Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
We’re reader-supported. When you click on our chosen products, we may receive a commission. Learn more.
canine health problems

Why does your dog smell like fish?

Is there something in the air or is that smell coming from your pup? Here’s what could be causing your dog’s bad fishy odor.

Updated September 29, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,
Dog taking a bath

The essentials

  • Some dog smells are normal — But not all, and there are a few ways you can identify smells that could be a sign of a problem.
  • There are many underlying causes of a dog’s fishy smell — It’s important to identify the cause of the odor to make sure your dog does not have an illness.
  • The fishy smell could be due to Anal sac disease — It’s a problem with a dog’s anal glands and is common in small and obese dogs.
  • There are ways to prevent your dog’s fishy odor — Hygiene, diet, and visits to the vet are key.

Why does my dog smell like fish? 🐟

While there are lots of funky odors that can come from our pups, the fishy smell is one of the most off-putting. Unfortunately, it’s also a fairly common stench for your pup to omit. Sometimes bad smells such as a fishy scent from our pup are part of their natural flora.

There are a variety of different culprits for the fishy smell.  It’s important you identify the source to make sure the stench isn’t a sign of a bigger issue.

Fishy breath

Notice the smell when you and your pup are up close and personal? The fishy stench may be coming from your dog’s breath.

Causes of bad breath

The following can cause fishy breath:

  • Upset stomach
  • Food caught in the mouth or teeth
  • Gingivitis, plaque or tartar
  • Infection in a dog’s teeth
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Periodontal disease
  • Tumor

Other symptoms to look out for with fishy breath

First, you should be keeping track of what your dog eats. If they’ve eaten fish or gotten into your cat’s food, then that’s what is likely to blame for their fishy breath. If they start displaying any of the following accompanying symptoms, it might be a sign one one of the latter more serious health issues:

  • Obvious mouth pain
  • Bleeding of the mouth around the teeth
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting

When to go to the vet

If your pup is experiencing any of the aforementioned additional symptoms, you should see the vet. The vet will do an analysis of their mouth and teeth and suggest treatment methods. If the vet suspects your dog has a more severe disease, they will perform other tests.

Treatments and remedies

Do not treat your pup at home unless advised by your vet. They may recommend a variety  of treatments and remedies depending on the cause of the bad breath.

For mouth related issues:

  1. Enzymatic toothpaste. If your dog has plaque build-up, brushing their teeth two to three times a week will help clear up bad breath associated with the teeth.
  2. Dental treats.This is another great remedy to clean a dog’s mouth naturally.

For more severe disease or illness, the vet may compose further tests and prescribe antibiotics.

Fishy urine

A dog’s urine should smell like human urine. If you notice the fishy smell when peeing, tune in to their other symptoms.

Causes of urine stench

Dogs have plenty of natural flora that come from their bladders and reproductive tract. Fishy smelling urine is most commonly caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) or other infection like a yeast infection. These infections cause bacteria to accumulate in the urine.

Other symptoms to look out for with urine stench

There are a few other symptoms that may accompany the fishy smell when an infection is present:

  • Frequent urination or more accidents around the house
  • Obvious pain when urinating (your dog may cry out when peeing)
  • Bloody urine

When to go to the vet

As soon as you notice the smell or other symptoms, you should get your dog to the vet. The vet will compose an analysis that involves looking for crystals, red blood cells, white blood cells, protein and other indicators of a UTI.

Treatments and remedies

The vet may prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection.

👉This goes without saying, but it’s important to bathe your dog often. Bathing prevents bacterias from getting into unnecessary parts of their bodies.

Fishy anal glands

Anal glands are the are the glands or ‘scent markers’ that dogs smell when they greet one another. They are little sacs on the dog’s anus that contain oily material that releases/expresses when a dog passes a bowel movement.

Anal sac disease

Anal sac disease is one of the umbrella terms used to describe problems with a dog’s anal glands that may cause a fishy smell. On the whole, it’s when a dog’s anal sacs do not release enough oil as they poop, thus leading to glands becoming solid and eventually impacted. Impacted anal sacs can’t express oils. The sacs will become hard and very painful to the touch for your pup and can eventually become abscessed and rupture.

Some dogs are more prone to anal sac disesae

Anal sac disease is more common in both small and obese dogs. The largest dog breeds are not typically infected. This is because they either have narrow ducts or the excess of weight on the dog puts pressure on anal sacs and blocks pores. Older dogs are more likely to deal with constipation due to dehydration. When stools are too soft or too hard, they don’t express their glands well.

Causes of anal gland odors

Odors that come from your dog’s anal glands may be due to:

  • Soft stools without ample oil secretions
  • Infected anal glands due to build up of oil
  • Anal sac tumors or abscesses

🤔 Does the fishy smell come on suddenly and briefly? Is your dog scared? That’s probably why. When dogs are frightened, they can have sudden anal gland secretions.

Other symptoms to look out for along with fishy smelling anal glands

Your dog may experience the following in addition to a fishy smell if there is a problem with their anal glands:

  • Scooting on the floor
  • Discomfort when a dog poops
  • Blood in the stool
  • Discolored or swollen anus area
  • Biting or licking

👉It is extremely important to pay attention to your dog’s stool when looking for anal gland problems.

When to go to the vet

While your dog should relieve their anal glands naturally when they defecate, if they’re experiencing the above you should visit the vet. The vet will manually excrete oil from the glands. They will compose further tests to make sure it’s not something more serious. It’s important you go to the vet because abscesses can rupture through a dog’s skin.

Treatments and remedies for anal gland issues

Your vet can firstly empty your dog’s anal glands. If the anal sacs have developed an infection or tumor, biopsy will likely be ncessary before the vet prescribes a treatment method. Surgery is necessary in severe cases.

⚠️ Pet parents should not attempt to relieve their dog’s anal sacs at home unless they have been showed how by the vet (or possibly the groomer).

A note on female dogs

It’s important to note that female dogs may have other kinds of infections associated with the fishy smell. If your vet has already ruled out anal sac disease, they could be suffering from vaginitis.

📬 Essential advice delivered to your inbox

Insights and resources for responsible pet parents. Your cuddly furball says thank you.

Preventing fishy smells for the long-haul 

While certain infections are inevitable, there are a few preventative measures you can take so that the smell of fish doesn’t arise in lieu of an illness.

  1. Practice good hygiene.
  2. Help your dog maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Feed a healthy fiber diet that promotes digestion.
  4. Make sure your dog exercises regularly.
  5. Make sure your dog’s water bowl is full at all times.
  6. Regular visits to the vet to check for underlying conditions.

Dog smells aren’t always fishy

Not every bad smell coming from a dog is a “fishy smell” but regardless of the odor, if it’s unusual or new, it warrants a trip to the vet. The vet will be sure that nothing dangerous is causing the foul smell. Bad odors can be a great indicator of your dog’s health.