needed.
On rare instances, your dog may need surgery to remove the anal gland issues by flushing them under anaesthesia. This is likely to only happen if the issue is ongoing and isn’t improving with emptying. Afterwards, pain medication will be prescribed for any discomfort.
Preventing Anal Gland Issues (& the Fish Smell!)
The best way to prevent your dog’s anal glands from having any issues that will lead to that fishy odor is by making sure your pup has a well-balanced, high-fiber diet. Your vet may also recommend introducing fish oil into their diet, such as Omega-3 supplements or cod liver oil.
Another good way to prevent impacted anal glands is to always keep your dog at a healthy weight. Overweight dogs are more prone to this problem because they have weaker muscles in the rectum, which prevents healthy and regular anal gland secretions. Make sure your dog’s water bowl is always full, as this helps stimulate the bowels.
Other Causes of a Fishy Smell
Yeast Infection or Overgrowth
Bacteria may build up in the warm, damp skin/ear areas of your dog. This can be more applicable to female dogs, as they can occasionally suffer from vaginitis. Along with a fishy smell, you may also notice yellow or white discharge coming from that area. Speak to your vet immediately.
Bacteria is prone to building up in the skin folds of your dogs, so keep them regularly bathed, and make sure they are dried properly afterwards.
Foul Smelling Breath
Dental disease in dogs will cause fishy breath, and is quite common in older dogs. Keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy, and make sure your vet checks his/her teeth during wellness checks.
Dog Smells: FAQs
Can I Empty My Dog’s Anal Glands Myself?
You can empty your dog’s anal sacs at home, providing you’re shown how to correctly do it from a trained professional. However, it is a messy, smelly job, and can be one best left to the vet or the groomers.
Do I Need to Have My Dog’s Anal Glands Emptied Regularly?
Not unless there is a reason why it’s not happening naturally when your dog defecates. Dogs suffering from a foul odor, or if you’re noticing your dog scooting a lot, this can indicate that for some reason your dog’s anus isn’t doing its job properly, in which case you’ll need to investigate as to why and seek the appropriate solution.
What Happens If You Don’t Express Your Dog’s Glands?
This will cause a build-up of bacteria in the dog’s anal gland area, which will then lead to an abscess or infection. Anal glands that are impacted or infected are unpleasant and uncomfortable for your dog, so if it appears there is an issue in the anal gland department, seek medical advice immediately.