Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? 

Four Mintues
Jan 23, 2023

Have you ever gotten a whiff of something foul from your dog? You want to ignore it, but you can’t help but wonder why your dog smells like fish.

Unfortunately, it could be a sign that your dog has an infection somewhere in their body.

Potential Reasons Your Dog Smells Fishy

There are a few reasons your dog smells like fish. Here are the most common areas of your dog’s body that could be emitting a funky smell into your home:

  • Teeth and gums
  • Anal glands
  • Urinary tract
  • Skin
  • Vaginal area

That’s a lot of bases to cover when you’re trying to find the source, so let’s narrow it down.

Dental issues

If you’re asking, “why does my dog’s breath smell like fish?” then a dental issue may be the source of the smell. The cause could be periodontal disease, a common gum disease that can damage your dog’s teeth and gums — leading to tooth decay or loss of teeth — if left untreated.

Often, bad breath isn’t the only sign that your dog needs dental treatment. Look for symptoms like:

  • Trouble chewing
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Nasal discharge

If you notice these symptoms, you might need to schedule an exam and cleaning. Be prepared to shell over some money because, without dog insurance, you could have to pay thousands of dollars for dental treatments.

Problems with their anal glands

Anal glands, sometimes called anal sacs, are two small pouches on each side of the anus. These sacs contain sweat and specialized fluid that marks feces with your dog’s signature scent. Some dogs may release (or express) this scent when they’re scared or stressed.

This scent often smells foul or fishy to the human nose. Look out for symptoms of infected anal glands like:

  • Scooting across the floor
  • Excessive licking
  • Trouble pooping
  • Blood in stool
  • Discomfort when sitting

Your veterinarian might inspect your dog thoroughly to rule out things like tumors and abscesses. It’s likely that the glands are impacted and need to be drained. We assure you, you don’t want to do this at home. Professional care is recommended for the procedure to ensure proper safety, and you won’t have to deal with the unpleasantness.

Vaginal infections

Do you have a female dog? If the answer is yes, then you might have a vaginal infection or even pyometra on your hand. Female dogs may experience vaginitis or vaginal overgrowth in their lifetime.¹ Oftentimes, bacteria or yeast infections can cause that fishy smell plus other uncomfortable symptoms like:

  • Swollen vulvas
  • Discharge
  • Trouble urinating
  • Excessive licking

Just like with anal glands, it’s not recommended to attempt to treat this at home with DIY remedies. You could make the infection worse. A professional exam can rule out vaginal prolapse and other severe conditions that affect young female dogs and puppies.¹

Urinary tract infections

A runaway urinary tract infection (UTI) can get stinky if left untreated, especially if your pup has had an accident in the house. What you’re smelling is the overgrowth of bacteria in their bladder.

Antibiotics are typically needed to treat a UTI. Your vet may choose to take X-rays to make sure the infection hasn’t spread to your dog’s kidneys. Make sure your pup is getting enough water as dehydration is the major reason many dogs develop a UTI.

Skin irritation

A fishy smell could also come from overgrown bacteria or yeast on your pet’s skin.² To determine if this is the case, carefully inspect their fur, especially around nooks and crannies like their legs, groin, and ears. See if you can spot signs of skin problems such as hair loss, redness, bumps, excessive scratching, and rashes.

A vet can do a more thorough exam in their office and may prescribe shampoos and other medications to treat the problem.

How to Battle the Fish Smell

The long and short of it is that you likely can’t treat any of the issues above at home. A funky smell is a signal that something in your dog’s body is out of whack, and your veterinarian is probably more qualified to tackle the problem.

Here’s what you can do in the short term to help.

#1. Figure out where the smell is coming from.

Scan your dog from nose to tail to figure out where the smell is coming from. Consider the potential sources listed above and make note of what you see, feel, and smell.

#2. Schedule your vet appointment.

Then, get your vet on the phone so you can tell them what’s going on.  They may suggest a physical exam, along with other tests like blood work, urinalysis, skin culture, and X-rays.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, so be prepared for potential follow-up visits. Hopefully, it’s something simple that you can treat at home with medication and rest.

#3. Follow your care plan to the letter.

No matter what’s causing the smell, it’s up to you to take care of the issue. Be sure to listen to your vet’s instructions.

Take the time to ask your vet plenty of questions. They may be able to point you toward pet-safe food and cleaning products that can kill off any lingering microorganisms and break down the enzymes that cause the odors in the first place. Washing and disinfecting surfaces like floors and countertops while your dog recovers could help you avoid repeat smell attacks.

Turning Your Nose Up at Vet Bills? MetLife Can Help

There are several things that could be causing your dog to smell fishy, like infections on the skin and trouble inside your pup's body. As nice as it would be to treat these things at home, you could make the problem worse in an effort to save money.

Investing in a dog insurance policy is the best way to potentially save on veterinary care while making sure you get the help you need. Pet parents with pet insurance could save hundreds on prescriptions, labor, and even alternative therapy treatments.

Get started today with a free quote from MetLife Pet Insurance, winner of the “Pet Insurance of the Year” Award in the 2023 Pet Independent Innovation Awards Program.

Dr. Hunter Finn has been paid by MetLife to discuss the importance of choosing pet insurance. He is an integrative veterinary expert first, and social media star second. America’s favorite veterinarian owns Pet Method in McKinney, Texas, where he cares for pets while prioritizing their emotional well-being. When he’s not at his clinic, he’s starring in viral videos on TikTok (2 million followers) and Instagram (500K followers) — where he’s been known to snuggle puppies and conquer the latest dance trends.


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¹ “Reproductive Disorders of Female Dogs,” Merck Veterinary Manual

² “Why Does My Dog Smell So Bad?,” American Kennel Club

Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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