Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? – Causes & Treatments

No matter how much we love them, we have to admit – our pooches can smell odd from time to time.

In most cases, it is the food they ate, the dirt from the grass they rolled in half an hour ago, or they simply haven’t had their bath in a while and could use one soon. All of these causes have quick fixes that we can implement immediately and turn our smelly friend into a fresh, fragrant ball of joy.

However, what if you recently noticed a different – strong but unusual smell and immediately, the big question popped in your head:

Wait a second – why does my dog smell like fish?!

If you are troubled by the nasty odor coming from your dog and worried that it is a health issue, you have come to the right place. We are taking a look at all the potential causes and treatments and giving you the exact steps to resolve the issues.

Let’s dive right in!

Is the Fish-Like Smell Coming From My Dog Normal?

Most likely – no, it is not.

Some breeds indeed have a stronger smell than others (such as Saint Bernards, Shar Pei’s, and even Cocker Spaniels). Their strong smell can come from a wide variety of things:

  • they produce a lot of saliva;
  • they have wrinkly skin, which allows for the collection of yeast, bacteria, and dead skin cells;
  • the atrichial glands found in their footpads generate the intense smell;
  • etc.

However, a fish-like smell coming from your dog is usually a sign of issues with the anal glands, also known as anal sacs.

What Exactly Are Anal Glands?

What are anal glands?

Anal glands (or anal sacs) are small, specialized sweat glands placed on both sides of your dog’s anus. They can be as small as a pea and as large as a grape.

Their main purpose is to produce a secretion (either liquid or pasty) with a strong smell. It appears yellow or greyish and, you guessed it – smells like a fish.

Why do dogs need anal sacs and the liquid produced in them?

The strong smell plays an important role in the communication between dogs. Basically, the secretion is a scent marker.

There are various instances in which our dogs release the smell through the discharge from the anal glands:

  • through the feces – each time they poop;
  • when they are nervous or scared;
  • and even when they are too happy!

It also plays an important role in most social interactions between dogs. The scent is the reason why dogs love to sniff each other’s butts so much! It gives them important information about the other dog they are meeting, such as:

  • Have they met before?
  • Do they like each other?
  • Is the other dog friendly or not?

As you can see, anal glands play an important role in our dog’s lives, as long as they function normally. However, when some issues arise, our dogs can develop something known as anal sac disease.

Anal Sac Disease – The Reason Behind the Fish Smell

The issues appear when your dog isn’t able to express these fluids normally – through their poop. In this case, the glands become infected due to the build-up of the secretion. You can easily see how that is not good.

Of course, your dog won’t quite enjoy this process. It can be very painful, especially as more and more secretion builds up. Eventually, this can lead to the rupture of the anal glands!

According to Preventive Vet, a few things can increase the chances of anal gland problems:

  • your dog’s breed – smaller breeds seem to have more issues with anal glands than larger ones;
  • different kinds of allergies – food or environmental;
  • obesity;
  • diarrhea – for whichever reason it may happen;
  • old age – the older your dog is, the higher the chances they could develop this nasty disease;
  • and a few other, less common factors.

As you can see, none of these are deciding factors, but you should take them into consideration.

Now, let’s see what the possible signs of anal sac disease are.

What Are The Symptoms of Anal Sac Disease?

Anal sac disease with dogs.

Since the process of dealing with impactions of anal glands is very painful for your dog, they will usually show many signs that something is off.

The most common symptom is scooting!

What on Earth is scooting? – you may ask. It’s when dogs drag their butts on the ground, sort of like they are cruising around. However, while it may look silly, it’s no laughing matter, and you should check the issue with your vet.

And what about other symptoms?

It would help if you looked out for these as well:

  • blood traces anywhere (in their poop, their bed, carpet, etc.);
  • constant licking or chewing around their butt;
  • swelling around the rectum;
  • difficulty sitting or even walking;
  • letting out sounds to show they are struggling or in pain when pooping.

