Why Dogs Get Smelly (And How to Get Rid of It)

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 12 min read

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Understanding why dogs get smelly can not only help you manage the smell but also improve the way you interact with your dog thus enhancing your relationship with him. After all, there is nothing more pleasant than snuggling or playing with a fresh-smelling dog. Am I right?

Dogs are our companions, our friends, our furry children. They're also animals, and as animals, they can build up certain odors that can turn certain family moments into less pleasant situations.

Luckily, it's not terribly difficult to solve this problem. If you've been bothered by a smelly dog in the past, I have good news;😉 you can fight that odor and enjoy your furry friend's presence without a clothespin on your nose.

In this post a take a deep dive into the most common reasons why dogs get smelly. From allergies to bad breath to the infamous frito foot smell. 🐶

If you are just skimming, the section on how to solve the issues is one section you should not miss. In this section I share 6 useful do's and don'ts of brushing your dog's teeth along with 6 spot-checks you should do regularly to help you keep an eye out for health issues.

Alternatively, if you are interested in learning more about dog fur care related topics go to the read further section at the bottom. I've written extensively about it. Alternatively you can also visit my blog and search by topic. Spoiler alert: it is packed with resources 😁.

Happy reading!

What Makes Dogs Smell? Here are 9 Common Reasons

Dogs can build up odors in a bunch of different ways. In fact, understanding why they get smelly in the first place is key to knowing how to fight those odors. So, let's run down the list of reasons why dogs can start to stink.

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Before diving in, though, it's worth mentioning that not all dog smells are bad smells. Dogs have their own particular odor; in fact, it's part of how dogs identify one another. Dog odors are an important part of dog health.

It's a good idea to get used to the natural, healthy smells of your canine companion, so you can identify when something smells strange or bad; as it can be the first sign of something that could require a trip to the vet.

That said, plenty of unnatural dog odors come from problems, minor or major, so let's go over them.

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Doggy Skin Anatomy

It’s important to have a basic understanding as to what causes dogs to have a distinct scent to begin with. Dogs have bacteria and yeast that live on the surface of the skin.

Dry dog shampoo woman holding stinky dog by toe beans

Combined with their skin oils your pup will have a natural smell, that when balanced shouldn’t be off-putting.

Between bathes, these microorganisms have time to reproduce and the output is stinky waste. This waste sticks around thanks to their natural skin oils and that’s why your pup starts to get stinky.

Atopy: allergic reactions and the skin's response.

The first and most common cause of that musty dog smell is atopy. Atopy (also known as atopic dermatitis) is the immune system’s reaction to an allergen. It causes inflammation in the skin and often results in an itchy pup.

Depending on your pup’s skin type, they may end up with dry, flaky skin, while others will produce more oil making their skin and fur look greasy.

Some breeds are predisposed to atopy and will need regular vet care to help manage the immune response. Others may simply need regular bathing with a gentle, dog safe shampoo to remove the allergens and soothe their irritated skin.

Due to the hereditary nature of the disease, several breeds, including Golden Retrievers, most terriers, Irish Setters, Lhasa Apsos, Dalmatians, Bulldogs, and Old English Sheep dogs are more commonly atopic, but many dogs, including mixed breed dogs can have atopic dermatitis. – Animal Medical Center of South California

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Seborrhea: the overproduction of skin oils.

Dogs produce skin oils to keep their skin and their coat healthy. But, when those glands produce too much oil, it becomes a skin condition known as seborrheic dermatitis. This skin condition is often accompanied with a foul odor, which can be exacerbated by excess yeast and bacteria on the skin.

This can cause the house to smell like dog; as those oils absorb into anything your dog sits or lays down on, including your furniture and your floors. Simply keeping your dog clean won't get rid of the smell; you'll need to clean your home regularly as well.

Wet Dog Smell.

Do you live in a warmer climate, or have you noticed your pup is stinkier during the summer? With a nice humid summer those microorganisms we mentioned earlier thrive, so it’s not uncommon for your dog to get stinkier faster during warmer months.

Wet Dog Smell Image by Toe Beans

Have you ever wondered why your dog smells worse immediately after a bath? That yeast and bacteria that live on your pup’s skin is to blame.

Adding water, can actually make those microbes airborne as they combine with the water and evaporate, sending their stinky scent, well everywhere! The same is true when your pup comes in after playing in the rain.

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Frito Foot, or foot bacteria build-up.

Frito Foot is a name for the distinctly corn-like scent that might come from your dog's feet. It's another kind of bacteria, building up and giving off odor as it grows and processes nutrients.

