Updated - Jun 28th, 2023
If you regularly snuggle with your dog, there’s a good chance you’ve gotten a whiff of something funky every once in a while. But if you’ve given your pup a bath and they smell like fish, you want to get to the bottom of the stench – and quickly.
“No one wants a fishy smell to get between them and their pooch,” says Dr. Bruce Silverman, VMD, a Chicago-based small animal veterinarian, Founder of Village West Veterinary and Co-Founder of the Critical Animal Relief Foundation. With his help, we’ve listed the most common reasons your dog might smell like fish.
Once you review this list, he adds, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to confirm the reason and treat the underlying cause.
Why does my dog smell like fish?
1. It might be your dog’s diet
A fish-based diet or the use of fish oil supplements could cause your pup to emit a fishy smell. Omega fatty acid supplements found in fish oil have many health benefits for dogs, but can also be to blame for that fishy smell. If your veterinarian confirms this is the case, one option is to gradually change your dog’s diet or supplements to something that doesn’t include fish, Silverman says.
2. Your dog may have dental disease
If your dog’s mouth smells like fish, they might have dental disease. It’s among the most prevalent diseases in dogs, with 80% of dogs three years and older having some form of the disease. Plaque, a sticky, colorless film of bacteria, develops on your dog’s teeth over time. Like us, plaque can turn to tartar if not removed through brushing or professional dental cleanings. It can cause gum irritation and form pockets that allow even more bacteria to grow. These are signs of periodontal disease, and it’s often accompanied by bad breath. Other symptoms include pawing at the face and dropping food.
Brushing your dog’s teeth with pup-friendly toothpaste is the best way to prevent dental disease, but if your dog’s breath smells, your veterinarian can let you know if they’re due for a dental cleaning under anesthesia.
3. Your dog may have a skin infection
“Dog skin problems like moist bacterial or yeast dermatitis could be the culprit of your dog’s fishy smell,” Silverman says. If your dog has dermatitis, anti-microbial shampoos can help, plus they have pleasant smells. However, consult a veterinarian for a diagnosis before applying anything to your dog’s skin.
Dogs can get yeast infections due to the overgrowth of a normal fungus on their skin. Allergic reactions, immune deficiencies, and immunosuppressive drugs can all contribute to the rapid growth of the fungus, leading to infections. If your dog has a skin yeast infection, you may notice symptoms like itchiness, redness, hyperpigmentation, crusty, flaky, scaly, or thickened black skin, along with a fishy odor.
Bacterial infections, also known as pyoderma, in dogs suggest an underlying skin condition that causes itching, sores, and lesions. While bacterial infections themselves are not typically contagious, their underlying cause should be investigated by your veterinarian.
4. Your dog may have anal gland issues
If your dog’s rear end smells foul, the scent glands on either side of your dog’s anus may be filled with an unpleasant liquid. Anal glands usually release a small amount of fluid when dogs poop, leaving behind a scent marker for other pups. However, if the anal sacs become infected, impacted, or fail to secrete correctly, discomfort and foul odors can be the result.
If this is the case, your dog will need to have their anal glands expressed or checked by a veterinarian. Other symptoms include scooting their butt on the floor or licking, chewing, or biting their behind.
5. Your female dog might have a vaginal infection
When your female dog smells fishy and frequently licks her genitals or urinates often, she may have vaginitis, or a canine vaginal infection. The infection can be caused by several factors, such as a viral or bacterial infection, injury, hormone imbalance, or a structural abnormality of the vagina.
To diagnose the underlying cause, your veterinarian will examine your pup and take samples of any discharge. While some cases of vaginitis may resolve on their own, others may require medication or surgery.
When to see the veterinarian for your dog’s fishy smell
To keep your dog healthy and happy, it’s crucial to address bad odors quickly. A fishy smell could be a sign of a health issue that requires diagnosis and treatment from your veterinarian, Silverman says. Your dog might require medication, surgery, or dietary and grooming changes to resolve the issue. If your dog smells fishy, it’s always best to take them to the vet.
The bottom line on your dog’s fishy smell
If your dog has a fishy smell, there could be several reasons why, so it’s best to take them to the vet to get to the bottom of it. Common causes for a dog to smell like fish include your dog’s diet, dental disease, skin infection, anal gland issues, or vaginitis in female dogs. Changing your dog’s diet, regular teeth brushing, using antimicrobial shampoos, expressing anal glands, or medication may be necessary to resolve the issue. It’s crucial to address bad odors quickly for your pup’s overall wellness.
How do I get rid of the fishy smell on my dog?
To rid your pup of their fishy smell, visit your veterinarian to identify and treat the underlying cause. The most common reasons for dogs to smell like fish are their diet, dental disease, skin infection, anal gland issues, or a vaginal infection in female dogs. Depending on the cause of the smell, the solution may involve a change in diet, regular teeth brushing, using antimicrobial shampoos, expressing anal glands, or medication prescribed by your veterinarian.
Should I be worried if my dog smells like fish?
Pet parents should take their dog to the veterinarian if their dog smells like fish. A fishy smell could be a sign of a health issue that requires diagnosis and treatment from a professional. While the foul odor could be a simple fix like a change in dog food, other common causes of fishy smells include dental disease or infections.