Dog 🐕parents 👩👶, you and I both know that dogs, well sometimes they stink. In fact, a lot of times, they stink. We get used to it though, right?
What's a little less normal is when you give them a bath, carefully groom their toes and their ears and their fuzzy little faces, dry them off, and bring them out to the couch for a little snuggle time, only to find that they still stink.
What's up with that?
I'm not just talking about wet dog smell, either. Yeah, a wet dog isn't the most pleasant of odors you can encounter in your day-to-day life, but it also goes away when you've thoroughly dried off your pup. I'm talking about a reek, a stench 🦨 that lingers once they're dry, an odor that clings to them and won't go away.
What could be causing this stink, and what can you do about it? I've found five primary causes of a lingering post-bath odor for you to check out. The #1 reason in my analysis is tooth or gum disease.
Pet parents interested in learning how to brush their dogs teeth should watch the educational video in this section. Dr. Clayton Greenway 👨⚕️ from Health Care for Pets offers his expert advise.
As always, if you are looking for more dog fur care resources, you can either skip all the way down to the bottom to the more fur care guides, or visit the toe beans pet parents blog, which by the way is loaded with 📚 resources, and you can search by topic.
Probably one of the most common causes of a smelly dog is their breath. Dogs can have foul mouths sometimes (not in the swearing sense, though!), and it usually comes down to one little cause: bacteria.
When left unchecked, the bacteria can lead to "periodontal disease." It will cause damage to the teeth, gums, or other structures of the mouth. It can happen in humans, too, which is why we brush our teeth, use mouthwash, floss regularly, and see the dentist twice yearly for cleaning. You do do that, right?
Well, whether you do or don't isn't my place to judge. What I know for sure is that your puppy pal certainly doesn't. They don't have hands to brush, they don't have the fine mouth control necessary to use mouthwash, and they certainly don't have the dexterity to floss.
Usually, periodontal disease is caused by a build-up of bacteria. The bacteria thrive in the warm, moist environment of the mouth and eat the remnants of sugars, carbs, and other bits of food your pup eats. They excrete a kind of acid that eats away at tooth enamel.
Now, if you know bacteria, you know that when they build up, those little nasties give off quite an odor.
In the mouth, it's what we call "halitosis," and it reeks! More importantly, it can cause cavities in the teeth, eventually wearing them down to the root, where it can cause an infection. That can lead to abscesses in the gums and even damage to the bone in the jaw and skull. Ouch!
"Periodontal disease is one of the most common diseases affecting dogs, with a reported prevalence of at least 80% in dogs over 3 years of age." - NIH.com.
Oral diseases can range from mildly unpleasant to very dangerous to your fur baby's overall health. As part of their annual check-up, your vet should check your pup’s oral health.
Don’t hesitate to bring up any concerns you might have. A lot can happen in a year, so if you notice any odd smells, give their mouth a sniff. Is it awful? More awful than normal? If so, give your vet a call and have them take a look sooner rather than later.
Moreover, if your fur baby is experiencing problems like an aversion to eating, swollen gums, or even a personality change that indicates pain (for example biting), take them to the vet ASAP.
If you've ever had a tooth infection, you know just how awful they can get, and you don't want your pupper to suffer the same.
Of course, as I repeatedly like to say, prevention will always be your best bet. Check out this educational video by Dr. Clayton Greenway from Healthcare for pets on how to brush a dog’s teeth.
Vet Tutorial | How to Brush a Dog's Teeth by Dr. Clayton Greenway
#2: Ear Infections
If you've given your fur baby's mouth a whiff and it doesn't seem any worse than normal, maybe it isn't the cause. Tooth decay is a common problem, and it's usually the number one cause of a bad odor post-bath, but it's not the only possibility. The next possible culprit is likely their ears.
That's right; dog ears can get pretty smelly! They're also very hard to clean because you really, really don't want to get water down in there. Water in the ear canal can cause all kinds of problems, so much so that I wrote a whole guide on how to dry out your fur baby's ears if they happen to get some water in them.
An ear infection is usually in the outer ear and is called otitis externa. Just like with tooth and gum disease, ear infections are most often caused by a build-up of bacteria. It can cause pain, it can cause worse problems if it's left untreated, and it smells pretty bad to boot.
Remember, sometimes a smelly coat can easily cover bad smells coming from other areas, so you may not notice a funky smell coming you’re your pup’s ears on day-to-day basis.
However, dogs with ear infections can smell pretty bad after a bath, and that smell will come directly from their ears. But that's not the only symptom.
If your fur baby is shaking their head a lot, scratching at their ears, rubbing their faces on the floor or against furniture, or has some kind of drainage coming from their ears, it's a surefire sign that they have an ear infection.
Luckily, ear infections aren't too bad to treat. You'll want to take your fur baby to the vet, of course. They'll be able to run a test to see if there's a particular bacteria in overabundance or if there's another obvious problem going on that could be causing it.
Once the vet knows for sure what is causing the ear infection, they can give you instructions on how to clear it out. Most of the time, it will involve medicated ear drops to kill off the bacteria or yeast overgrowth.
If you want to know more, I have a whole guide on ear infections over here. I did a ton of research, so you don't have to. Again, prevention will always be in the best interest of your pup. So, always make sure your pup has clean and dry ears. Especially if your dog has floppy ears.
Another common issue with dogs, and cause from stinky smells after a bath is the anal glands. Anal glands are little glands located near the anus, and they're used for scent marking.
These things are pretty foul, to begin with, but it's not usually a huge issue. Normally they express themselves naturally when your dog does a poo, so the majority of that nasty scent is bundled up with other nasty scents and thrown away.
The problem and resulting smell occurs when these glands get impacted and stopped up. The fluid in them won’t get expressed naturally and builds up, festering and getting grosser.
