Why Do Dogs Smell Like Fish?

If you have a dog, you already know that it does not smell like roses. But even if dogs have a natural dog smell, they should never have a terrible smell. Sometimes dogs smell like fish, and the scent seems to come from their butts. But what is the reason for this strange smell?

When dogs smell like fish, it is not normal. It is usually caused by the dog’s anal glands, which are either too full or diseased. Small dogs are more prone to this than large ones. If your dog smells like fish and rolls back and forth on the floor, this is often a sign that the anal glands are full.

There are many causes of a foul odor in dogs. In some cases, the problem can be quickly remedied. If the dog has gotten wet, it needs to be dried. If he has been digging in the garbage, he needs a bath.

In other cases, however, it may be medical such as an ear infection, dental problems, flatulence or anal gland problems. The strong, fishy smell some dogs can give is hard to miss.

In this article, we discuss why dogs sometimes smell strongly of fish. We explain what anal glands are in dogs and what their function is.

And finally, learn how to end your dog’s fishy smell once and for all.

Is It Normal for Dogs to Smell Like Fish?

Most dogs have a typical body odor that you get used to as a dog owner. Their smell can become more intense when they play outside and get wet.

There are also several other reasons for more intense odor in dogs that may have a more serious background. However, the odor should never be so strong as to cause concern.

Dogs can smell a bit musty if you sniff them extensively, but you shouldn’t be able to smell them all over the room.

A strong fishy odor is not typical for dogs and often indicates some anal gland problem.

What Are the Anal Glands in Dogs?

A dog’s anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are located on the right and left sides of the anus.

These sacs contain sweat glands that produce a smelly fluid. This fluid should be excreted in small amounts with each bowel movement.

The anal glands allow the dog to leave its individual scent with each transaction. The secretions from the glands are his scent marker. This will enable them to alert other dogs that they have been there.

However, the fluid is secreted with each bowel movement and when a dog is startled or alarmed.

Sudden loud noises or stressful events can cause a dog to release the fluid from its anal glands.

This then leads to a fishy smell that fills the entire room. While this smells unpleasant to humans, it is entirely normal.

The anal glands should empty a little every time the dog has a bowel movement, but this doesn’t always happen.

Some dogs have difficulty emptying their glands. Then, they need to be expressed regularly by a veterinarian.

How to Recognize That the Anal Glands Are Full

Anal glands hide in the dog’s anus, so it is difficult for dog owners to tell when they are full.

The glands can be very uncomfortable for the dog when they are too full. Dogs usually then show some signs that you can recognize.

Some of the most common symptoms of anal gland issues in dogs are:

  • Licking the rear end
  • Wiggling the butt
  • A sudden foul odor coming from the dog’s body
  • Leaving foul-smelling fluid on places he sits or lies on
  • Swelling or redness around the anus
  • Straining to defecate

If your dog is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, this is often his way of telling you that his anal glands are too full.

How Often Should a Dog’s Anal Glands Be Emptied?

The frequency with which a dog’s anal glands must be emptied varies from dog to dog.

Some dogs only need to be manually emptied once or twice a year, while others need this procedure every month.

The answer to this question depends on how well your dog can empty his glands by himself and whether he is prone to diseases of the anal glands.

Small dogs are more likely to have anal gland emptying problems than large dogs. Because the force of defecation empties anal glands, small dogs do not always muster enough strength to empty them.

This is also a challenge for overweight dogs because they cannot straighten up as well as a normal-weight, well-trained dog.

The best way to determine how often your dog’s anal glands should be expressed is to watch for signs of discomfort.

Observe how long it takes for your dog to show discomfort after a vet visit. This will help you determine the usual time until the subsequent manual emptying.

What is Anal Gland Disease?

As mentioned, some dogs have more problems with their anal glands than others. Anal gland or anal sac disease is a catch-all term for all types of anal gland complications, from infections to tumors.

To help you better understand possible complications, we will now discuss the different forms of anal gland disease.

