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What's That Smell?!?!

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Have you noticed that your pet has an unpleasant odor? It can take more than a good scrub in the tub to get rid of pet odors – and it’s not always dirt making your pet stink! Sometimes, strong pet odor is the result of an underlying medical issue. Treating the issue causing the odor can often make the bad smell go away, so it’s important to investigate why your pet isn’t smelling so “fresh” all of a sudden. Here are some of the main causes for pet odor:

  • Getting Dirty

  • Ear infections

  • Skin issues or infections

  • Anal glands

  • Dental disease

  • Urinary issues

  • Lack of grooming


Getting Dirty

This is the most obvious cause of bad pet odor and one of the easiest to solve. Pets who like to roll around in the dirt, grass, garbage, or other pet’s “droppings” may require more frequent baths than other pets. We recommend bathing your pet anytime they are visibly dirty, as mud can cause skin irritation when caked on to the fur or skin. Additionally, urine and feces on your pet’s fur can also cause skin irritation – and is not very hygienic. If your pet requires frequent baths, oatmeal and aloe shampoo is a great option that is easy on the skin.

Sometimes, pets get REALLY dirty and need more than a basic when a skunk decides to spray. If a skunk feels threatened, it releases a foul-smelling oily substance to defend itself. If your pet is unlucky and gets too close to a skunk, it is important to act quickly to neutralize the odors. Since the substance is very oily, it will take more than water and shampoo to get rid of the smell. One of the best ways to combat skunk smell is a mixture of 3-4 parts hydrogen peroxide to 1 part baking soda, with dish detergent added to the mix. Make sure to avoid getting the mixture in the eyes, nose, and mouth!

While tomato juice is thought to be an effective way to combat skunky odors, tomatoes don’t have any properties that break down the odors – and can stain light-colored pets pink!

Skunk spray in the mouth can cause nausea and vomiting, and can be extremely damaging to the eyes. Follow up with your vet immediately if your pet has been sprayed in the mouth or eyes.

Ear Infections

If you bathed your pet and are still noticing an odor, it may be time to look for the source of the smell elsewhere. One source of pet odor is the ears – more specifically infected ears. Ear infections in pets are caused by an excess of yeast or bacteria in the ears. The presence of yeast and bacteria emits an odor that can be very strong in spite of affecting a small space. Any dog or cat can get ear infections or be prone to recurring infections, but dogs with long, floppy ears tend to be the most susceptible. Ear infections are commonly caused by allergies, moisture in the ears, and ear position.

Ear infections often result in your pet shaking or scratching at their ears, excessive debris or wax in the ears, or red and inflamed skin in the ears. Medicated ear flush or ointment is usually required to resolve ear infections, so it’s best to follow up with your vet if your pet is displaying these symptoms. Your veterinarian can perform an ear cytology to determine the cause of the ear infection and prescribe the appropriate medications.

To prevent ear infections, we recommend routinely cleaning your pet’s ears using an ear wash that contains a drying agent. Pets who are prone to ear infections should have their ears flushed and cleaned 1-2 times a week, or as instructed by your vet. Additionally, your pet should always have their ears flushed after their ears get wet, such as playing outside in the rain, bathing, or swimming. Pets who suffer from allergies and recurring ear infections will often need their allergies addressed and managed to see long-term improvement.

Skin Infections

Just like the ears, the skin can become odorous when an overwhelming amount of yeast and bacteria are present. It is normal for microorganisms like yeast and bacteria to be present on your pet’s skin, but issues arise when there is an overgrowth of yeast and bacteria. Yeast and bacteria like warm, moist environments and multiple quickly across inflamed skin. When your pet’s skin becomes irritated – from allergies, poor grooming, constant moisture, insect bites – your pet may lick and chew the area for relief, creating the perfect place for yeast and bacteria to thrive. Common places for yeast and bacteria infections are the paws, arm pits, under the tail, and skin folds.

Yeast and bacteria on the skin can cause strong odors that regular pet shampoo will not be able to tackle. To get rid of odors associated with skin issues, you will need to treat your pet’s skin. Your veterinarian can perform a skin cytology to determine the cause of the skin infection and prescribe the appropriate medications. Your veterinarian can also recommend a medicated shampoo that will help resolve the skin issues as well.

