Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?
Photo by Pauline Loroy

Dogs can smell various things, depending on what they eat, how healthy they are, and what they have been exposed to (or rolling around on) outside.

However, if your dog smells terrible, it can irritate and alarm the olfactory system. So why does my dog smell like fish? That is exactly what we are here to explain.

Reasons Why Your Dog Smells Like Fish

Before delving into some medical disorders that cause a pet to smell fishy, try to pinpoint the source. Does your dog’s lips, ears, under the tail, or overall smell like fish?

There are various reasons your dog may smell funny, and determining where the odor is most noticeable will help you solve the riddle. For example, why does my dog smell like fish?

Some medical problems that might generate a fishy or odd odor include Parasites, Diabetes, Ear infections, Kidney disease, Bacteria or yeast infections of the skin, Skin conditions like dandruff, Periodontal disease, Autoimmune disease, etc.

1. Bad Breath

Why does my dog smell like fish? A dog’s breath is rarely described as fresh or pleasant. Still, if your dog smells like fish, it could indicate dental problems (infection, tooth decay, abscesses, or gingivitis), digestive disorders, kidney disease, or diabetes. 

At the age of two years, it is estimated that 80% of dogs have some form of periodontal disease. So there’s a good likelihood this is the source of your dog’s terrible breath.

If your dog has fishy or foul-smelling breath frequently, you should seek guidance from your veterinarian.

In addition, if your dog has dental problems, brushing its teeth regularly may not be enough to eliminate foul breath, and it may require treatment from your veterinarian.

Animal oral health is significantly genetically connected. For example, if your dog comes from a breed predisposed to dental illness or has parents with “poor teeth,” they are likely to have bad teeth.

This means your dog will most likely have stinky breath regularly. And they will require more frequent dental cleanings.

Second, even the most well-trained canine cannot be accountable for dental health. Oral germs can thrive in your dog’s mouth if you don’t brush his teeth regularly.

As a result, your dog will have swollen gums, teeth loss, a sore mouth, and fishy breath.

Sadly, even if you brush your dog’s teeth every day, it may not be enough to combat the bacteria in your dog’s mouth completely.

Those “poor tooth genetics” are not easily removed. (Don’t get me wrong: brushing is still beneficial.)

2. The Anal Scent Glands

Anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are tiny sacs found on either side of your dog’s anus.

These sacs contain specialized sweat glands that create an unpleasant-smelling fluid your dog uses as a scent marking. 

When your dog craps, these secretions pass into the excrement, revealing essential chemical information about your dog to other canines.

This explains why your dog is interested in other dogs’ feces and the tail sniffing that occurs when two dogs meet.

If none of the other causes we’ve discussed left you wondering, “Why does my dog smell like fish?” The anal gland could be the culprit. 

Anal glands are excellent scent markers for communication. However, the “exit” hole to your dog’s anal glands might sometimes become blocked. 

This can happen for various causes, including allergies, stress, trauma, or even stool of the incorrect consistency. Although the aperture is closed, the gland continues to produce material. 

But because there is nowhere for it to go, the sac swells. As a result, the anal glands can eventually become impacted or abscessed.

In addition, when dogs are terrified, they “express” their anal sacs, which is entirely normal, although a little odorous.

Many people describe the smell of anal gland secretions as fishy. So if your dog smells like fish, something may be wrong with its anal glands.

3. Anal sacs issues

Why does my dog smell like fish? It is most likely anal sac problems. This is because it is typical for dogs to develop anal sac problems.

They are the third most commonly identified health concern in dogs, affecting approximately 4% of those examined by veterinarians each year. 

When these sacs become blocked, bloated, or infected, they can be excruciatingly painful and emit the unmistakable strong fishy odor you may be familiar with.