Impaired Anal Glands

If a dog can properly empty its anal glands with each bowel movement, the fluid in the glands should be slightly thin and yellow to brown.

If a dog cannot empty its anal glands, the residual fluid thickens and becomes more challenging to expel. This makes it more difficult to empty the anal gland, resulting in a clogged one.

These clogged glands then need to be manually expressed. They can become infected if not treated quickly. This is also highly uncomfortable for the dog as they show signs of constipation.

Most dogs with a blocked anal gland waddle constantly. They may also lick their rear end and even show slight redness or irritation in the area.

Anal Gland Abscess

If anal glands are not emptied and secretions accumulate, this can quickly lead to a severe infection called an anal gland abscess.

This abscess is extremely painful for the dog and must be professionally drained and cleaned to prevent damage to the area.

Removing these abscesses requires proper sedation, allowing the veterinarian to puncture and drain the infected gland.

After draining the gland, your veterinarian will often prescribe pain medication and antibiotics for the following weeks.

If this is the case with your dog, your veterinarian will usually recommend coming in once a month to make sure the glands are draining properly in the future.

Dogs prone to infections often require monthly drainage by a veterinarian or, as directed by the veterinarian, at home.

Anal Gland Tumors

Anal gland tumors, while not as common as blockages or abscesses, do occur. Adenocarcinomas are dogs’ most common anal gland tumors, which often invade other tissues.

Not only are these tumors uncomfortable for the dog, but they can also make bowel movements difficult as the tumor grows.

Once these tumors are discovered, they can be difficult to remove. They often begin to invade other tissues before diagnosis.

If possible, surgery is the best option. However, it is often not a cure because large pieces of tissue cannot be removed in such a delicate area. However, each situation varies in severity.

If your dog has such a tumor, it is best to talk to your veterinarian about the best treatment plan.

How Do I Get Rid of the Fishy Odor in My Dog?

A warm bath, extra scrubbing, or a special shampoo is not enough to eliminate a dog’s fishy smell.

The best way to solve the problem is to take your dog to the vet to empty the glands. Even the most fragrant bath will not rid your dog of the stench if the glands are not emptied.

Any other attempt to remove the odor will only be a temporary solution. No home remedy can solve this problem.

The only way to treat the problem and rid your dog of his discomfort and the smell of fish is to express the anal glands.

If your dog constantly needs anal gland emptying, you can ask your vet to manually show you how to empty the glands at home.

This is a common practice for dogs that need to empty their anal glands once a month and is easy to do if you are adequately trained.

As unpleasant as this task may be, it can eventually become part of the daily routine for many dog owners.

How to Keep Your Dog’s Anal Glands Healthy

Some dogs struggle with the health of their anal glands more than others. However, there are ways to help dogs keep their anal glands healthy.

Ways to promote the health of your dog’s anal glands include:

  • Provide your dog with daily exercise
  • Ensure your dog has a healthy weight
  • Feed your dog a high-fiber diet
  • Offer your dog high-fiber treats like oatmeal and sweet potatoes
  • Mix fruits and vegetables like squash or zucchini into your dog’s food
  • Make sure your dog has regular bowel movements
  • Check to see if your dog is having solid bowel movements
  • Make sure your dog drinks plenty of clean water
  • Give your dog daily probiotic supplements that promote intestinal health

This may not prevent anal gland disease in every dog, but it can make their lives easier.

Also, watch for signs of full glands in your dog so you can react quickly when the time comes. This way, you can avoid complications in the future.

Summary: Why Do Dogs Smell Like Fish?

Anal gland complications are a common problem in dogs. It’s nothing to be overly concerned about and usually resolves itself with proper treatment and care.

If your dog starts smelling like fish, the anal glands are the cause. You can actively promote the health of the anal glands, but if they are full or clogged, a visit to the vet is in order.

When in doubt, it is always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian to avoid such problems in the future if possible. However, depending on the dog, it usually cannot be prevented entirely.