6 Odors That Can Spell Trouble

Your nose may be one of your handiest - and most sensitive - indicators of your dog's overall health. And any scent that falls too far out of the ordinary may be a cause for concern and a good excuse to see your veterinarian. If you notice any of these six smells or odors...

pet odors

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • Scents that stray too far out of the ordinary for your pet, or which are particularly offensive or noxious, can be cause for concern
  • If you smell a strong musty smell coming from your dog, it could be a yeast or bacterial infection; an infection in the ears or skin may cause a sweet or musty odor
  • A putrid, rotten meat odor can be a sign of parvovirus
  • A sweet odor coming from your pet’s skin could be a sign of a staph infection, especially if you notice areas of redness, bumps or oozing
  • A strong, fish-like odor coming from your pet’s backside could be due to the expression of their anal glands
  • No matter the odor, if you’re unsure whether or not it’s normal, a trip to your integrative veterinarian can help clear up the issue
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Your pet probably has a unique scent that’s all their own. This is normal, as is a slight “corn chip” smell to your dog’s feet. This is the result of the mixture of bacteria, fungi and yeast that make up your dog’s skin microbiome.1 Scents that stray too far out of the ordinary, however, or which are particularly offensive or noxious, can be cause for concern.

Just as you keep an eye on your pet watching for physical signs of illness, your nose can be one of the most sensitive indicators of your dog’s overall health. If you notice any of the odors that follow, it could be time for a trip to the vet.

If You Smell This, Time to See a Veterinarian

Yeast-Like Smell — If you smell a strong yeasty smell coming from your dog, it could be a yeast or bacterial infection. An infection in the ears or skin may cause a sweet or musty odor. It may also smell like stinky feet. Ear mites can also cause a foul odor, similar to ear infections caused by yeast or bacteria.2

Pay careful attention to skin folds and between the toes — areas where moisture and heat collect, encouraging bacterial and yeast overgrowth.

"The biggest thing is, if it doesn't smell right or look right, it's always a good idea to have your family vet take a look first. Or, if it's something that's more persistent, and not getting better, potentially seek out an exam by a dermatologist," Dr. Joya Griffin, a veterinary dermatologist at Animal Dermatology Clinic –Louisville, told Insider.3

Putrid, Foul Odors — Any odor from your pet that makes you wince is cause for concern. Infection is a likely cause, including skin abscesses, which are collections of pus on the body.

“Abscesses smell terrible, putrid,” Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinary expert with Pumpkin Pet Insurance, told HuffPost. “You’ll never forget the smell! Abscesses are usually associated with local swelling of the skin, redness, pain, inflammation, and may be oozing pus.”4 If you notice a putrid, rotten meat odor, your pet may have parvovirus. Wooten continued:

“Parvovirus is a highly infectious, often fatal viral disease that results in severe vomiting and diarrhea that is usually associated with a lower GI [gastrointestinal] bleed. The smell of parvo is terrible and can knock you off your feet. The dog and the stool smell like rotting meat and may have a metallic edge to it because of iron in the bloody stool.”

Sweet Smells — A sweet odor coming from your dog’s skin could be a sign of a staph infection, especially if you notice areas of redness, bumps or oozing. Certain types of ear infections can also emit a sweet odor. If your dog or cat’s breath smells sweet, it could be due to uncontrolled diabetes, especially if your pet has also lost weight or drinks and urinates excessively.5

Fishy Odor — A strong, fish-like odor coming from your pet’s backside could be due to the expression of their anal glands. This is normal on occasion. It’s thought that dogs may express anal gland fluid to mark territory as well as do so involuntarily if they’re stressed or afraid.6 However, if the odor is persistent or unusually strong, there could be a problem.

“Dogs and cats have two anal glands at the 3 and 7 o’clock position of their anus,” Wooten said (although it’s more 4 and 8 o’clock). “Usually there is no smell coming from these glands. However, dogs and cats may express their anal glands when they are scared, which can result in a strong, fishy, musty smell that hangs on even after you clean yourself and your pet.”7

In addition to an unusually strong or persistent odor, signs of anal gland problems may include scooting along the floor, licking the area or blood in the stool.8

Bad Breath — Bad breath, or halitosis, may be a sign of systemic issues like kidney, respiratory or liver diseases or diabetes — and it’s likely the result of periodontal disease in your dog or cat. If your pet’s mouth is healthy, it shouldn’t have a particularly offensive odor.

However, in addition to periodontal disease, the most common reason for bad breath in dogs and cats, there are many other reasons why your pet’s breath could be particularly stinky, including skin disease involving the lips, oral trauma, such as an injury due to an electric cord, cancer, mouth sores or a mouth ulcer.9

Even debris caught in your pet’s mouth could be responsible for a bad odor. The following types of bad breath may also be indicative of systemic diseases:10

  • Sweet breath — diabetes
  • Urine-like breath — kidney disease
  • Foul-smelling breath — liver disease or an intestinal blockage

Excessive Gas — If your dog’s flatulence regularly clears out the room, it could be due to dietary issues, particularly foods not being properly digested. Flatulence and loud noises coming from the gut — known as borborygmi — may also occur if your dog has a stomach ache or is experiencing gastrointestinal distress.11

A nutritionally optimal, species-specific, fresh food diet, raw if possible, is best for your dog’s health and should naturally resolve excess gas.

Unusual Odor? Get It Checked Out — There are many other conditions that can also cause your pet to have an unpleasant odor, including poor grooming due to an underlying health condition. Particularly in cats, if your kitty’s coat has become smelly, greasy or matted because they’re not keeping clean like they used to, obesity, arthritis or another condition could be making proper grooming difficult.

Your veterinarian can stay on top of unusual odors at your pet’s annual wellness visits — or semiannual visits if your pet is older. However, bad odors should be checked out as soon as you notice them. No matter the odor, if you’re unsure whether or not it’s normal, a trip to your integrative veterinarian can help clear up the issue — and clear the air.