This starts to cause a fishy kind of smell, which will linger even after a bath because it's mostly internal to your poor fur baby.
This is something that needs to be taken care of, but luckily for the squeamish among us, it's usually better to let the vet do it.
You don't necessarily know the right way to handle it, and you don't want to hurt your fur baby by squeezing in the wrong place, right? Plus, if an anal gland has been impacted for long enough, it may have ended up infected, and then it will need draining, potentially flushing, some medication, and more.
If you notice your fur baby scooting their rear around, nibbling at their rear, or otherwise trying to worry at that part of their body, it's a sign that something may be up.
There are other reasons they might be scooting – worms, constipation, and irritation all come to mind – but anal gland problems will be pretty obvious when you're trying to diagnose an odor.
If your pup has regular trouble expressing their own anal glands, you can talk to your veterinarian about learning how to express at home so you can avoid those costly trips to a professional.
#4: Skin Problems
You gave your fur baby a bath, dried them off, and somehow, they still smell bad. Worse, their coat doesn't seem to be all that shiny, and they keep itching at themselves. What's going on?
In this case, the culprit is likely a skin infection. The skin is a barrier between the sensitive internal bits of the body and the outside world, full of nasties that want to get inside. It's a pretty effective barrier when it works right, but it's also surprisingly easy to disrupt its function.
Skin infections in dogs, at least widespread infections, are caused by yeast. They generally happen when your fur baby's skin falls out of balance, either because their skin dries out, or it's irritated by an allergen, or even if they get washed too frequently.
Yup, that's right; it's entirely possible to give your dog too many baths and cause them to smell worse because of it. Their skin dries out, usually because of the shampoo you use, and in reaction, they produce more skin oils. Those skin oils are protective, but they also are a perfect food for those little yeasts.
Dogs can also get bacterial skin infections, though these are usually more localized, like a rash or an infected scrape or cut. It ends up looking more like acne on your fur baby's skin. It can be pretty concerning!
Either way, skin infections end up pretty easy to diagnose when you know what to look for. Take a look at their skin beneath their fur, especially in areas where they're frequently scratching, and look for redness, bumps, flakes, or grease. If you see it – and you'll probably recognize it when you see it – you should take them to the vet.
Skin infections are also fairly easy to treat, though you may need to make some lifestyle adjustments to remove whatever is causing the problem, like an allergen or even too-frequent baths.
Your vet will probably give you either a medicated shampoo or some kind of lotion or ointment you can slather on the affected patches of your fur baby. It will clear up, and then you can get back to a normal, less-stinky life.
Dogs with wrinkles are more susceptible to skin infections in the skinfolds, a common one is known as skinfold pyoderma.
“Fleas, ticks, yeast, or fungal skin infections, thyroid disease or hormonal imbalances, heredity, and some medications (immunosuppressive drugs and higher doses of steroids) may increase the risk of your pet developing pyoderma.” - VCA Hospitals.
Once again, prevention will always be your best bet. Make sure that those skinfolds always remain dry and clean to help prevent any infections.
Not to come across as juvenile, but we've all been in the room when the pooch lets one rip, and that nasty odor can clear the room.
There are all kinds of reasons why flatulence and other digestive smells can linger, and they largely come back to diet. If your fur baby is getting into the garbage or just eating human food, it can cause problems.
They may also be allergic to an ingredient in the food you give them, so that's worth double-checking as well.
“Probiotics boost the healthy gut bacteria that help digest food. They are a well-known therapy for diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset. More recently, they’ve been found to counter urinary tract infections, immune system disorders and even anxiety.” - Cornell University | College of Veterinary Medicine.
If your pup has regular gastrointestinal issues, you might want to consider giving your them some kind of probiotic. Probiotics can foster a healthy gut, which helps them break down their food more easily and reduces smelly issues.
It’s worth noting that many dietary issues will manifest as skin issues, so these two causes can go hand-in-hand.
Remember, if your pup is a big groomer, anything that touches their tongue can be spread onto their fur as they lick, so consider their food selection if body odor pops up after a fresh bath, and their next meal.
Honorary Mention: The Skunk Encounter
Now, it's probably going to be pretty obvious if your fur baby got a little too curious about that black-and-white neighborhood "cat" and got sprayed for it.
Sometimes, though, they aren't sprayed directly and instead just roll in something that was, or otherwise encounter it second-hand. It won't be overpowering, but it will be noticeable. And unfortunately, it lingers after a bath.
The popular way to handle skunk smells is tomato juice, but that's more of an old wives' tale than a real remedy. For a real solution, mix up some dish soap, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide.
This mixture will strip away oils, which would usually be a bad thing. However, skunk spray is an oil, so this should help clear it up. Just don't let it sit; hydrogen peroxide can bleach fur!
Dealing with Dog Smells Like a Pro
Dogs have all kinds of reasons why they might smell before and after a bath. The trick is in narrowing down the problem.
First, take some time to watch them. Are they scooting, shaking their head, or suddenly only picking at their food? These can be signs of an infection in one of those affected areas.
Otherwise, take a look at their skin. Does it look irritated, inflamed, or infected? Pretty obvious, if so.
When in doubt, call your vet. You might not need to rush them in for an emergency appointment, but giving the vet a call can give you a chance to discuss the problem and determine whether or not you need to bring them in right away.
It’s also a good idea to wash your pup before their vet appointment so you can point out any specific smells you have a concern about.
Good luck, and may your smelly dog make it out the other side smelling a bit more like roses.
Have you ever had to assist your furry friend out of a smelly situation? If so, what was the cause, and how did you go about handling it? Do you have any unique tips you can provide for future readers going through a similar situation? Be sure to leave your stories down below! I absolutely love hearing all about your pets and their antics!
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K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).