Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? (Tips from a Certified Groomer)

Dog That Smells Like Fish

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?

Bow Wow … Whoa There!

No one likes a smelly dog.

As a professional dog groomer, I deal with stinky dogs all the time! There are several different reasons that your dog might smell like a fish (or just smell bad in general).

It’s important to treat the issue seriously as some fishy smells from your dog will require medical attention to resolve.

In this article, I will explain common reasons why your dog smells like fish, what to do about it, and how to get rid of that pesky dog smell around your home.

In this Article We Cover:

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish? (Finding the Source)

There’s more to a stinky dog than meets the nose. The odors coming off your dog can give you a glimpse into their health and how other aspects of their environment might be affecting them.

Determining the cause of the smelly dog is the first order of business! You need to make sure that there is nothing medically wrong with your dog. This is even before you take your dog to a groomer or attempt to bathe him on your own.

A bath won’t get rid of the dog smell if it’s caused by poor health. Also, a bath can mask the cause and make diagnosis more difficult for your veterinarian.

Let’s Get to the Vet

I don’t recommend sticking your nose next to the stinky parts of your dog to take a whiff.

Not only is this icky, but if the issue is bacterial or fungal, there are some types that you don’t want to inhale. If that stuff gets too deeply into your sinuses, it may take up residence.

Instead, have a vet examine your dog’s teeth, ears, and jowls. This is where extra moisture and skin oils tend to collect. Bacteria and yeast collect in these areas and they can be very smelly when things get out of control.

Your vet has special instruments to look into your dog’s ear canals and anywhere else that may be giving off a foul odor.

The Truth About Dog Anal Gland Smell

Smelly Fish

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?

Ask your vet to make sure your dog’s anal glands are working the way they should. The anal glands contain a very stinky oil that smells pungently like fish.

The anal glands are located on either side of a dog’s rectum. When everything is working properly, they should empty, or “express,” when the dog defecates.

The scent they leave behind is a stinky message left for other animals. The scent communicates the dog’s health, reproductive status, and can also be a territory marker.

Not all dogs are driven to scent mark, but the anal glands express none-the-less, and it’s a healthy and normal part of being a dog.

Veterinarians, Dog Groomers, and Dog Anal Gland Expression

Many dog groomers do express anal glands, but this is really a procedure that should be left to the vet.

Most dogs do not need help expressing their anal glands. Expressing a dog’s anal glands when they don’t require it can actually cause issues.

If your dog’s glands are full, the vet is qualified to express them using an “internal” method. The internal method expresses them from the back side of the gland which is preferable.

The internal method puts less stress on the walls of the glands and also allows them to be expressed more fully without causing additional trauma.

All dog groomers must use an “external” method, because the internal method is considered a veterinary procedure. Dog groomers aren’t licensed to practice veterinary medicine.

A vet can show you how to safely use the “internal method” so you can express your dog’s glands at home.

Dogs who can’t express their own glands when they go to the bathroom may have weak or painful muscles or joints. Dog obesity, unhealthy body conditions, and deformities can all contribute to anal gland issues.

In every case, it’s the vet who should supervise the care and maintenance of your dog’s anal glands. Your dog’s anal glands are considered internal organs and should be treated as such.

A Little Help from Your Friendly Neighborhood Dog Groomer

My clients will often ask me what products I buy for my own pets. I signed up for the Amazon Associate Program so that I can include Amazon product links in this article.

If you click on a link below and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I truly appreciate this as it helps me to continue my mission to provide pet wellness education. Thank you so much!

You can always coordinate with your dog groomer to have a bath and proper grooming the day after the vet sees your dog.

Directly following an anal gland procedure, I recommend a spritz of NoScent pet odor eliminator to the area and then patting it clean with a Glandex Rear End Pet Wipe.

I also recommend supplementing your dog’s diet with Glandex Anal Gland support chews. This improves the chance that your dog’s anal glands will empty on cue when he goes to the bathroom.

I started my own dog, Lucy, on these when she started to have trouble expressing her anal glands.

How to Get Rid of Fishy Smell from your Dog’s Coat

Happy Couple Holding Good Smelling Dog

Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?

Besides the unmistakable anal gland stink, there is another fish smell that I often encounter as a dog groomer. It’s the just-swam-in-a-stagnant-pond smell that can waft off of a dog’s coat after he’s been out in the sun.

This fishy smell that comes off of your dog is from the healthy oils in his coat and skin being broken down in the UV rays. This is actually one of the ways your dog gets his daily Vitamin D.

