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Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? (7 Possible Reasons) Leave a comment

“Help! Why does my dog smell like fish? Should I be worried?” Read on to find out the answers to those questions and more about fishy-smelling dogs!

There aren’t many more disgusting odors around than a fish smell. So when dogs start smelling fishy, it creates a sense of serious worry in their owners. They start panicking about what has caused this nightmare and how to get rid of it. 

It’s why I developed a guide to answer these questions and many more about this situation. So if you’re stuck with a fish-smelling dog, read on to learn how to proceed. I promise I’ll help you defeat this unpleasant experience. 

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish???

With the exception of #7, when dogs smell like fish it’s usually because something is medically wrong. So here’s where I remind you to please talk to your vet. Got it? Good. Now, let’s begin, starting with finding out where that oh-so-unpleasant fishy aroma is coming from.

Locating the Source of Your Dog’s Fish Smell

Your first step should be locating the source of your dog’s fishy smell. It’s a valuable tool for identifying what could be behind the pungent odor. So do a quick smell check of their mouths, ears, tails, and other general areas.

Yeah, I know, it’s not exactly the most pleasant task, but it has to be done! But it really helps you pinpoint the problem and start to at least come up with a theory on the culprit. For instance, one of my dogs had a fishy smell coming from his mouth. So I immediately knew it was likely a dental or dietary issue. 

Another example would be a fishy smell coming from a dog’s ear. It’d scream ear infection, giving you a starting point for treatment before going to the vet. It may save you some time in the vet’s office or even money by stopping unnecessary testing. 

These checks can even help identify issues that aren’t commonly associated with fishy smells. Here’s a quick list of health conditions that don’t always present with this odor but could in certain situations:

7 Common Causes of Dogs Smelling Like Fish 

Locating the source is only step one of this process. It’s now time to look at the most common causes of this pungent odor. In most cases, you can point to one of these seven issues when fighting against a fish smell.

1. Anal Gland Issues

The number one culprit of fish-smelling dogs is an issue with their anal glands. Your dog will have them on both sides of their anus. In fact, dogs use them to learn about their fellow canine counterparts by smelling the secretions.

From our perspective, this process sounds gross. But it’s why dogs often smell each other’s butts when playing around the park. It’s a way to understand what’s happening with their friend or enemy. 

In any case, the fish-smelling problem comes when these glands become abscessed and infected. It’ll then produce a foul odor, but that’s only the start of your dog’s issues. If left untreated, the abscess will swell until it ruptures and releases pus/blood. 

It’s not a sight any dog owner wants to see their pup experience. Furthermore, this abscess will eventually become an infection and a severe issue. These infected abscesses cause your dog a substantial amount of pain.  

These issues are more common for small, senior, and overweight dogs. In these situations, it makes the anal glands’ ability to express them much more difficult. So it leads to infection or abscesses. 

Tumors near your dog’s anal glands can also prevent them from expressing themselves. A dog owner can identify a tumor issue by noticing the glands being more noticeable and rigid. The next step would be scheduling a vet visit immediately. 

After this vet visit, check out this video about expressing anal glands at home. It’ll walk you through the process to ensure you can do it if necessary.

2. Dietary Concerns

Encountering constant bad breath is one of the few negative aspects of being a dog owner. I wake up almost every morning to my Pitbull yawning and unleashing an awful stench. It’s not the most pleasant thing to experience at 7 in the morning. 

But I can’t blame her because a dog’s diet often controls this bad breath. So any pungent odor I get wafting into my face is a response to what I’m feeding her. Therefore, it’s entirely my fault. 

So if your dog’s breath reeks of fish, it’s usually because their diet includes it. You’d be surprised by how many dog foods use fish-based proteins in their formulas. Most companies use them as a staple ingredient. 

Another potential cause of this fishy breath is your dog getting into wet cat food. These foods are loaded with fish-related ingredients because felines adore eating fish. It’s why dog owners with cats should be extra careful about keeping cat food away from their canines. Otherwise, you might be woken up by a dog breathing fishy breathing right into your face. 

3. Dental Disease

Dental disease is another culprit in creating a fish stench in your dog’s mouth. It’s only one of the odor possibilities associated with this condition but one of the worst. It often stems from an infection forming inside your canine’s mouth. 

Sadly, some dogs are more prone to dental diseases than others. Small breed dogs, such as Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, and Chihuahuas, often have the most issues. It’s something worth talking about with your vet. 

Dogs suffering from dental disease or problems won’t only have fishy breath, either. Several other symptoms, like discolored teeth, mouth swelling/bleeding, drooling, or even a loss of appetite, may present themselves. 

Check out the video below for more info on this potential cause:

4. Vaginitis and Pyometra

Female dogs who smell like fish could be suffering from vaginitis or pyometra. As you can imagine, both conditions aren’t too pleasant to contract. It’ll leave your female dog feeling very uncomfortable.