If you notice any or multiple of the symptoms, make sure not to waste any time and look for an opinion of a professional immediately.

How to Prevent Anal Sac Disease?

As always, it is better to think ahead than to react when the situation is already problematic.

Here are the things that you can do to keep your dog healthy and avoid anal sac disease in the future:

#1 – Get regular checkups at the vet.

While you should already be doing this, it is never too late to start. The easiest way to do this is to schedule regular visits to your favorite vet. They will keep track of any irregularities that may be going on at a given time.

Sure, our dogs aren’t always the biggest favorites of going to the vet. However, as you go there more often, your dog will probably become more comfortable with the entire process. In rare cases – they may even start to enjoy it!

(Yes, we realize how silly that sounds, but it’s possible.)

#2 – Keep your dog’s diet healthy and consistent.

Here are some easy guidelines that you can follow to make sure your pup is eating healthy:

  • Include a lot of fiber in their diet.
  • Give them plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Don’t switch their diet too often! Your dog is very sensitive to variety, leading to diarrhea and other, larger issues.
  • Consider including fish oil as well. It is a great supplement, even if they are completely healthy.

Related: Can Dogs Eat Watermelon? – Watch Out for These Few Things

#3 – Keep an eye on their weight.

We have already mentioned that obesity increases the chances of your dog developing anal sac disease.

For that reason, it is vital that you keep track of their weight and don’t allow your friend to become overweight. Lots of daily physical activity and a healthy, moderate diet will do the trick.

#4 – Regularly check your dog’s stool.

Since you are cleaning up after your dog when you take walks (at least we hope you are!), you are probably already doing this.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to remind you that their stool can show you if something odd is happening. If you notice any particular irregularities, especially blood, make sure to ask your vet what could be going on.

Other Possible Reasons for the Fishy Smell

A few other reasons could be causing the fishy smell, and it is best if we mention them briefly, too.

Sad samoyed lying on the ground.

So let’s go through the list!

Lack of Oral Hygiene

Most of the dogs suffer from periodontal disease due to a lack of regular brushing. This disease leads to the production of smelly sulfur compounds from the bacteria.

Other causes of foul smell are:

  • decaying teeth,
  • plaque and tartar,
  • tooth root infections,
  • or even a tumor.

However, at times the only issue is that your dog has been eating fish or fish-flavored food. Therefore, prioritize oral hygiene.

Use good toothpaste to brush your dogs’ teeth at least three times a week. You can even get a dental hygiene kit to remove the tartar manually. Additionally, dental bone, some chews, and bully sticks are of great help to the healthy dental routine of dogs.

Related: Top 5 Homemade Dog Toothpaste Recipes You Must Try!

Urinary Tract Infection

What if your dog only smells like fish after they pee?

If this is the case, your pet might be suffering from some infection related to the urinary tract, bladder, kidneys, etc. Numerous urinal disorders lead to such foul smells caused by a bacterial infection in the urine.

It is best to take your dog to do a urine test to know the exact cause. Our dog’s urine should smell very similar to ours, and if it does not, there is some issue that we should check.

Food Allergies

Some food allergies can lead to improper digestion and excess burping, leading to a fishy smell.

If your dog suffers from acid reflux, even then, it can smell like a fish. In such situations, it is best to consult your vet and see what could be happening.

Discharge (Common Cause in Female Dogs)

If you notice some odd discharge from your female dog’s vagina, it is naturally something you should check with a vet.

It can be because of the accumulation of yeast or some bacteria in the region. It can be anything from a simple problem to a life-threatening issue if it gets severe and untreated. Therefore, visit your vet immediately to treat your dog on time.


As you can see, there are various reasons why your dog may smell like fish. The sooner you notice any of them, the sooner you will be able to take action and keep your dog healthy.

As always, we would like to hear your stories!

What is your experience with weird smells coming from your dog, and what did you do to treat them?

Let us know by leaving a comment below right away.