It occurs to you that the closest comparison is fish, but not just any fish but rancid left-out-in-the-sun-for-days fish. Pyew!
Thinking it must be the neighborhood, you put the car windows up and the air conditioning on to wait for the bad smell to pass. But it doesn't. In fact, if anything, the fishiness intensifies. As the miles pass but the foul odor doesn't, it begins to occur to you that the smell originates from inside the car. Since it's not coming from you, this leaves one explanation...the fishy smell comes from the dog!
Book First Walk Free!
Signs a Dog Smells Like a Fish
The anal sacs should empty out harmlessly each time they have a poop, however, this doesn't always happen. If the dog has overfull anal sacs or an infection in one gland, then some of this potent-smelling secretion may leak out. The powerful aroma can then contaminate the dog's coat and transfer to anything they sit on - hence spreading the malodor and sharing it with you.
Another sign your dog may imminently smell like a fish is if they spend time scooting or sledging along on their bottom. The sensation of the stretched anal sacs can be uncomfortable and instinctively they may try to relieve the pressure by dragging their bottom along the ground. It is an unwritten law that the dog will wait for the most embarrassing moment for you, before they very publically drag their butt along the floor, possibly on an expensive carpet.
And lastly, full or infected anal sacs can be painful, so if the dog is uncomfortable sitting, seems distressed, and has a fishy smell, then think "anal sacs."
- Ears drop
- Licking their rear end
- Pain while eliminating
History of Dogs Smelling Like Fish
Indeed, experiments in the 1960s whereby behaviorists presented dogs with the anal sac secretions of other dogs got some interesting results. Those presented with the fishy secretion drew back with apprehension and some even recoiled.
Again in the 1960s, researchers investigating dog anal problems (they must have drawn the short straw) found that whilst its normal for anal sac secretion to empty onto feces, this isn't always the case. At times of stress, the anal secretion can be squirted, skunk-like, from the anal sacs and travel several feet across the room.
Quite why scientists had to research this is a mystery. All they had to do was ask a vet, as it's not unusual to be daubed with anal sac secretion when a dog is stressed or upset.
Science of Dogs Smelling Like Fish
In addition, the anal sacs mark the dog's poop each time they go to the toilet. Again, this marks the poop out as theres and is a signal to dogs that they passed this way. If this seems bizarre to us, be aware that the canine nose is more sensitive to subtle smells than ours. Whilst there's nothing subtle about a strong fishy smell, to a dog it's the equivalent of getting an email describing a recent visitor.
And as for the science, well that stinky stuff is made up of a mix of different naturally occurring chemicals including:
- acetic acid
- butyric acid
- propionic acid
- isovaleric acid
- valeric acid
Training a Dog to Smell Like Fish
Time is better spent looking out for the dog's health and welfare by promoting healthy poop and anal sacs that empty naturally, thus reducing the risk of infection.
To do this, a good solid (but not hard) poop is the gold standard. As this is passed, the muscles of the anal sphincter contract in such as way as to milk out the anal sac secretion at the beginning and end of the feces.
When a dog has diarrhea or eats a low fiber diet, then the poop is less bulky or much softer, and some of the milking effects on the anal sacs is lost.
This can lead to a gradual accumulation of anal sac secretion within the gland, causing it to stretch. When the secretion is produced more quickly than it drains away, this can lead to impaction and infection. The latter is extremely painful with some dogs becoming feverish, going off their food, and even limping.
Prompt treatment with pain relief and antibiotics is required in order to save the dog from further distress. In some cases, sedation or an anesthetic is required, in order to flush out the infection and pack the glands with antiobitics.
How to React to a Dog Smelling of Fish:
Sniff the dog all over to try and localize the source of the smell. This can help you differentiate it from other whiffy problems such as an ear infection or bad skin.
If the dog smells of fish, then get the vet to check the dog's anal sacs. The latter may need emptying or an infection may be present. Either way, prompt treatment helps the problem settle down sooner.