Itchy and Smelly in Dogs

Written By hannah hollinger
Published: 06/22/2017Updated: 10/29/2021
Veterinary reviewed by Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
Why is my dog itchy and smelly?

What is Itchy and Smelly?

A dog who is itchy and smelly (has malodorous skin) could be suffering from a skin disease such as 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 swabs, skin scrapings and possible hormonal blood tests, among other diagnostic tools.

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 fur which can cause his skin to get irritated and infected. Flies can also lay eggs in the dog’s dirty, matted fur and cause a maggot infestation (fly strike).

Skin Infections

Your dog may have a yeast or bacterial skin infection.  Many skin infections are driven by allergies such as flea allergic dermatitis, food reactions and environmental allergies. Common environmental allergens include trees, grass, pollen, mold spores, dust mites, cockroaches 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 due to the lack of ventilation.


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 under-active thyroid disease or 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.


While parasites such as fleas, lice and mites do not create an odour, they cause intense itching. The dog can lick, chew and scratch to the point that they develop secondary skin infections.

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 and 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 anti-inflammatories and medicated ear drops. Ears should be cleaned out before therapy is started.

The veterinarian may suggest that your dog be shaved in the region of a local infection and bathed with a medicated shampoo.  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 suitable 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 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.

Petted logo

Worried about the cost of treating your pet's symptoms?

Pet Insurance covers the cost of many common pet health conditions. Prepare for the unexpected by getting a quote from top pet insurance providers.

Get a quote


Itchy and Smelly Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals






9 Years


0 found this helpful


0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Severe Itching, Bumps, Odor
I dog sat for a friend on vacation. It turned out that her poodle had severe skin itching to the poin that he would whine, and scratch feverishly. I called her explaining his condition, wondering if there was anyhitng i could do to help him get relief. She told me it was allergies, and suggested using a spray that she had for him. It did seem to provie limited temporary relief, but he would resume scratching and crying. He was miserable, waking up throughout the night. She said he was comforted, and used to sleeping in bed with her. In an attempt to help, i allowed him to sleep in bed with me as well. He calmed down, but the next day resumed scrathing and seemed absolutely miserable. He also had a terrible odor about him as well, and very bad breath. Upon returning home, my friend promised to take him back to the vet. I began noticing an extremely itchy scalp on my head that breaks out with tiny eruptions. It also has a foul odor. It seems to come in waves. It is unbearbly itchy, and my hair is thinning as well during the eruptions or flares. I have been to a dermatologist over the past year, who has been treating the symptoms. I have tried everything it seems, from medicine, shampoo, creams, oils, and repetetive rounds of an antibiotic that i can refill. I still do not have a conclusive diagnosis. I cannot get any medical staff to take a skin scraping. Nobody knows exactly what it is, and are doing guesswork at this point. I just want to know what it is without another year of guessing. I want to keep my hair! I have spoken with the friend s couple of times hoping that perhaps she can shed some light on what the problem was with her dog had been, just in case it may have been some kind of contagious condition that humans can get from dogs, so that​ i can get the proper treatment. She says she no longer has the pet, and that it was allergies. Since​ she travels a lot, she found him a new home. I realize that skin conditions can sometimes go for many years without diagnosis. I too am miserable and wonder if someone might be aware of any conditions that can be transfered from dog to human. Thanks


Labrador Retriever




2 Years


0 found this helpful


0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Scratching And Odour
My daughter's dog, DUKEY around 2 years, black retriever/pointer mix is almost devoid of any coat, has a foul odor and scratches his skin to bloody. He is listless and just sleeps all day and goes outdoors just to relieve himself. He has been diagnosed as allergic to beef and is not fed any.

Need pet insurance?
Need pet insurance?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.