It's generally harmless and doesn't even really smell that bad, but, it can be a sign of an imbalance in your dog's grooming, diet, or health.

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Generally, you don't have to worry about this particular odor. Just pay attention to your fur baby's feet and make sure they aren't cracked, infected, or dealing with some other issue. And, if you want to read more about Frito Foot, I wrote a full post about it.

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Yeast build-up in the ears.

As you may have noticed by now, a lot of the different smells your dog gives off aren't caused by your dog themselves, but by the microorganisms that live on them. This is another such case.

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Your dog's ears build up wax, forming a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and yeasts, which stick as they grow.

"A dog's ears are full of sebaceous glands that produce lots of wax. This wax is also the ideal breeding ground for microorganisms that can smell to high heavens. This wax build-up is not harmful to your dog but will be smelly." – Splash and Dash.

Another more sinister scent that could be emanating from your pup’s ears could be the result of an infection. While bacteria and yeast on the outer surface of the ear is generally not harmful, if they travel to the inner ear, an infection may result.

Infections are more often seen in pups with floppy ears, so regular cleaning is essential. Ear infections can be painful, irritating, and disorienting, so it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for common signs such as discharge, head shaking, or pawing at the ears.

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According to a study conducted by The Royal Veterinary College in the UK, Basset Hounds, Chinese Shar Peis, Labradoodles, Beagles, and Golden Retrievers top the list when it comes to the dog breeds most prone to ear infections.

Funky breath.

Just like people, dogs have mouths that are full of bacteria. Unlike people, dogs can't brush their teeth or use mouthwash.

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Bad dog breath is usually a mixture of a few different things:

  • The food they eat getting caught in their teeth decaying.
  • Bacteria and tartar building up and giving off odors.
  • Tooth decay and periodontal disease.

Once again, the biggest offenders are bacteria from plaque and tartar. Just like in humans, if you don’t brush your teeth, tartar will build up and give off foul odors. When left unaddressed, it can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Anal gland scent marking.

Dogs identify one another by scent, and one of the sources of that scent is a set of special glands near the anus called, fittingly, anal glands or anal sacs. These glands constantly produce and release a chemical that produces a unique scent, used for marking territory and as a unique identifier to other dogs. Unfortunately, it's also foul-smelling.

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Most of the time, dog anal glands aren't a big problem. Sometimes, though, the glands can become clogged, impacted, or infected. According to the American Kennel Club, problems that lead to gland issues can include:

  • Obesity
  • Chronic skin problems.
  • Not enough dietary fiber.
  • Allergies to food or the environment.
  • Some genetics for certain (usually smaller) breeds.

The characteristic "scooting" behavior you might have seen or experienced is usually a sign of irritated anal glands. You may need to express them yourself or visit a groomer or vet to do it for you.

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Digestive issues and flatulence.

Not all dog odors come from bacteria or natural oils; some of them come from the digestive process. Everyone who has ever experienced a room-clearing dog fart knows exactly what I'm talking about here.

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Normally, gas should be light or even undetectable. If your pup has foul, room-clearing farts, chances are they're sensitive or intolerant to an ingredient in whatever they're eating.

You'll want to work with your vet to develop a diet plan that eliminates the relevant nutrient and helps settle your fur baby's tummy. Trust me; as unpleasant as that flatulence is, it's worse for your poor pooch.

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Female dogs in heat.

An issue solely for female dogs, is the scent they give off when they’re in heat. This happens anywhere from once every four to 12 months, depending on the breed and size of your fur baby.

When she's in heat, this scent can be unpleasant for you, though, of course, it's incredibly attractive to the local male canines.

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If you've previously spayed your fur baby, but she still seems to be going into heat, it could be a sign of Ovarian Remnant Syndrome.

"Whether the patient is a dog or a cat, ovarian remnant syndrome is suspected when a spayed female pet appears to be coming into heat, something that should be impossible after spaying. A spayed female has had both her ovaries removed and should not cycle and should not display behaviors typical of heat, so if she is, a search for an estrogen source is required. Often this means a piece of ovarian tissue is left inside." - Dr. Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP

Unfortunately, this may need another surgery to correct by fully removing whatever ovarian tissue lingered after the first surgery.

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They rolled in something.

Sometimes the cause of a foul dog smell is obvious; they rolled in something you really didn't want them to. Whether it's dank mud, a bit of roadkill you didn't notice, a pile of feces, or some other nastiness, dogs positively love these odors.

