Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? Unraveling This Peculiar Odor

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? Unraveling This Peculiar Odor

If you suddenly smell fish but the only animal around is your pup, something fishy may be going on. Our dogs can smell like a lot of things, depending on where they rolled around in, but a fishy scent is one of the more uncommon. Here's why your dog smells like fish and what you can do about it.

Anal Gland Secretions

When dogs mark territory, they release scent markers that come from two tiny glands found on each side of their anus. These are anal sacs that hold an oily material that has a skunk-like smell. When they defecate, they squeeze a bit of this liquid and coat their poop. This is also what they smell when sniffing each other's butts.

If their anal sacs have issues, the smell of the fluid can be extremely foul. It can be that they are infected, impacted, or full. A few of the signs that your pup has anal sac issues are the following:

  • Licking the area
  • Difficulty in pooping
  • Dragging their butt across the floor
  • Blood or pus in the butt area or poop

When you notice these and more on your dogs, consult your vet immediately.

Skin or Yeast Infections

All our dogs have a low level of yeast on their skin, which we can smell. This is why, aside from that fishy smell, some furparents also claim their pups have a corn chip scent. When this level of yeast goes overboard, their skin becomes irritated and itchy. Dogs with allergies have a higher chance of getting yeast infections.

Below are a few signs that your dog has a yeast infection:

  • Hair loss
  • Excessive licking
  • Redness
  • Sores

When you notice these, go to your vet to confirm and get the appropriate medication.

Dental Issues

A foul odor from your furbaby's mouth, including that fishy smell, can mean they suffer from a dental issue. It can be a tooth infection, a wound, or a dental disease that needs attention. If you notice the following from your dogs, it's best to consult your vet:

  • Eating less
  • Dropping food while eating
  • Avoiding their chew toys
  • Rubbing or pawing their face

You may want to consider brushing your dog's teeth two or three times a week to help clear bad breath. You may also want to give them dental treats to clean your dog's mouth effortlessly.

Urinary Tract Infections

If your dog's fishy smell comes from its urine, this may be a sign that they have a urinary tract infection (UTI). This happens when there is bacterial overgrowth which can be identified by giving your vet a urine sample and doing a urinalysis.

Aside from fishy-smelling urine, watch out for the following UTI symptoms in your dog:

  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Crying when peeing
  • Straining to urinate


If you feed your dog fish, or if they've been secretly digging into your cat's fish-based wet food, a fishy smell can linger on their breath. Although some dog foods are actually made with fish or fish-based proteins, expect to smell a strong odor when they lick you. If the fishy smell bothers you, you should simply switch their diet to include non-fish-based proteins.


When your dog is stressed or scared, they will tend to emit a fishy scent from their anal glands. This isn't necessarily a medical condition you need to address. It may just mean that the dog is responding to their fight-or-flight senses when frightened, stressed, scared, or anxious.

Ear Infections

If your dog smells fishy, another reason can be that they have an ear infection from one or both ears. This usually occurs in your dog's outer ear, where wax can build up or moisture can be trapped. These areas become ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and yeast growth. For this, you may want to bring your dogs to professional groomers or your vet for a thorough ear cleaning to remove debris in their ear canals.


Although instead of a fishy smell, you may detect a fruity scent you don't usually notice in your dog, the culprit can be diabetes. In its advanced stages, this condition can affect your dog's breath. It may be because your dog's body is not producing enough insulin, which can result in high levels of ketones, the chemicals that break down body fat into energy. 

The most common signs of diabetes in dogs include reduced appetite, weight loss, or frequent drinking. Check with your vet immediately if you suspect this condition.

Vaginitis or Pyometra

Another reason your female dogs smell like fish is that they have vaginitis or pyometra. Bacterial flora naturally occurs in your dog's genital area, but when you start to notice a foul, fish-like odor, this could mean your dog has a vaginal infection. 

Pyometra, on the other hand, can also be the culprit. It typically affects unspayed dogs, which can cause discharge to leak out your pups' vagina. You need to bring her to a vet immediately to address this issue.

How to Prevent Fish Smell in Your Dogs

While we can't always prevent our dogs from getting infections, here are a few tips you can take to prevent your dog from smelling like a fish:

  • Practice good hygiene: Bathe your dog regularly and practice good grooming.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your dog: Avoid giving them too much to eat, which can cause them to weigh more than they should.
  • Give them a healthy diet: Feed your dogs healthy food with plenty of fiber to promote digestion.
  • Go for walks regularly: Make sure your dog gets enough exercise to keep them healthy.
  • Go for regular visits to the vet: This ensures that your dog has no underlying condition.

When to Visit the Vet

It may seem a comical or weird situation when your dog smells like fish, but it can be a sign of an underlying health issue. Some causes, such as infections and diabetes, warrant a visit to the vet. It's always better to err on the side of caution and maintain a happy and healthy life with your furbabies.

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