Why does my dogs breath smell like fish?

Dogs aren’t known for having minty-fresh breath, and even if they regularly chew on bones or other toys, their breath is never going to be in-your-face pleasant. Depending where your dog’s mouth has been, their breath can take on a variety of odors, none of which are good. But what does it mean if your dog is suddenly in your face with breath that smells suspiciously like fish?

Of All Smells, Where Does the Fish Smell Come From?

Don’t assume your dog somehow got into fish if they suddenly have an oceanic scent to their mouth. There’s generally only one reason why your dog smells like fish, and actual fish have nothing to do with it. Dogs have two glands in their anus (at two and four o’clock) known as anal glands. These glands are filled with a fluid with a very foul- and fishy-odor to it. If you’ve seen your dog stop to smell another dog’s poo, it’s because every dog’s feces smells different because of the anal glands. Anal gland fluid smells awful to humans, but to dogs, it’s the equivalent of checking their social media.

Anal glands express naturally when dogs defecate, but lots of dogs end up emptying their glands when they’re excited or nervous, too. If your dog has been startled by something and you get a whiff of a fishy odor, it’s because they just expressed their anal glands. Unfortunately, some dogs’ glandular fluid is brown and quite thick, so if they express their glands on the furniture, they’re going to leave a small mess behind. Other dogs have clear fluid, so you might never see it.

Also, when your dog is dragging their bum across the floor (aka butt surfing), it means their glands are quite full and they’re trying to get some relief from the pressure. Dragging their buttocks across the floor puts enough pressure on overly full glands to express them–all over your carpet. As funny as it is to watch, you should probably put an end to any butt surfing for your carpet’s safety.

So…Why Does Their Breath Smell Like Fish?

When your dog comes up to you reeking like fish, the chances are pretty good that they have expressed their glands for a number of reasons and then cleaned themselves up. The smell is not pleasant, but it’s better to have their mouth smelling like fish instead of your bedsheets!

Do You Need to Express Your Dog’s Glands For Them?

Most dogs can take care of their anal gland expressions without any assistance, but some dogs, especially small breeds, have fluid that’s really viscous. Small breeds are prone to toothpaste-like consistency fluid, making it difficult for them to naturally express them. Unless their glands are expressed regularly, they become impacted and infected. An impacted anal gland eventually ruptures and becomes infected. Anal gland ruptures and impactions are very painful for dogs and require antibiotics and pain medications until they heal.

If you have a dog who’s prone to these infections, they’re a dog who requires frequent manual expressions to prevent impactions. Groomers offer this service, but it’s a good idea to take them to the veterinarian for a regular assessment of the glands instead of a simple emptying. It’s important to note, too, that unless a dog has specifically been diagnosed with troublesome anal glands, they do not need manual expressions. Emptying the glands more often than necessary creates problems where there weren’t any before.

Getting Rid of the Fish Smell

There isn’t much you can do to keep your dog from licking their bottoms after emptying their anal glands. The smell typically dissipates relatively quickly, and you can speed the process up with a dog treat, making them drink some water, or banishing them to the floor until the smell goes away on its own.

When your dog’s breath periodically smells fishy, chances are it’s just their anal glands and there isn’t anything to worry about. If it becomes a chronic problem, though, it’s time to consult with your veterinarian to see if there’s another underlying problem.

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