Does Your Dog Smell Like… Dog?

Vladimir Negron
Jul 1, 2011
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Anyone who has lived with a dog knows that dogs smell. They smell like dogs. This is not a problem for them, of course, but for a human who is only accustomed to the scent of freshly bathed humans, the smell can be overwhelming. Add to that the scent traces your dog leaves behind on the furniture, the carpet, the back seat of the car, your clothes, and you may have a whole life that smells like dog.

You love your dog, and there are just too many benefits that come with having him around, so throwing the puppy out with the bath water is not an option. It’s the odor that has to go.

Your Dog’s Body

What is “dog smell,” anyway? Dogs don’t sweat like we do. That is, they don’t have liquid perspiration seeping form their pores and rolling off their skin in the way humans do. But they do perspire from their paws, and they do emit a light perspiration from their hair follicles, which has a chemical scent that is individual to the dog. All dogs may smell the same to some of us, but they don’t smell the same to each other. They also produce oil, an important part of healthy skin and hair, which also has its own scent marker. Along with the glands in their ears, which produce a light yeasty smell, these are all normal body odors, and can be kept to a pleasant minimum with normal, regular bathing and grooming.

Things can get unpleasant when little critters like bacteria and funguses move in, or when the body’s systems don’t function as they ought to. For example, some dogs are susceptible to ear infections. Usually this affects dogs that have a lot of hair in the ear, or dogs that have long floppy ears, but any dog can suffer from an ear infection. Ear infections can smell pungent to decaying, depending on the severity.

Then there are the anal sacs, also known as scent glands, which normally do their work quietly, in the background. Healthy anal sacs will release a small amount of secretion during defecation. They have a strong musky odor, but this odor is usually for the benefit of other dogs. Again, this scent is particular to each dog, and is part of the process they use to identify each other (and why dogs tend to sniff each other’s butts before saying hello).  Sometimes, however, the anal sacs will become blocked and unable to drain. When this happens, the glands may become swollen and painful for the dog, who may respond by biting and licking the anus excessively, exposing the glands to abscess and infection. This will require a visit to the veterinarian for draining and treatment.

Other abnormal conditions that can cause malodors are skin infections, which are often found to affect dogs with overlapping folds of skin, like Bulldogs, but can affect any dog. They can occur due to skin irritation, such as what happens when the folds of the skin are deep and retain too much moisture and microorganisms, or from excessive scratching due to skin allergies. Your dog may be making too much oil in response to skin irritation, or too little oil, especially if you have been giving your dog frequent baths to try to combat the smell or irritation.

Dental infections, which can cause a rotten, decaying smell from the infected and rotting tissue in the mouth, are also a source of bad smells. And just as humans do, dogs also have intestinal gas (or flatulence). Some gas is normal, but if you find that your dog’s gas smells unnatural, or is happening all the time, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s intestinal health, and take a good look at what your dog is eating that could be causing the excessively smelly gas.

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