If you’ve spent much time with dogs, you probably know that they don’t always smell good. You can’t really expect an animal to smell like roses all the time, and dogs are no exception. However, we do expect some type of stench from a dirty dog. When you lean over and notice that your dog smells like the seafood section, you may be asking yourself, “Why does my dog smell like fish? Let’s look at this problem in more detail so that you can (hopefully) arrive at an answer.
My dog smells like fish
If you catch yourself telling your family and friends this, it might make you laugh. After all, dogs don’t normally smell this way, and it relates to some dirty jokes (which won’t be repeated here). However, this smell can indicate a serious problem in some cases. Unless your dog has attacked the local fish market or something, you probably smell secretions from their anal glands.
It may not be a pleasant topic, but here’s how it works: A dog’s rectum has two small glands (one on each side). You can’t really see them unless you look closely. You probably thought dogs marked their territory with urine, but that’s not really true. These anal glands produce a distinctive odor that is secreted when the dog wants to mark its territory. Urine is nothing more than a method of delivering these olfactory markers.
Because this is part of a dog’s normal behavior, these secretions are not usually a cause for alarm. If anything, it could be a marker of aggression (since territory and aggression are often correlated in dogs). If you only smell a dog’s fishy odor from time to time, there’s probably no cause for alarm. However, if this problem becomes a regular and persistent thing, it indicates that there is something wrong with those anal glands.
Anal sac disease: what is it?
Anal sac disease is what happens when a problem with a dog’s anal glands goes untreated. Over time, the problem gets worse and worse until the dog can no longer defecate/urinate without pain. In order to understand what this disease is and how it works, you need to understand how it occurs.
So, as you already know, the anal glands secrete a musky, foul-smelling substance. This is why dogs always try to sniff each other’s tail tips and feces. This scent is like a fingerprint, allowing dogs to recognize each other by smell. It’s a little cruder and grosser than the methods we use, but it still works.
So when the glands on either side of the rectum get clogged, that scent marker fluid has nowhere to go. It can often be clogged with debris, skin residue, various skin oils, etc. Thus, the glands fill with unpleasant fluid and swell to a large size. When this happens, they will be much more visible than they normally would be. They will also cause a lot of pain and discomfort to the dog. There will likely be redness around the rectal area and the dog will be reluctant to relieve himself.
There are several other important indicators of anal sac disease in dogs. It’s not as simple as “my dog sometimes smells like fish, and therefore he has anal sac disease.” Dogs with this problem will often rub and trot their hindquarters against the carpet, probably because they are itchy and irritated. There will also be a lot of excessive licking and digging as the dog tries to relieve some of its discomfort. If the problem gets bad enough, the accumulated scented fluid becomes infected. From there, it gradually becomes a bag of infected pus and blood, making it even nastier than before. As this infection spreads, it can begin to eat away at the healthy tissue in that area.
How can I get rid of the fish smell on my dog?
If you’ve been faced with this problem, you’re probably wondering what you can do. If you’ve read everything carefully so far, you already know that we’re dealing with a disgusting topic here. Since this problem is directly related to canine anal passage, there is simply no way to avoid it, so we apologize for any revulsion you may feel.
If your dog constantly smells like fish, there is one thing you can do right away. You can do what some people call “expressing the glands”. This is simply a process whereby you gently squeeze/push the impacted material of the anal glands. There is not much to do, although you may need a few tries to get it right.
First, you’ll want to check to see if there’s a problem with your dog’s anal glands. Obviously, you’ll want to put on gloves for this. Feel the area around the dog’s rectum and try to locate the scent glands. They are small and bulbous, so they shouldn’t be too difficult to locate. They are usually located at 4 and 8 o’clock. You probably won’t be able to see many of them, so touch is (unfortunately) the best way. If your dog has a problem, these glands will be large and swollen. They may also look red and irritated, and your dog may have even chewed on the area until it’s bald.
Once you’ve checked the swollen anal sacs, you can use your fingers to gently push up and out on these projections. If your dog has aggression issues, you may need to use a muzzle here. When you look at it from the dog’s perspective, it’s hard to blame him if he gets a little defensive. This page has a video on the subject that will show you the proper technique.
After the treatment
Once you have completely emptied the scent glands, you will want to clean your dog up. Of course, you’ll want to pay special attention to the back end. This is especially important if your dog’s scent fluid was infected. If it contained a lot of pus or blood, you should definitely clean the dog as thoroughly as possible. Depending on the severity of the problem, you may need to repeat this process several times until those glands stop swelling so badly.
In general, cleanliness will help solve this problem and prevent it from happening again in the future. As we said at the beginning, this problem usually starts with a pile of debris and gunk blocking the openings of the anal glands. The more you can minimize the presence of this dirt, the less likely it is that you will have to do it again.
When is fishy odor in dogs a problem?
Fishy odor in dogs is not always a big deal. Again, if you get a slight smell of it from time to time, it’s probably a natural behavior. Although both males and females have these glands, males seem to use them much more, especially in the presence of other males.
If a puppy smells like fish, you may have a bit more of a problem. It is not normal for young puppies to roam the marking territory (that comes later). Thus, it is not at all normal for them to smell like cod. Male/female dog odors can also be the result of mating behaviors and the biological cycles associated with them, so don’t panic the first time you catch a whiff of salmon in the air.
As you can see, it all depends on the health and functionality of these anal glands. If they are not functioning properly, your pet will smell like he just got off the fishing boat. Since these problems can lead to dangerous infections, it’s important to monitor them. Affected scent glands don’t always smell as strong, so make it a habit to check occasionally for swelling around your dog’s rectum. It may not be the most pleasant task in the world, but your dog will be healthier and happier because you took the time to take care of his needs.