For instance, vaginitis comes with detestable symptoms like smelly discharge and itching. So dogs with this condition will spend most of their day licking or scratching. It’s just not something that an owner or canine wants to endure.

As for pyometra, it’s an infection of a female dog’s uterus that hasn’t been spayed. This infection occurs when your canine is in heat, and her cervix widens. This position makes it much more vulnerable to dangerous bacteria and severe infections. It’s one of the main reasons veterinarians often suggest spaying female dogs.    

5. UTIs

A dog suffering from UTIs (urinary tract infections) may have urine that smells fishy. It stems from built-up bacteria in the urinary tract, hence the name. This situation can cause a powerful, noticeable odor from a few feet away. 

Dogs with UTIs will exhibit other symptoms like bloody urine and pain during urination. Both are telltale signs of a dog suffering from these infections. In some cases, dogs will even whimper or groan during urination. 

It’s how I picked up on my Pitbull suffering from one a while ago. Thankfully, I only needed some antibiotics to get her through this painful process. 

6. Fight-or-Flight Response 

One of the more overlooked causes is a fishy smell being a fight-or-flight response. During these situations, your dog will release this pungent smell from their anal glands. It’s not because there’s anything medical wrong, but they’re reacting to an overwhelming situation. 

It could be them being overly stressed, anxious, or even scared. The key here is to evaluate your dog’s other symptoms to see if this foul smell is a fight-or-flight response. It’ll usually be relatively easy to spot as it presents with shaking, panting, hiding, and barking. 

Of course, these are all common indications of a dog being overwhelmed. It may happen during a thunderstorm or the arrival of a stranger into your home. 

But regardless, it’s vital to ensure you don’t overreact to situations by crowding or yelling. Please do your best to keep them comfortable until the problem resolves itself. Signing up for classes is never a bad idea if the behavior is inconvenient. 

A scared dog may omit a fishy aroma!

7. Your Dog Played With a Rotting Fish Carcass

Dogs aren’t known for being the cleanest creatures on our planet. On the contrary, they’ll engage in behavior that their owners find disgusting. One of these behaviors is playing with and rolling onto dead animal carcasses. 

Therefore, it’s not uncommon for a dog to play with a rotten fish carcass. Your dog will then bring the stench from it into your car or home. It’s one of the few things that can turn a beach trip into a miserable experience. 

Sadly, I experienced this situation with my Beagle recently. I wasn’t paying attention, and he found a washed-up carcass to entertain himself. It was one of the worst incidents that I had to deal with as a dog owner. Never again!

When to Schedule a Vet Appointment

Anytime a fishy smell presents itself is a good time for a vet visit. After all, most of the common causes are things that you can only fix with professional help. So it makes sense to schedule a vet visit as soon as possible. 

I didn’t even mention the lingering potential of underlying severe conditions like kidney disease or tumors. You don’t want to be caught off-guard by one of these more serious issues. Due to this, avoid wasting time and let the experts address your dog’s issues. 

Now if you want to prevent these issues from occurring in the first place, focus on keeping your dog clean and healthy. A good starting point would be developing a care and maintenance routine directly suited to your pup’s needs.  

It’ll help prevent anal gland issues and other common causes from rearing their ugly heads. Remember to ensure oral care is a crucial component of this plan. If you aren’t comfortable bruising their teeth, any dog care specialist will do it.  

How to Get Rid of Fishy Smell from Dogs

After determining the cause and scheduling a vet visit, it’s time to conquer the last step. The fish smell will likely still be around your home or other locations as it tends to linger. So you’ll need to formulate a plan to get rid of it. 

The worst part is most commercial deodorizing products will only remove the smell partially. But I have learned some tips to help you remove the fishy smell from your life. Here’s a quick list to get on the right track: 

Invest and use a proven odor-eliminating solution for pet odors (my preferred option is castile soap, which is shown being used in this video).Start bathing your dog once or twice per week. It’ll keep them clean and healthy while removing any fish-smell residue.Wash all bedding and toys weekly to keep them smell-free. Make sure to read the instructions for washing items carefully. Buy dog wipes to use on your pup’s butt and mouth daily, such as Wet Ones’ Multi-Purpose Dog Wipes. I’ve had great success using them. Follow any instructions provided by your vet to a tee. Prevention is the critical component in stopping these issues and removing the smell. 


Generally, a dog smelling like fish is a worrisome sign. It could indicate a dental problem, anal gland issues, UTIs, and other severe medical conditions. So owners who notice their dog produces a fishy smell should contact their vet immediately.

If you have more questions about fish-smelling dogs, please post in our comment section. I’ll answer each as soon as possible to ensure you’re pointed in the right direction. Thanks for reading!

Ben Ro

My name is Ben Roberts, and I’ve been writing about animals for many years. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a much better job, considering I’ve been around animals all my life. I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t at least one cat or dog inside my home. Currently, I’m a proud owner of a Beagle and a Pitbull who make sure my life is never dull.

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