Seven Kinds of Smelly Pets (And How to Tone Down Their Stink)

Dr. Patty Khuly

Worst Pet Smells

Do you have a pet whose aroma leaves something to be desired? Unless you’re deeply in denial, most of us have kept at least one smelly pet at some point in our lives. And despite any unfortunate experience you may have suffered, I promise you that there’s something you can do about her chronic malodor.

To that end, I’ve created a list of seven categories of stinky pets to help you address the very specific kinds of stink that emanate from the beloved animals among us.

#1 Breath That Can Clear a Room

Halitosis, usually secondary to periodontal disease, is perhaps the most common source of foul odor in pets. Given that over eighty percent of pets over the age of three have significant periodontal disease, it’s no wonder.

Regular brushing (at least twice a week, but daily for periodontal disease sufferers) and routine anesthetic dentistry (as often as every few months for severely affected pets) is the mainstay of halitosis treatment.

But some pets just have bad breath that arises chronically from their mouths and/or gastrointestinal tract –– not necessarily from their teeth. These pets may be helped by adjusting their diets and possibly by adding prebiotics or probiotics to their food.

How about water additives? “Fresh breath” water supplements are not helpful, in my opinion. Nonetheless, some pet owners beg to differ. I guess it’s always worth a try.

#2 Anal Gland Aroma

Every pet has two anal glands (aka “anal sacs”) on either side of the anus. Occasionally, these sac-like structures will suffer a propensity of filling up and spilling out when they’re over-full. Unfortunately, the resulting stench is perhaps the nastiest odor pets are capable of emitting.

Getting this odor under control is usually achieved by expressing the anal glands manually on a regular basis. Veterinarians and experienced groomers are best suited to this task, though many of my owners are willing to learn and manage quite well on their own.

Note: A hydrogen peroxide wipe to the backside is very helpful once the odor becomes apparent.

#3 Ears That Reek

Every once in a while, I’ll get a patient whose ears smell SO bad the stench lingers in the hospital all day. Unsuspecting owners probably assume animal hospitals just smell bad, but the truth is that it’s not us, it’s those ears! Here’s why:

Ear infections are almost always skin infections. But their specific challenges mean very specific odors distinct from that of the rest of the skin tend to coalesce there. A fruity-smelling yeast infection that may or may not progress to a stinky cheese-style bacterial infection is typical. Nasty!

Allergic skin disease is the primary cause of external ear infections in both cats and dogs. Infections can be dealt with by treating the underlying condition. Topical antibiotics and antifungal medications are used to tackle the infection and it’s resultant smell, but it will almost always return unless the allergy is treated too.

Note: Cleaning the ears regularly with a mild disinfectant solution is always advisable. Food allergies are most often responsible for ear infections in dogs.

#4 Eau Du Wet Dog

You know the smell. It happens when dogs spend half their lives in the pool or running around in a humid backyard all summer. It also happens when owners, in an attempt to make a “clean dog” impression on their veterinarian, bathe their thick-coated dog just before coming in to see us for their routine visit. Yum!

To solve this problem, I recommend owners keep outdoor dogs indoors, fence off their pools or invest in a proper canine blow-dryer. Additionally, clipping a dog’s hair coat short (or brushing daily to reduce the moisture-trapping undercoat) helps a lot too.

#5 Sick Skin Smell

If the surface of your pet’s skin smells like rotting fruit, Fritos corn chips, or something freshly dug up from deep underground, you’ve got a problem.

Whether it happens year-round or is limited to certain seasons, pets with certain skin conditions (such as allergic skin disease, hypothyroidism, parasitism, and keratinization disorders) have a way of smelling rank and nasty –– usually the result of an overgrowth of yeast and bacteria on the skin and in the hair follicles.

In any case, treatment of the underlying disease is generally effective in reducing or eliminating the odors associated with skin infections that accompany it. Frequent use of medicated shampoos, with or without oral antibiotic and/or antifungal treatments are often highly effective at taming the infection… and the smell.

#6 Gas

‘Nuff said.

But seriously… whether your pet has a condition such as intestinal parasitism, inflammatory bowel disease, or a pancreatic malfunction, gas happens. Luckily, most pets who suffer excessive flatulence are merely exhibiting a mild intolerance to one or more ingredients in their diets.

Treatment of the gassiness depends on the disease process, of course, but for those who suffer simple digestive intolerance may be helped either with probiotic or prebiotic supplements or through a process of trial and error with respect to diet choices. Carefully switching diets with varying ingredients until a minimum of flatulence is achieved is usually fruitful in this regard.

#7 Wildlife Encounters

Inexplicably, plenty of pets will stop, drop and roll at the sights and smells of a rotting carcass or raccoon feces (I swear it’s the foulest smelling scat on the planet). Maybe she’s a chronic stray cat poop consumer or a skunk tracking wonder-dog.

To solve this problem, consider restricting a pet’s unsupervised outdoor activities. They need an outlet for their natural drives (and exercise, of course). Picking up scat in your yard is helpful, as is special fencing to reduce encroachment by certain wildlife species.

Alternatively, treating the resulting foul odors can be achieved through my favorite de-skunking blend: Mix one quart of hydrogen peroxide with one-third cup of baking soda and a dash of a grease-cutting dish soap (like Dawn). Decant into a spray bottle and spray liberally onto the affected pet. Rinse. And good luck!

Now it’s your turn: How does your pet stink? What do you do to help you live with it? 

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