Dog smell – we all know that unpleasant experience of coming across a smelly dog and wishing we hadn’t. The smell of a dog can range from healthy and pleasant, to lightly smelly, to downright stinky and sometimes unbearable. Bad breath, poor hygiene, smelly dog farts and other factors come into play. So if you want to find out the reason why your dog stinks, you’ve come to the right place!

In this post, we’re also going to cover some tips to get your dog to smell better – which include some easy dog grooming tips you can do at home. Plus, did you know that staying on top of your dog’s location and health can actually help you get them to smell better? Let’s find out how.

Why do dogs smell – why does my dog stink?!

Like us, dogs naturally have their own smell which is perfectly normal. But if their odor becomes abnormally strong or fishy – it’s a good idea to find the cause of the bad dog smell before choosing a treatment.

Here are a couple of reasons behind a smelly dog – and why they tend to occur.

Poor grooming

Senior dogs or dogs in poor health may stop self-grooming. This might be due to mobility-affecting health conditions like arthritis, which can make it difficult for them to move. And if you’ve noticed how dogs tend to turn into pretzels while grooming themselves, you might understand why your grand-paw finds it tricky to clean up those hard-to-reach spots.

Unfortunately, with time, this can cause them to develop a bad smell. As oils, dander, and dirt build up, your once-fragrant pup might turn into a foul-smelling one instead. So keep an eye out for your dog’s grooming habits to see if this is the culprit.

💡 Pro tip: Not sure whether your dog counts as a grand-paw or not? Check out our post on how to convert dog years into human years. (Hint: it’s a myth that you just need to multiply your dog’s years by 7 to get their “human” age.)

Your dog’s adventures outdoors

When your dog goes outside, they’re exposed to all the (possibly smelly) things out there (like skunks). And many dogs love to roll around in mud, dirty water, or even other dogs’ poo! So yes, this could be one reason why your dog stinks.

But when you stay on top of your dog’s location, you can better intervene if you spot them heading off somewhere they’re likely to pick up the stinkies. (Like your neighbor’s freshly-fertilized farm or a manure heap nearby.) Though, to be fair, this can be difficult to do by yourself. After all, you can’t hover over your dog and monitor their movements every single minute of your day.

But with a dedicated pet GPS tracker, you can pinpoint your dog’s location in real-time. Or set up a “safe zone” which sends you an immediate alert if your dog sneaks past it. So you can prevent them from running off and picking up something smelly. (And potentially infectious!)

packaging of the Tractive GPS DOG tracker

Always know where your dog is

Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your dog too.

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Aka dog farts – a common reason why dogs smell. This could be a sign that your dog has eaten something that’s difficult to digest. Or if serious bouts of gas occur more often, your dog may have a food allergy or bowel disease. See a vet if you suspect that your dog farts more than normal. And while you’re here, here’s a comprehensive list of 15 foods that count as what can dogs not eat.

Dental disease or halitosis

Halitosis is another name for bad breath in dogs, and it may be caused by bacteria caused by plaque buildup, tartar, decomposing food, bleeding, or oral tumors1. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly to prevent odor and check for any oral health issues. Here’s a simple dog dental care routine you can get started with.

Ear infection

If your dog has a strong smell coming from the ear, it may be a sign of an ear infection. You might also notice your dog scratching their ears more often. See a vet as soon as possible for treatment if you see any redness or swelling.

Atopy or allergies

Atopy is a skin condition caused by environmental allergies and can lead to other issues – including odor in dogs. Learn more about seasonal allergies in dogs.

Wet dog

A dog’s skin is filled with glands which excrete liquids. Those are meant to protect the dog’s skin. The composition of these liquids is often the reason why your dog smells. As the fur gets wet, more particles are spilled out and the unpleasant smell increases.

