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Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? 5 Reasons

Dogs are one of the best beings to ever exist on this planet. They’re loyal and friendly creatures that make excellent companions. But they don’t always have the freshest smell.

It’s normal for dogs to have a stinky aroma sometimes. They like to play in the dirt and grass outside. Sometimes, no matter what you do, they will jump into a puddle. They also love to lick their paws, which can trap bacteria. Usually, a wash will remove the smell. But what happens when there’s an odor that just does not want to go away

If your dog has a fishy smell that lingers, it doesn’t mean they lost a fight with a marine animal. There’s usually a medical reason behind this. Let’s explore the most common reasons for your dog smelling like fish.

golden-retriever-on-the-beach why does my dog smell like fish
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Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? 5 Reasons

So what can cause your furry friend to smell like they fell in a lake? Here is a list of the most common reasons for a fishy-smelling doggo.

1. Anal Sac Disorders


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Anal glands are used as scent markers by dogs. They’re little sacs filled with fluid that get expressed every time your dog has a bowel movement to mark their territory and help them find the next place to defecate later. Sometimes impaction and infection can cause issues for your pup. Here are some of the most common anal sac disorders.

Every time your dog goes out to defecate, its anal glands are expressed. However, sometimes the fluid doesn’t empty out completely. The liquid left in the anal glands can become dry and cause impaction to occur. It can also happen due to soft stools that don’t express the anal glands adequately.

Impacted anal glands are painful and cannot be expressed properly when they defecate. If left impacted for too long, they can become abscessed. If you notice a fishy smell, your dog scooting around on the floor, and difficulty defecating, it’s time to go to the vet. Another issue that can arise is an infection in the anal sac. 

If your dog has an anal sac infection, it will receive a round of antibiotics. However, if the anal glands have become abscessed, they will need to be drained. The symptoms are similar to an impaction — a fishy smell, scooting around, and excessive licking of their anus. 

sick brown dog

Being overweight can increase the risk of anal sac disease as they don’t have the muscle tone to express their anal glands fully. Other risks include food, environment, hyperthyroidism, and yeast infections.

A tumor in your dog’s anal sac can decrease its ability to express its anal glands fully. In most cases, they won’t express themselves at all. Along with the common symptoms of fishy smell, difficulty defecating and scooting around, there are also other things to look out for. Decreased appetite, increased thirst and urination, decreased activity, and weight loss can indicate an anal sac tumor. 

You can also feel around their anal glands. If they are enlarged or firm, it could indicate a tumor or just be impaction. If it is a tumor, a vet will usually take a biopsy to see if the tumor is cancerous before deciding the next course of action.


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2. Your Dog Has Teeth Problems

Everyone loves puppy breath. Such a specific smell makes humans swoon, like smelling the top of a baby’s head. But their breath will change as dogs age and start eating solid food. And sometimes that change is not so nice.

In general, your dog’s breath should not smell too strong. However, if a fishy smell starts resonating from their mouth, that may be cause for concern. Dental issues are common amongst dogs because it’s not like they brush their teeth daily. 

dog having its teeth brushed

It’s up to us to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Dental chews, teeth brushing, and regular vet cleanings will keep the harmful bacteria at bay. If your dog does have fishy-smelling breath, it’s time to get them to a vet. Some dental issues can include gingivitis, plague, upset stomach, or tartar. 

The problem could be more serious, like tumors, tooth abscesses, or even tooth decay. Taking them to a vet will rule out these issues, and once they’re sorted, you can go back to enjoying some puppy kisses.

3. Fishy Urine from UTIs

Fun fact: even though you and your dog have different diets, their urine should still smell like yours. So if you smell a strong odor from your dog’s urine that wasn’t there before, it might be a bacterial issue. 

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are the most common reason for fishy-smelling urine. Luckily it’s an easy cure. If your vet suspects a UTI, they will put your dog on a round of antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria causing the infection. 

Fishy-smelling urine can also be due to bladder or kidney stones. The rarest but most severe causes of fishy-smelling urine include prostate issues in male dogs and cancer.

4. Your Female Dog Has a Vaginal Issue

Your female dog has a range of natural bacterial flora that live in her vagina. So if your good girl has a fishy smell and you’ve eliminated all of the above, it could be vaginitis. There are many causes of vaginitis, including a UTI or fecal matter coming into contact with the vagina. This can induce the natural bacteria to change and cause an infection.

Female dogs can also get an infection of the uterus called pyometra. This is a serious condition that needs surgery. You can usually suspect this if you see a white-yellow discharge coming from her vaginal area. Pyometra only happens in dogs that have not been spayed.

If your dog is spayed and still has this discharge, there might be an infection caused by the surgeon leaving the stump of the uterus behind. Ultimately, if you have ruled out all of the above issues and there is discharge coming from your female dog, you might want to get her to a vet as soon as possible.


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5. Yeast Infection

Yeast infections and some dog breeds just go hand in hand. Dogs with a lot of excess skin, such as bulldogs are prone to yeast infections occurring in the skin folds. Yeast infections can also occur in the ears, around the eyes, or between their paw pads. 

This condition can cause a fishy smell to radiate from your furry friend. The area will also be red and itchy, and there can be a build-up of brown yeast that needs to be cleared away. If you think your dog has a yeast infection, it’s worth a trip to the vet. 

The best way to prevent yeast infections is by bathing them as regularly as their breed needs. Use warm water and a specialized doggy shampoo. Also, try to limit carbohydrates in their diet.


Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish When Stressed?

This one goes back to the anal glands. Sometimes when your pooch is scared or stressed, they will express their anal glands and release that fishy-smelling substance within. It’s not usually a problem unless your dog smells like fish most of the time. In this case, it’s just a natural response to a stressful situation.

How To Express Their Anal Glands

The rule is never to try to do this yourself. Expressing your dog’s anal glands without training or knowledge of how to do it correctly can cause trauma to the area. It can also cause damage to the anal sac duct, which can increase the risk of future impactions.

Instead, leave it to your vet to do the expression. Some groomers are trained in expressing anal glands but rather speak to your vet first. Groomers might be able to help if the impaction is small. But if it is a medical issue, your dog might need help from a professional. Your vet will be able to show you how to do it yourself if it becomes a common problem.


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How To Prevent Anal Sac Diseases

A healthy diet and exercise regime seem to be the answer to everything, but it works. Ensure your furry friend’s food has a lot of fiber to keep their digestive system healthy. Also, make sure your pup has access to fresh and clean water at all times.

Water can make stool easier to pass, reducing stress on your dog’s anal glands. Consider getting your furry friend a water dispenser with a filtering system.

german shepherd running

Frequent exercise helps build your dog’s muscle tone and will aid in expressing their anal glands when they defecate. And then finally, and this one might be a bit gross — keep an eye on their poop. Ensure it is well-formed, not too soft or too hard, and keep an eye out for any strange colors.

Final Thoughts on Why Dogs Smell Like Fish

A healthy diet and lots of exercise are crucial to keeping your dog healthy. And if they have a strange smell, it’s best to take them to a vet just to rule out any medical issues.

If you realize your furry friend is smelling bad most of the time and there’s no medical reason for this, be sure to buy them a good quality shampoo and give them a proper bath. Perhaps you can turn it into a little spa day for you and your pooch.

golden toy poodle on the run

I covered all of the costs associated with writing this post on why does my dog smell like fish. However, it does contain affiliate links. That means if you click through on some of the links in this article and end up making a purchase I may receive a small commission. It won’t affect the price that you pay. Just wanted to let you know.

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