Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?

Sometimes we simply cannot understand why the dog smells fishy – actually, there is a very precise explanation, linked to a fairly common health problem.

Dogs can have a distinctive odor that sometimes becomes more pungent or unpleasant, coming to resemble the classic fishy smell: if this is exactly what is happening to your dog, it is good that you know the possible cause and the remedies against this bad smell, also because it is potentially linked to a health problem.

Usually, in fact, the fishy stench is related to a problem with his perianal glands: these small sacs, located on the sides of the anus, are covered with sweat glands that produce a discharge that smells unpleasant for humans, but indispensable as a scent marker for the dog.

If your dog begins to give off an unpleasant fishy odor, his perianal glands are probably having trouble.

When the dog smells like fish? Problems with the perianal glands

Problems with the dog’s perianal glands can be very common, especially among small dog breeds. Among these problems, we can find any occlusion that prevents the bags or perianal glands from emptying completely. In this case, the dog can experience pain and the untreated occlusion can complicate and turn into an abscess.

Occlusion of the perianal glands in the dog can be caused by several factors: the dog may have loose stools, a physiological abnormality of the sacs, or be seriously overweight. In any case, if you notice any signs of pain in your dog and some kind of brown color on the glands in question, contact your trusted veterinarian.

On other hand, some cases can be serious as it can be due to infections in the perianal glands which can be painful and must be treated quickly. You will recognize it because the area in question appears swollen and discolored – the infection can be resolved with medical treatment. The doctor will apply antibiotic and pain reliever medications, while the abscess may require surgical intervention.

So, to clarify the origin of this fishy smell in your dog, you should know that it is due to the anal glands located on the sides of your pet’s anus. These bags contain a liquid with a scent that is unique to each dog which serves as identification. This liquid also helps the stool to be expelled.

The glands expel this odorous liquid spontaneously but many other times, this does not happen and the liquid is not eliminated correctly, which can cause health problems.

How to know that your dog’s anal glands are not working?

The fishy smell is just one potential symptom (a problem with the dog’s perianal glands) dogs affected by these annoying conditions also have other signs that we list below:

  • The dog tends to rub his butt against the ground.
  • Sometimes, the dog can’t sit properly.
  • The dog tries to bite and lick the anal area.
  • They chase their tail.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • The dog has problems with constipation and pain during the evacuation phase.
  • Some dogs develop lumps or the presence of blood and pus in the affected area.
  • The affected area can be swollen and/or reddish.
  • He is restless and listless.
  • Anal sacs are more visible due to inflammation.
  • It gives off a stronger and different smell than usual.
  • Your dog can have a fever in case it turns into an infection.

When the liquid from the glands is not evacuated, they fill and can develop the pathologies that we will see below.

Anal gland disorders in dogs

It is necessary for your dog’s glands to empty otherwise, they may develop the following problems:

  • The glands are distended due to the fact that they remain full, which causes them to distend as said liquid becomes dense.
  • Development of sacculitis: this infection is due to the aforementioned, causing inflammation and a bad smell in your dog. After being diagnosed, your furry friend will receive antibiotics and the vet will be able to evacuate these glands and clean the area.
  • The appearance of abscesses: this will develop in case the infection is not treated. The inflammation and infection in the area will develop an abscess that can be seen on the skin and many times, the liquid is drained there. This causes fever and requires immediate antibiotic treatment in conjunction with cleaning and proper drainage of the fluid. In more severe cases, the dog may need surgery to remove the glands.

You should pay attention that the dog does not develop tumors in the area since they can be both benign or malignant. Sterilize dogs, especially males, helps greatly to prevent these tumors from appearing.

What to do if your dog smells like fish?

As mentioned above, the dog smells fishy because the secretions settle and the bad smell becomes more acute and persistent. If you notice an unpleasant fishy smell in your dog, you should immediately take him to the vet, only a professional can perform the maneuver to manually empty the anal glands.

Also, if there are more serious problems, the vet may prescribe a series of treatments including a high fiber diet, careful cleaning with antiseptic detergent, a cure of antibiotics, and pain relievers or hot compresses in the affected area, while in the most serious cases it will be necessary to resort to a surgical operation.

After the vet has finished with the indicated treatment, you can bathe your dog using special products that are created especially for them. Use a glove and wash the affected area slowly (your vet may recommend a product to avoid or worsen the problem, although, 3% hydrogen peroxide usually helps with odor). On the other hand, if a bad smell comes from a puppy, it is not normal since the puppies still do not have the ability to mark their territories using their glands. Their bodies are not yet biologically prepared for it, they are still very young.

How to avoid anal gland problems?

After our furry friend has been diagnosed and you know the reason for this bad smell, after the vet has emptied the glands, you should pay attention to see if this smell returns. However, there are some measures you can take to help prevent that from happening:

  • Bad odor is the first sign that your dog needs help. You should not wait for the situation to get worse, remember that it is painful so take it immediately to the vet.
  • Learn to empty the fluid from your dog’s glands. Ask a veterinarian for assistance to teach you how to do it at home in case your dog is prone to accumulating this fluid and not being able to empty it naturally. In this way, you should not wait for the vet to help you, you can do it yourself and make it part of a routine. It is not a difficult procedure to do; you should only put pressure on the anal area of the dog with the help of a cotton ball to absorb the liquid that will come out. Wear gloves and after the procedure, wash your hands well with soap.
  • Pay attention if your dog has diarrhea or similar since in these cases, the liquid from the glands does not usually come out properly. This helps the glands to accumulate more fluids. Avoid giving him human food and only give him food appropriate to his age.
  • Also, there are dogs that are already born with these problems in their glands, that is, they are prone to having difficulties emptying the liquid from the glands, some breeds are more prone than others so you should consult with your veterinarian and pay attention.

How and when to empty the anal glands?

Dogs that have trouble emptying the anal glands usually need intervention every 15 days to avoid infection and pain. The procedure can be somewhat annoying for the animal but it is very necessary.

On the other hand, as we mentioned earlier, the liquid from the anal glands usually empty itself when the dog performs his needs and for that, your pet must have a diet high in fiber.

Your vet can teach you how to do it at home, although it is always a good idea to let your doctor do it. To do so, you must be patient. The bags must be held between the thumb and index finger (preferably with a glove and cotton or cloth in hand) massaging from front to back.

In the case of a persistent blockage, the doctor may insert a finger into the anus, squeezing the gland toward its opening to empty it. But be careful! You should not experiment with this at home: it should be done by a specialist or he should explain and teach you well.

It is also not advisable to try to empty the glands preventively at home, as this can stimulate the production of excretion material. Done incorrectly could lead to irritation and infection of the healthy gland.

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