5 Ways to make your dog smell better:

White and brown dog holding carrot in mouth vegetables for dogs

1. Feed a high-quality diet

Diet is one factor that affects your dog’s smell. So if you want to improve your dog’s smell naturally, avoid feeding them low-quality food. Instead, add more raw meat and dog-friendly fruits and vegetables to your dog’s diet. Some fresh herbs like parsley will also help to neutralize your dog’s smell.

person bathing brown dog in the bath, close up of dog paw under shower head

 2. Keep up with grooming 

Dogs groom themselves, but that doesn’t need to mean they don’t need your help. With a home-friendly dog grooming routine, you can help your dog stay clean (and healthy):

  • Brush your dog’s coat regularly to prevent unpleasant odors and manage shedding.
  • Gently rinse your dog’s coat and feet after they get dirty from playing outside.
  • Bathe your dog as needed (talk to your vet for recommendations).
  • Gently remove dirt and crust from around your dog’s eyes with a soft damp cloth anytime you notice it.
  • Wipe the fold and flaps of dog ears with a clean damp cloth every few weeks.
  • Trim the coat, and hair between your dog’s paw pads, as needed.
  • Clip dog nails regularly and take good care of paws.
  • Add a bit of baking soda to your dog’s bathtime. It can help neutralize bad smells.
small dog sleeping on white bed

 3. Wash bedding regularly

No matter where your dog sleeps, their bedding should be cleaned regularly to avoid odor. Dirt, bacteria, dust mites, skin cells, hair, environmental debris, and even parasites can accumulate in a dirty dog bed. So wash your canine friend’s bedding often, just as you should wash your own bed sheets.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, dogs can bring fungal organisms into bed with you – like the kind that causes scabies – another reason to wash bedding often!1

small white dog and blue toothbrush

4. Don’t forget to brush your (dog’s) teeth!

Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly is another way to avoid an unpleasant dog smell. It will prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar, not to mention gingivitis and gum disease. You can simply use water to brush your dog’s teeth or a special dog toothpaste.

Your dog’s dental care routine goes a long way. Dental calculus (tartar) and caries (cavities) can cause bad breath in dogs. And even more so, dental bacteria can infect other organs in your dog’s body – including their heart. Which, left untreated, can be fatal.

Dog getting checked out by female veterinarian in white lab coat

5. Checkup at the vet

Sometimes, a smelly odor in dogs is caused by an underlying health condition that may need treatment. For example, your dog’s bad breath might not just a result of poor dental hygiene. Rather, it might also arise from conditions like diabetes or kidney disease.2

So if your dog really stinks, it’s a wise idea to bring your dog to the vet for a full check-up.

Tell your vet about the bad dog smell you experience and they will likely be able to tell you the reason, run further tests, and provide recommendations, treatment, or medication if necessary.

If your dog does have a health issue which is making them smell bad, early detection and treatment are key to a long and healthy life together!

Tractive pet parents: Staying on top of their dogs’ health (smells & all)

Besides helping you locate your dog, Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring can help you stay on top of their health. By tracking simple, observable behaviors like your dog’s sleep and activity patterns, you can better pick up on a change in their regular routine. Which, more often than not, might signal they’re struggling with a sickness or infection – even if they seem happy and healthy. (Smell or not.)

Here’s a story from one of our pet parents who picked up on a change in her dog’s behavior from their Wellness Profile – and narrowly missed a ear infection!

Levi, a PTSD-trained service dog, with her Tractive GPS

“Evi, my PTSD dog was the first to try it out. And after three and a half weeks of using, and finally really trusting the data that Tractive gave me, I found out she was sick before I could even really see it.

Her sleep quality suddenly drastically decreased from around 90% to 60% and her active minutes dropped by about 50 a day.”

So even though she still looked happy and healthy, my Tractive device stated otherwise.

So I went to the vet with this information. They took me and Tractive seriously…and it turned out she had the beginning of an infection in her ears!”

“My Tractive GPS is a part of my primary gear now – and I don’t want it any other way.

– Cissy V, Netherlands

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Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive

“It can be easy to miss out on changes in your dog’s or cat’s regular activity – or just if they’re on the move more or less than usual. So we’ve set up Activity Degradation alerts for when your pet’s active minutes drop significantly. They can help you intervene in a situation where your pet might be struggling with an infection or even just pain.”

– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet-sitter

Because much like cats, your dog might be likely to hide their illness or infection from you – until it’s too late. (Which a bad smell might indicate.) So rather than letting their health condition worsen, you can take action early with their sleep and activity data at hand. Which can lead to a more productive conversation with your vet – and a longer, happier, healthier life for your furry friend.

Got a smelly dog at home and not sure what’s causing it? Here are a few other tips to get your buddy smelling like home again: