Why does my dog smell like fish?
If you have spent a lot of time around dogs, you probably know that they don't always smell nice. You can't really expect any animal to smell like roses all the time, and canines are no exception. However, we have come to expect a certain type of reek from a dirty dog. When you lean down and notice that your dog smells like the seafood section, you might find yourself wondering: "why does my dog have a fishy smell? Let's consider this problem in greater detail so that you can (hopefully) arrive at an answer.
My Dog Smells Like Fish
If you find yourself telling this to family and friends, it might elicit a chuckle. After all, canines do not normally smell that way, and it ties in with certain filthy jokes (which shall not be repeated here). However, this smell can indicate a serious problem in some cases. Unless your dog has raided the local fish market or something like that, you are probably smelling the secretions from their anal glands.
This may not be a pleasant subject, but this is how it works: The rectum of a dog has two small glands (one on either side). You can't really see them unless you look closely. You probably thought that dogs mark their territory with urine, but this isn't really true. Those anal glands produce a distinctive smell that is secreted when the dog wants to mark its territory. The urine is nothing more than a delivery method for those scent markers.
Because it is part of a dog's normal behavior, these secretions are not usually any cause for alarm. If anything, it might be a marker of aggression (since territory and aggression are often correlated in dogs). If you only smell that fishy smell from a dog once in a while, there is probably no cause for alarm. However, if this problem becomes a regular and persistent thing, it indicates that there is something wrong with those anal glands.
Anal Sac Disease: What Is It?
Anal Sac disease is what happens when a problem with a dog's anal glands is not addressed. Over time, the problem becomes worse and worse until the dog becomes unable to defecate/urinate without pain. In order to understand what this disease is and how it works, you need to understand how it happens.
So, as you already know, the anal glands secrete a musky, foul-smelling substance. This is why dogs are always trying to sniff one another's tail ends and droppings. This scent is like a fingerprint, allowing dogs to recognise one another by smell. It's a little bit more crude and disgusting than the methods that we humans use, but it works nevertheless.
So, when the glands on either side of the rectum become clogged, that nasty scent-marking liquid has nowhere to go. It can often become clogged with debris, shed skin residue, various skin oils, etc. Thus, the glands will fill with nasty liquid and swell to a large size. When this happens, they will be a lot more visible than they would normally be. They will also cause the dog a lot of pain and discomfort. There will probably be redness around the rectal area, and the dog will be hesitant when relieving themselves.
There are several other significant indicators of anal sac disease in dogs. It's not as simple as "my dog smells like fish sometimes, and so he has anal sac disease." Dogs with this problem will often rub and scoot their hindquarters against the carpet, presumably because they are itchy and irritated. There will also be a lot of excessive licking and digging as the dog tries to relieve some of its discomforts. If the problem gets bad enough, the built-up scent liquid becomes infected. From that point, it gradually becomes a sack of pus and infected blood, making it even nastier than it was before. When that infection spreads, it can begin to eat away the healthy tissue in that area.
How Do I Get Rid Of The Smell Of Fish On My Dog?
If you have been dealing with this problem, you have surely been wondering about what you can do. If you have read everything carefully so far, you already know that we are dealing with some disgusting subject matter here. Since this problem relates directly to the canine anal passage, there is simply no way to avoid that, so we apologise for any revulsion you might feel.
If your dog is consistently smelling like fish, there is one thing you can do right away. You can do what some people call "expressing the glands." This is simply a process by which you gently squeeze/push the impacted material from the anal glands. There isn't much to it, although you may require a few tries to get it right.
First, you need to verify that there is an issue with your dog's anal glands. Obviously, you will want to put on some gloves for this. Feel the area around the dog's rectum and try to locate the scent glands. They are small and bulbous, so they should not be too hard to locate. They are usually located at 4 and 8 o'clock. You probably won't be able to see much of them, so touch is (unfortunately) the best way. If your dog has a problem, these glands will be large and swelled. They may also look red and irritated, and your dog may have even chewed that area until it is bald.
Once you have verified the swelling of the anal sacs, you can use your fingers to gently push upward and outward on those protrusions. If your dog has aggression issues, you might need to use a muzzle here. When you look at it from the dog's perspective, it's hard to blame them if they get a little defensive. This page has a video on the subject that will show you the correct technique.
Once you have thoroughly emptied the scent glands, you will want to clean your dog thoroughly. Obviously, you will pay extra attention to the back end. This is especially important if your dog's scent fluid was infected. If it contained a lot of pus or blood, you definitely need to clean the dog as thoroughly as possible. Depending on the severity of the problem, you may need to repeat this process a few more times until those glands stop swelling so badly.
As for what kind of products you should use to wash your dog post-treatment, there are many good options. You can go with a general-use dog wash like this 6-in-1 product. Or, you might go with our dog shampoo for itchy skin If you want to relieve that irritation for a little while afterwards, you can use a gentler option like this baby powder scented shampoo/conditioner. And, of course, you can also go with a flea shampoo for dogs, so that those little creatures don't make the problem any worse.
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In general, cleanliness will help to deal with this problem and prevent it from occurring in the future. As we said at the beginning, this problem usually begins as a bunch of debris and gunk that clogs up the openings of the anal glands. The more you can minimise the presence of that gunk, the less likely it is that you'll end up having to do this again.
When Is Fishy Odor In Dogs A Problem?
A fishy odour in dogs is not always a big problem. Again, if you just catch a slight whiff of it from time to time, it is probably just natural behaviour. Although males and females both have these glands, the males seem to use them a lot more, especially in the presence of other males.
If a puppy smells like fish, you might have a little bit more of a problem. It is not normal for young pups to go around marking territory (that comes later). Thus, it is not normal at all for them to reek of cod. Male/female dog smells can also be the result of mating behaviours and the biological cycles associated with them, so don't freak out the first time you catch a hint of salmon in the air.
As you can see, it all comes down to the health and functionality of those anal glands. If they are not working properly, your pet will smell like they just came off the fishing boat. Because these problems can result in dangerous infections, it is important that you keep an eye out for them. Impacted scent glands do not always smell that strong, so make it a habit to check for swelling around your dog's rectum from time to time. It may not be the most pleasant task in the world, but your dog will be healthier and happier because you took the time to care for their needs.
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