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What’s That Stink? The Legit Reason Why Your Dog Smells Like Fish

Dental issues, skin infections, urinary infections and anal gland disorders can produce a fishy odor in dogs.

If you’re sitting on the couch next to your dog and all of a sudden you get a whiff of something fishy, most likely it’s your dog’s anal glands.

Don’t worry, while this nasty smell is quite foul, it’s actually a common occurrence in dogs. 

 However, if the fishy odor doesn’t go away or gets worse, it could be the sign of something else going on. 

Read on to see what other health conditions can cause dogs to smell like fish. 

What Are Anal Glands?

Anal glands are actually sacs that are located inside your dog’s anus. 

There are two small sacs located at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock just inside the anus. (this is how I learned the position of them when I was a vet tech)

location of anal glands on a dog

These sacs are lined with sweat glands (scent glands) that release a nasty-smelling fluid that acts as a scent marker for dogs.

When your dog goes poop, the fecal presses against the sacs, they release the anal gland secretions and this provides a unique scent and other information to other dogs about your dog.

I know, it’s weird but also kind of cool as long as the fluid doesn’t get on you or your furniture.

Some dogs will also express their anal glands when they’re excited or scared.

Dog owners usually describe the smell as fishy. 

I  personally think that it has a very disntinct metallic fishy odor. 

Anal Gland Disease

Some dogs have anal sac disease which is a pretty common condition in smaller breeds or obese dogs but any dog can have issues with its anal sacs.

Anal sac disease is when a dog’s anal glands get impacted, infected or abscessed. 

Impacted Anal Glands

Some dogs are not able to express all the contents in their anal glands when they poop.

This causes the anal gland secretion to dry up and become impacted in the sac. 

Sometimes the dried-up fluid blocks the narrow ducts in the dog’s anal sacs so the glands fill up. 

When the glands fill up and the dog can’t express them on its own it’s painful.

Signs that a dog has impacted anal glands are:

  • Licking or biting at their butt
  • Scooting or dragging their bottom across the floor
  • Straining to defecate

This means that their anal glands need to be expressed by a veterinarian or veterinarian technician.

Infected or Abscessed Anal Glands

If left untreated, impacted anal glands can become infected or abscessed.

When the dog’s anal glands become infected they get swollen and painful.

Instead of being a thin seceretion, the fluid becomes thick like a paste and it won’t express manually. 

Sometimes they will rupture which produces an open would. 

It’s a serious condition and very painful for the dog.

Anal Sac Tumors

Some dogs will have anal gland tumors which will limit your dog’s ability to express their anal glands. 

These tumors are not very common in dogs and if your dog has anal gland issues, your vet is probably checking for tumors each time they are in to have their anal glands expressed.

Common Signs Of Anal Gland Disease

common signs of anal gland disease in dogs

Besides your dog having a fishy odor, other common signs of anal gland disease can be:

  • Biting or licking at their butt or tail
  • Scooting or dragging their rear end across the floor
  • Difficulty pooping
  • Straining to poop
  • Soft stool
  • Crying or whining when they have a bowel movement
  • Blood or pus in their stool
  • A hard lump near their rectum

Preventing Anal Sac Disease

While some dog breeds are prone to anal sac disease, there are a few preventative measures you can take to help to keep that fishy smell at bay. 

  • Feeding a high-fiber dog food
  • Keep your dog from becoming overweight
  • Make sure that your dog is drinking plenty of fresh water
  • Monitor your dog’s bowel movements to make sure that they are pooping normally

Other Reasons Your Dog Might Smell Like Fish

common reasons a dog smells like fish are anal gland disease, tooth infections, tartar, skin infections and urinary infections

While anal glands are the most common cause that most dogs smell like fish, a few other conditions can also cause this bad odor too. 

  • Unhealthy teeth such as tartar buildup and gingivitis
  • Tooth infection
  • Skin infection such as hot spots or allergy
  • Urinary tract infections

Fishy Breath

dental disease can cause a fishy odor in a dog's mouth

A foul odor coming from a dog’s mouth can be a sign of periodontal disease or a tooth infection. 

Pet parents can brush their dog’s teeth regularly and maintain routine dental care with their veterinarian to stay on top of dental disease.

An infected tooth can also give a dog a fishy smell. 

If you notice your dog not eating well, pawing at their mouth, struggling to chew their food or treats and a case of bad breath, schedule an appointment with the vet so that they can check your dog’s mouth.

Skin Infections

skin infections that come with allergies can sometimes cause a dog to have a fish smell

Skin infections such as hot spots can also produce stinky odors. 

Skin infections can sometimes be caused by food allergies.

They can produce a bacterial infection or a yeast infection that can become quite nasty if not addressed.

If your dog is biting at their skin and it’s red with discharge, they probably have a skin infection and you should make a visit to the vet.

Dog’s with reoccurring skin infections might be allergic to certain food or they may have environmental allergies.

In cases like this, your veterinarian may discuss a hypoallergenic diet.

If Your Dog’s Pee Smells like Fish

Male dogs and female dogs can get urinary tract infections. 

If you notice a strong pungent smell when your dog urinates, they straining to urinate, urinating small amounts or urinating more often than normal, you should reach out to your vet.

Female dogs that are not spayed can also experience vaginal discharge and are also at risk for pyometra

Pyometra has an unpleasant strong odor.

It is an infection in the uterus and it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately. 

What To Do When Your Dog Smells Fishy

why your dog smells like fish

If your dog smells like fish, the best thing to do is to reach out to your veterinarian. 

Your dog might have full anal glands and they probably need to be manually expressed.

If your dog routinely needs its anal glands expressed you can ask your vet to show you how to do it or reach out to a professional groomer.

However, infected and impacted anal glands should only be dealt with by a veterinarian. 

If your dog does have infected anal glands your vet will clean them, prescribe an antibiotic and sometimes offer a pain medication to help ease the pain. 

In some cases, the infected anal gland may need to be flushed to remove all the dried secretions from the sack. 

Some dogs with severe anal gland issues may need to have them removed. 

If your dog accidentally leaks some anal secretion onto your couch or blanket, throw your blanket in the dryer and clean your couch an enzymatic cleaner like Natures Miracle. 

This can help remove most of that unpleasant smell but you might have to wash it a few times.

For your dog, you can use DIY dog wipes, store-bought pet wipes or dry shampoo to help remove the smell. 

If you’re still not if that stinky fish smell is coming from your dog’s anal sacs or if they might have something else going on, the best way to know for sure is to take your dog in to see their veterinarian!

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