Anal sac problems include:

  • Anal sac impaction accounts for roughly 80% of anal sac problems and is caused by the anal sacs not entirely emptying each time your dog poos. As a result, the residual liquid can dry up and form a blockage, preventing the sacs from draining. Impacted anal sacs are extremely painful and, if left untreated, can lead to infection and abscesses.
  • Anal sac infections and abscesses account for approximately 9% of cases, causing the anal sacs to become discolored or enlarged and occasionally even rupture, resulting in great pain and subsequent difficulties.
  • Tumors of the anal sacs or the glands that line their walls can afflict dogs. Anal gland tumors are typically benign (they do not spread), are rather frequent tumors, and often affect complete males. Tumors of the anal sacs are distinct; they are less common and can spread to other areas of the body. Your veterinarian should inspect any unusual swelling around your dog’s bottom.

Signs of anal sac issues can include:

  1. A strong fishy smell, particularly around your dog’s bottom
  2. Scooting on the floor
  3. Biting or licking at their bottom
  4. Problems going to the toilet
  5. Signs of pain when they sit
  6. Yelping in pain
  7. Hard or discolored lumps around their anus
  8. Blood or pus in their stool

To prevent anal sac disease, you must feed your dog a good diet with the right amount of fiber. Make sure they’re getting enough regular exercise.

Also, give your dog water access so they stay well hydrated. Ensure you keep an eye on your dog‘s stools to ensure they’re not too soft

4. Yeast overgrowth/infection

It can be difficult to pinpoint the source of the fishy odor. This is especially true if you’re sniffing a broad region, such as your dog’s skin, or a place you might not think to sniff, such as the ears. 

Yeast, like bacteria, is found naturally and can be found on the skin, ears, and warm, humid locations where it can develop.

So if you own a female dog and wonder, “why does my dog smell like fish?” It could be because of an issue with the regular balance of yeast or bacteria in her vagina. 

Generally, Yeast infection can also cause skin issues. Any dog can have skin issues that lead to yeast infections. Certain dog breeds are prone.

Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Hounds, and Spaniels are frequent visitors to the vet clinic for yeast infections.

These yeast infections are most typically found in the ears. However, with a wrinkly breed like a Shar Pei or a Bulldog, those charming folds of skin on the face, legs, and feet are also a breeding habitat for yeast.

Additionally, dogs with allergies may develop yeasty skin infections between their toes, as well as in their armpits and groin.

It could also indicate a urinary tract infection or pyometra (infection of the womb). Contact your veterinarian if your dog has an unpleasant or strange odor, odd discharge, or appears.

Urine that smells like fish might also indicate a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a kidney infection in dogs (i.e., pyelonephritis).

Because female dogs have a shorter urethra, UTIs are more common. A UTI could also account for a fishy-smelling female dog.

How to Deal With This Fishy Smell?

Call your veterinarian if you notice a fishy odor. Your dog may only require his anal glands to be manually emptied, eliminating the stink.

Why does my dog smell like fish? Some dogs, particularly tiny dog breeds, require their anal glands to be expressed regularly.

Veterinarians and groomers also provide this service; if you don’t mind the stink, you can learn how to do it yourself. 

However, excessively expressing the anal glands can create irritation and scar tissue. Therefore it should only be done when they are not emptying naturally.

If the compaction is extremely dry, your veterinarian may need to employ a softening agent or a saline rinse. 

After the compacted material is eliminated, your veterinarian may recommend a higher fiber diet for your dog to aid with the natural expression of his anal sacs.

There are also anal gland wipes and supplements on the market that address the underlying causes of anal gland disorders in pets.

Infected or abscessed anal sacs are routinely cleansed with an antiseptic before being treated with antibiotics.

If your veterinarian suspects an abscess, she may recommend hot compresses applied to the region, and the infection may take a few flushings to cure.


If you’re wondering, “Why does my dog smell like fish?” It is likely because of problems with their anal sacs, but it could also be a sign of dental issues, digestive conditions, or infections.

If you sense these issues with your dog’s health, contact your vet immediately!

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