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What is Itchy and Smelly?

A dog who is itchy and smelly (has malodorous skin) could be suffering from a skin disease or an infection. Your veterinarian can evaluate your companion’s skin to look for signs of yeast overgrowth or wounds that may have developed secondary complications. Checking your canine’s skin, ears and mouth on a regular basis are simple ways to identify and prevent potential causes for this condition.

  • Lack of regular grooming
  • Skin infections (bacteria or yeast)
  • Infected wound, bite or laceration
  • Ear infection
  • Seborrhea

If your dog is itchy and smelly he should be seen by a veterinarian.  The veterinarian will help determine the underlying cause of these symptoms by use of skin scrapings and possible hormone tests, among other diagnostic tools.

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Why Itchy and Smelly Occurs in Dogs

The reason your dog is itchy and smelly may be from:

Lack of Regular Grooming

All dogs require regular grooming. Dogs with curly, silky or long coats must be brushed daily.  If your dog is not groomed properly his hair may become matted.  Feces, urine and debris can be trapped in the matted hair, which can cause his skin to get irritated and infected. Flies can also lay eggs in the dog’s dirty, matted hair and cause a maggot infestation.

Skin Infections

Your dog may have a yeast or bacterial skin infection.  Many skin infections are caused by allergies such as flea bites, food reactions and environmental allergies. Common environmental allergens include pollen, mold spores, dust mites, cockroaches, pesticides, second-hand cigarette smoke and detergents.

Infected Wound, Bite or Laceration

An untreated wound, bite or laceration can become infected. The infected area may develop an abscess and pus. The skin will have a foul odor. 

Ear Infection

The smelly odor may be coming from your dog’s ears.  A bacterial or yeast infection in your dog’s ears will cause a bad smell, itchiness and excess ear wax. Dogs with pendulous ears are most predisposed to get ear infections.


Seborrhea is a skin condition that causes the sebaceous glands of the skin to produce too much sebum. Dogs with seborrhea have a strange odor that may become worse if a secondary skin infection occurs.  Seborrhea can be triggered by hormonal imbalances (such as thyroid disease, Cushing’s disease), poor diet, humidity, allergies and parasites. Seborrhea is more commonly diagnosed in the Cocker Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, and the Basset Hound breeds.

What to do if your Dog is Itchy and Smelly

A dog that is itchy and smelly should be seen by a veterinarian. Your dog is probably very uncomfortable and may be in pain.  Let the veterinarian know if you have observed symptoms besides the scratching and odor. Additionally, let the doctor know if your dog has had any recent lacerations, bites or wounds. 

The veterinarian will perform a physical examination on the patient. He may take your dog’s weight and temperature, and check his eyes, ears and gums. He may recommend a complete blood count, serum chemistry panel, skin scraping or skin culture.  Hormone tests will be done if the veterinarian wants to rule out thyroid disease or Cushing’s disease. If allergies are suspected the veterinarian may recommend an elimination diet and allergy testing. An elimination diet involves removing certain foods from your dog’s diet, reintroducing the food items one at a time. Allergy testing can help pinpoint environmental allergens.

The veterinarian will treat skin infections with oral and topical antibiotics. Seborrhea is typically managed with anti-seborrheic shampoo, omega-3 supplements, retinoids and oral cyclosporine. Ear infections are usually treated with oral antibiotic and medicated ear drops.

The veterinarian may suggest that your dog be shaved and bathed with a medicated shampoo and f the patient’s skin is irritated he may recommend a skin ointment. Most patients being treated will need to wear an Elizabethan collar (cone). The cone will help prevent him from further scratching or biting at his skin.

Prevention of Itchy and Smelly

Regularly grooming your dog may prevent skin infections. A local groomer can put your dog on a biweekly schedule.  Mobile groomers may charge a bit more but it is convenient for them to come to your home. Administering a monthly flea preventative can help prevent a flea infestation.  Many dogs are allergic to the flea’s saliva. 

When a dog has a wound, bite or laceration it must be cleaned with a disinfectant. If it is a deep or large wound, he should be seen and treated by a veterinarian. Some ear infections can be prevented with regular ear wax cleaning.  If your dog was diagnosed with allergies it is important to follow the veterinarian’s treatment plan to prevent the recurrence of a skin infection.

Cost of Itchy and Smelly

The treatment cost to cure an itchy and smelly dog will depend on the veterinarian’s diagnosis and how severe the skin irritation is.  Treating seborrhea can range from $200 to $800. Skin infections due to allergies may cost $600 to treat. The expense to cure an ear infection may be $300.