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Of course, you don't want them all over you, your dog, or your house. More importantly, if left to linger, these nasty substances can cause skin irritation and infections.

How to Solve Various Dog Smells

Different sources of smell from a dog can be solved in different ways. Some are easy, some require grooming, and some might need a trip to the vet and some medication. What kind of solution might you look into?

Deshedding Dog Brushes by EarthCare_v2

Keep your dog brushed.

The build-up of skin oils and dirt can be solved by brushing their coat on a regular basis. This can remove irritations and allergens that may trigger the skin into producing more oils.

Brushing Your Dogs Fur

It also helps cut back on shedding. Make sure you know how often to bathe and groom your particular breed; some will require it more often, and others less, after all.

Brush their teeth too.

Oral care is just as important for dogs as it is for people. But, since dogs can't brush or floss their own teeth, you need to it for them.

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You'll want to brush your pup's teeth at least two to three times per week. You don't need to brush every day, though, especially if you're using other methods of oral care as well. The prime example is a dental chew.

6 Do's and Don'ts of Brushing your Pet's Teeth

  1. Don't use a human toothpaste on your pet.
  2. Do use a toothbrush without any paste at first so that your pet may get used to the object in the mouth before having to contend with flavor.
  3. Don't attempt to clean the inner surface of your pet's teeth. Natural saliva cleans this surface on its own.
  4. Do try to perform dental home care at least once daily.
  5. Don't perform dental home care during the first week after a full dentistry in the hospital as your pet's gums may be tender.
  6. Don't consider dental home care as an alternative to full dental cleaning if your pet has more advanced dental disease.

- Dr. Wendy Brooks, DVM, DAVBP

Dental chews are soft enough to not hurt your dog's sensitive mouth but tough enough and covered in bumps and nubs, which help to scrape off plaque.

Some dental chews are also snacks, made up of healthy nutrients and a few medications to help fight off mouth bacteria.

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Keep your dog dry.

A simple shake and some basking in the sun isn’t good enough when your pup is soaking wet.

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If your dog is out playing in the sprinklers, or play with them with the hose on a hot summer day, if they like rolling in puddles or in the rain, or even if you're just giving them a bath, make sure you dry them off when you're done. The longer they stay wet, the more bacteria – and thus odor – can build up.

Keep an eye out for health issues.

A lot of dog scents come from health issues that to turn into problems. It's a good idea to build a checklist of things to look over, to check for problems before they become problems that require an emergency vet trip.

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For example, here are 6 spot-checks you should do regularly:

  • Inspect their feet for signs of irritation or infection.
  • Inspect their skin for signs of rash or allergic reaction.
  • Inspect their ears for signs of infection or excess wax.
  • Look for crustiness or redness around the eyes.
  • Check oral health and look for signs of tooth infections.
  • Check for clogged anal glands that may need expressing.

Your vet can give you a full rundown of things to check and how often you should check them, as well as some ideas of what to look for.

Bathe your dog regularly, and when necessary.

Most dogs don't need baths nearly as often as we people do. You still want to make sure you're bathing them as often as they need, based on their breed, their coat type, and any medical conditions they have.

In cases where your dog has rolled in something gross, you'll probably want to bathe them even if it's sooner than normal. You can try to minimize the issue with grooming wipes, dry shampoo, and other solutions, but you still want to make sure there aren't gross things caught in their fur or against their skin.

Bathing Dog Regularly

Just make sure not to bathe them too often. If you do, you can wash away all of those natural skin oils, leaving skin dry and susceptible to irritation, cracking, and skin infections. Those oils serve an important purpose, when kept in balance.

Try a deodorizing spritz.

There are many products on the market meant to remove odors, whether it's from the air, from a piece of furniture, or from your fur baby.

Some pet-safe deodorizing sprays can help minimize odors without irritating skin or causing other problems. Stay tuned, because I'll have a product for just this purpose coming soon. You'll love it, I promise.

Applying Deodorizing Spritz Image by Toe Beans

Have you tried any of these methods for your furry friend? Did you find success with one more than the others? Which one was it? Be sure to leave all your thoughts and comments down below! I'd love to hear what all of you have tried and your stories!

Additionally, if you are feeling like getting a little something for your fur baby that is made right here in the USA, 100% safe, and USDA certified organic, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!

Sharing is just one click away. If you found this post helpful, will you do fellow pet parents a little favor by sharing it? Use any social media button located around the post. As they say, sharing is caring!

K Marie Alto
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 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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