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Your Dog Smells Like Fish? Here's Why

By Aviram K.
July 19, 2021
5 min read
Your Dog Smells Like Fish? Here's Why
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.

It’s a typical day, and you’re enjoying play-time with your pup, just like thousands of play-times before. But what happens next is anything but typical.

As your dog runs past you, you get a whiff of something strangely stinky.

Sniff, sniff. What is that? It smells like…fish.

Immediately alarmed, you pull your furry friend close to investigate. What’s going on here?

Most commonly, a dog will smell like fish due to anal sac disease, which is often the result of impacted anal glands. Dogs can also give off a fishy smell due to urinary and gastrointestinal tract issues and dental disease.

In this article, I will be exploring the most common reasons your dog may smell like fish.

I will explore in-depth how the anal glands can be responsible for a fishy scent emitting from your pup and explain the signs to look for that your dog may need their anal glands expressed or treated.

I will also reveal whether dogs express their own anal glands and how you can know if your dog’s anal glands need to be squeezed, as well as what happens if you don’t express your dog’s anal glands.

Don’t worry; I’ll close this out with a list of remedies to get rid of that fishy smell and have your dog smelling fresh in no time.

Now let’s sniff this out!

Why Your Dog Suddenly Smells like Fish

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There are several reasons your dog may smell like fish. The easiest way to suss out the reason behind the scent is to find the origin. Where is the fishy smell coming from on your dog’s body?

Give your pal a quick sniff up and down to find out where the scent is to pinpoint the cause. Here are a few common places your dog may smell like fish and an explanation for each:

Your Dog’s Pee Smells Like Fish

If your dog’s urine smells stronger than usual, this may point to issues like a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

Also, prostate problems in male dogs, kidney stones, and in severe cases, bladder cancer may be causes for the stink.

A simple UTI can be diagnosed with a urinalysis and urine culture if needed and treated with antibiotics. However, if your vet suspects something more complex, they may order more tests like ultrasounds and x-rays.

It’s Their Breath

If your dog has fishy-smelling breath, this can mean gastrointestinal problems or dental disease. Let’s take a look at both:

  • Gastrointestinal issues that cause fish-like breath can include Acid Reflux (GERD) and/or food allergies.
  • Dental problems like periodontal disease and tooth decay can both cause your dog’s pungent-smelling breath. You can identify periodontal disease if you spot yellow and/or brown tartar on your dog’s teeth and visibly inflamed gums. Teeth that are broken and infected are also signs your pup needs to be evaluated by a professional.

The Odor Is Coming from Your Dog’s Butt

If you think it’s weird that your dog’s butt smells like fish, don’t be too alarmed. This is actually common and likely the top reason why a dog may smell like fish. The cause of this?

Your dog’s anal glands.

This is such a common occurrence that I will focus the majority of the rest of this post on this phenomenon.

Your Dog May Need Their Anal Glands Expressed or Treated

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If your dog’s backside smells fishy, there is likely some work that needs to be done. Your dog may need to have their anal glands expressed or treated by a professional.

Your dog has anal glands, also known as anal sacs, on either side of their anus. These glands emit a specific smell that is uniquely their own. This helps them to “mark their territory.”

However, sometimes these glands can become impacted, which can cause them to take on a fishy odor.

Can Dogs Express Their Own Glands?

Dogs can express their own anal glands. This isn’t something they do intentionally; it naturally happens as they use the bathroom. Your dog’s anal glands will also express themselves if they get scared.

Normally nature takes its’ course, and your dog’s anal glands are kept in check without you having to do anything extra.

How Do You Know If Your Dog Needs His Glands Squeezed?

Sometimes there is a hiccup in the organic process of your dog expressing their anal glands, and they will need to have them manually squeezed.

Anal Sac Disease describes any problems with your dog’s anal glands. Other than a fishy-smelling backside, other symptoms may point to your dog needing to have their anal glands squeezed. Common signs include:

  • A discolored or swollen anus, which may indicate abscess or infection
  • Your dog scooting on the floor
  • Your dog licking or biting their backside
  • Swollen and firm anal glands, potentially caused by a tumor
  • Your dog visibly straining to use the restroom

What Happens If You Don’t Express Your Dog’s Glands?

Problems can occur if your dog shows any of the symptoms above and don’t express their anal glands.

Anal glands that are backed up mean that things aren’t running smoothly for your pup. Not only will your dog continue to emit a fishy aroma, but they will also likely develop more significant problems. In addition, your dog is probably feeling a lot of discomfort, and of course, you don’t want that for them.

Your dog could also be suffering from something serious. If you don’t express your dog’s anal glands, any problems with infections, abscesses, or tumors will get worse. These are all things that are better to deal with sooner than later.

Home Remedies to Get Rid of Fishy Smells on Dogs

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Depending on the cause of your dog’s fishy smell, there are different home remedies to fix the problem. Here are some fixes:

Fishy Smelling Urine

Since a dog’s smelly urine is likely due to an infection, treating the infection will also clear up the stench.

I don’t recommend home remedies for this. Urinary tract infections are serious and can be dangerous if not treated quickly and adequately.

Fishy Smelling Breath

If your dog’s stinky breath is due to dental disease, I don’t recommend home remedies for this either.

Instead, I strongly recommend that any issues of tooth decay or gum disease be treated professionally.

If your dog’s bad breath is due to stomach issues, your vet may recommend putting your dog on a hypoallergenic diet.

I recommend making these diet tweaks under your vet’s supervision. Your vet may also recommend an antacid for your dog to help with any symptoms of acid reflux.

A Fishy Smelling Butt

You can technically express your dog’s anal glands yourself at home.

However, keep in mind, it’s a very messy job. You will likely want to do this after you’ve had a conversation with your vet and have been able to ask questions.

For a Dog That Smells like Fish Because They Actually Came into Contact with Fish

If you and your dog were by the water and they got into some fish, dead or alive, they may now smell fishy. This reason for smelling fishy is external rather than internal and can be easily treated at home. Here is an easy way to freshen up their coat at home:

  • Wash your dog once with dog shampoo and rinse him off
  • Cover your dog with freshly squeezed lemon juice and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes
  • Rinse, shampoo, rinse again and finish with a conditioner formulated for dogs

That’s the Skinny on the Fishy!

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Who knew that your dog could smell like fish, much less that there are so many different reasons they may smell this way?

Fish may be yummy in a taco or sushi roll, but chances are, you don’t want your canine companion smelling like Nemo. So next time you’re playing with your pup and get a whiff that reminds you of the seaside, just know that there is a reason.

There’s no need to worry. You can employ the tips and tools above to get your pup smelling like their old self in no time!


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Aviram K.

Aviram K.

Dog Behaviorist & Trainer

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