Your nose doesn’t lie – pets often have a stronger odor when they are wet! It is normal for some microorganisms like yeast or bacteria to live on our pets. When dry, these microorganisms have little to no odor, but have a strong scent when wet or while drying.

Anal Sacs

Dogs and cats have two small sacs (also called anal glands) inside of their anus that hold a thick, oily substance. Usually, the normal process of defecation can help empty the sacs, but some pets may not be able to fully empty their anal sacs on their own. When the sacs are unable to empty, the sacs become full and can cause an unpleasant odor. If not expressed, full anal sacs can become impacted and rupture, which is very painful and requires medical treatment.

Every pet has a unique scent, but anal sacs often have a fishy or metallic odor, which can be a strong indicator that your pet needs to have their anal sacs manually expressed. Some pets may never have issues expressing their anal sacs, while others may need routine expressions their entire life. Other indicators include scooting and excessive licking or chewing near the tail or anus.

Anal sac expression can be performed at home, but can be very messy, smelly, and should only be done with proper instruction from a professional, as this procedure can be harmful to your pet if done incorrectly. For this reason, most chose to bring their pets to the vet for anal sac expression. We include a complimentary anal sac expression with all of our exams, and also offer walk-in anal sac expressions for a small service fee. It is not uncommon for residual odor to remain around your pet’s back end, but washing your pet’s rear end or giving them a bath should resolve the issue.

Dental Disease

Bad breath is another major cause of pet odor. Bad breath is usually caused by bacteria in the mouth in the form of plaque and tartar on the teeth. The more advanced the dental disease is, the stronger the odors in the mouth will be. While dental treats and teeth brushing may improve your pet’s breath in the early stages of dental disease, a professional teeth cleaning is often required to remove plaque and tartar and resolve bad breath. Apart from curing bad breath, professional dental cleanings have so many other health benefits, which you can read about here:

Follow up with your veterinarian if you notice an overwhelming foul odor coming from the mouth or notice a sudden change in your pet’s breath. Broken or damaged teeth, foreign objects lodged in the mouth, and oral masses can create foul odors in the mouth and require treatment. Other symptoms to watch for include: reluctance to eat, painful around face, mouth, or nose, excessive drooling or nasal discharge, pawing or rubbing at face, difficulty opening mouth. Do not attempt to open your pet’s mouth if they seem painful.

Urinary Issues

Just like humans, dogs and cats can get urinary tract infections, bladder stones, and a number of other diseases that affect the kidneys and urinary system. These issues can cause more frequent urination, struggling to urinate, urinary incontinence or inappropriate urination, excessive drinking, and blood in the urine. These symptoms can cause your pet dribble urine or get urine on their fur, creating an unmistakable odor. Diagnostic testing and medical treatment is required for most urinary issues.

If you notice a persistent smell of urine on your pet even with frequent bathing, you should follow up with your veterinarian. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet is unable to urinate, as a urinary blockage is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate attention. You can read more on urinary blockages here:

Lack of Grooming

Dogs and cats with long or curly fur often require more grooming upkeep than short-haired breeds. Your pet’s fur should be clean at all times (free of visible dirt, urine, feces), free of mats or tangles, and free of burrs, stickers, or foxtails. Even pets who groom themselves need a helping hand sometimes, and often need assistance when visibly dirty. Unruly fur can hold odors and irritate the skin, which can also lead to unpleasant odors. To keep your pet’s fur clean and healthy, we recommend regular brushing, bathing, or grooming, if your pet is prone to tangles or mats.

How do you know if your pet’s fur is tangled or matted? Mats will not be able to be brushed out. If your pet becomes matted, the mats will need to be removed, usually by shaving the fur. Matted fur is painful and pulls on the skin, so it’s better to stay on top of grooming to avoid mats forming at all.

If you have noticed a strange odor coming from your pet, or need to bring your pet in for a routine bath, please give us a call at 972-347-6100 for assistance.


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