The Real Story Behind Dog Odors

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The Real Story Behind Dog Odors

By Todd Wasserman

A dog’s sense of smell is said to be about 1,000 times stronger than ours. As dog owners, we should probably consider that something of a blessing. In fact, we’re often so unaware of our dog’s odor that it might take a family member or good friend to point this out. (With tact, one hopes.)

Or maybe you have noticed that your beloved family pet smells a bit off lately. If so, you shouldn’t make a big stink about it; you should investigate.

That’s because there are a range of possible causes, from the harmless (your dog rolled in something) to the dire (cancer). If you’ve tried obvious methods of alleviating the stench, including giving your dog a bath, a good combing and maybe a trip to the groomer, then you should take a closer look.

Sources of Dog Odors

Dr. Louis Crupi, a veterinarian in Nutley, New Jersey, says dog odors most often emanate from the ears and mouth. “Check to see if your dog is pulling at its ears or shaking its head,” which could indicate an infection. Another common cause of dog funk is a yeast infection, which prompts a sickeningly sweet odor, says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a veterinarian based in Knoxville, Tennesse, and a regular contributor to Exceptional Canine. “Any time you smell a sweet or sour odor on your dog, you should get it checked out,” she says. Yeast infections often signal an allergy of some sort. While yeast is normally found on the skin and ears in small amounts, a dog with allergies doesn’t have normal skin defenses, says Dr. Corrina Parsons of the Longwood Veterinary Center in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Yeast infections can be a problem for dogs in an environment that promotes yeast growth, such as a dog that swims and always has wet ears, notes Parsons. However, yeast infections can also be an indication of thyroid problems or a weak immune system, notes Dewhirst. Your dog’s breath might never smell like roses. But if it’s excessively malodorous, then it could also connote dental disease, tartar, back molar problems, stomach infections, or oral cancer says Dewhirst, who acknowledges that some dogs naturally have better breath than others. Of course, a regular program of canine dental care, including teeth–brushing, can help prevent dental problems.

You Won’t Miss This Dog Odor

If your dog’s anal sac is ruptured or partially or fully emptied for one reason or another, a telltale, feces–like scent signals something’s amiss. Even if your dog’s anal sac empties outside the house, there’s likely to be a trail of odor on the dog’s coat. Dogs often make it worse by rubbing their bottom on the floor in an effort to scratch the area. Dewhirst says an anal sac rupture or leak is usually an indication of a yeast or bacterial infection but, in worst–case scenarios, can also be prompted by cancer. Obesity and food allergies are more common causes of anal sac inflammation.

Finally, there’s flatulence. Though it’s normal for your dog to pass gas on occasion, you should watch for an excessive degree of flatulence, which could indicate a food allergy or, once again, cancer. The important thing, caution experts, is to not dismiss your dog’s odors as commonplace. “Your dog shouldn’t smell,” says Dewhirst. “It’s not normal.”

Meanwhile, Crupi cautions to not overdo it with bathing, even if your dog is primarily an indoor pet. To get rid of those common smells, Crupi recommends frequent brushing. “You should brush rather than bathe,” says Crupi, noting that three to six baths a year is probably sufficient. “You want to preserve their natural oils.”