Your dog can’t absorb Vitamin D through his skin like we do. So, your dog gets most of the Vitamin D he needs from his diet and when he licks it off his fur.

If I find my dogs have this fishy smell when they come in from their sunbathing or outdoor adventures, I know they’ve gone a bit too long without a bath!

A bath in gentle shampoo and a conditioner will restore moisture and seal up the coat. The bath will also help to remove excess oils and the normal bacteria that contribute to wet dog smell and natural odor.

If I’m not up for a full-bath session with my dogs, I mist them lightly with Pet MD pet body deodorizer or with Nootie Skin and Coat solutions spray and wipe them lightly with a slightly dampened cloth.

For very dirty areas a light mist of witch Hazel can be used to clean away a bit more dirt.

How to Get Rid of Dog Smell: (Freshening Up Your Home)

My favorite deodorizing product, hands down, is Kids ‘N’ Pets. I buy it by the gallon and I love using it to freshen any funky smelling dog beds, toys, collars, dog sweaters, bandanas, or other accessories.

Kids ‘N’ Pets is a staple in my house.

I use it on the towels at the grooming salon and I put it in a spray bottle and mist my furniture, floors, cat trees, and car seats. And I love that it’s cruelty free too!

I use the all purpose solution the most, but Kids ‘N’ Pets has laundry detergent and carpet cleaner that also work great.

Use Stainless Steel Water Bowls and Keep Them Clean

Stainless Steel Dog Bowl That Needs Cleaning
This Water Bowl Needs To Be Cleaned

Food and water bowls should be washed daily and disinfected at least weekly. There is a noticeable increase in my dogs’ eagerness to drink from a freshly cleaned water bowl.

So, your dog will definitely appreciate it, even though he may also enjoy drinking from the toilet bowl.

Make sure to scrub away that icky bio-film that accumulates on the food and water bowls. The bio-film can make your dog’s jowls smelly and even give him bad breath.

Stainless Steel in bowls such as the Tarli Deluxe Extra Thick Stainless Steel Dog Bowl with Raiser is the easiest to disinfect. The Tarli Deluxe also features a raised design with tilt for easier access for your dog.

Fighting the Fish: (Changing Your Dog’s Diet Can Help)

A diet change can help improve your dog’s health and odor from the inside! You should speak to your vet about the best dietary options for your particular dog.

A healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight with age-appropriate exercise is of utmost importance to the long term comfort and health of your dog.

Adding some fresh foods like lean meats and safe fruits and veggies to your dogs daily meals can also improve his well-being. Additionally, this will give him more nutrients to boost his skin health and teeth which can help with odor.

Of course, keeping your dog properly hydrated by always having fresh water will keep away dry-mouth and also help his skin and coat remain healthy and less odorous.

The Coldest Dog Bowl is nice for encouraging dogs to drink because it is designed to keep the water cooler for longer.

Healthy Skin Doesn’t Stink: (Properly Caring for Your Dog’s Skin)

Your dog, and all animals, including humans, have a natural “biome” or collection of living microbes on the surface of their skin.

A natural protective oil, called sebum, is secreted by all dogs. The sebum provides a protective barrier on the skin and this, along with the competition among all of these bacteria and yeasts, should keep your dog’s microbe numbers in check.

In some breeds of dog (hounds for example), the sebum is extra thick and the skin produces a lot of it to make up for their lack of coat.

In natural dog-like species, their double coat forms a protective barrier over the skin to buffer it from environmental stressors such as sunlight, abrasions, irritants, and dirt.

The sebum can build up within creases and “sebaceous zones” that cover the underside of your dog. These zones include the nose, ears, armpits, stomach, groin, and underneath the tail. These areas can become bogged down with grime.

Unfortunately, I often see deodorizing shampoos, degreasers, and even dish detergent used to scrub the odor away.

This can actually be counter productive. The skin can have a knee-jerk reaction to being abraded and overly dry. The skin will thicken the sebum and even the outer-most layer of skin in an attempt to compensate.

Gentle Cleaners Are Better

A better alternative is to clean the skin gently and condition properly. This will soothe and restore the skin’s natural balance and that will help to control odor for a long-term benefit.

If your dog has concerning odor, it’s always best to get a vet’s diagnosis and prescribed treatment and then work on restoring the natural balance to the skin. This will promote long term health and odor prevention for your dog.

Make sure to follow your vet’s instructions carefully and consistently. Report back to the vet regularly with any changes (good or bad) to your dog’s skin.

Healthy skin doesn’t stink.

Gentle Shampoo and Conditioner Combo

For baths, a gentle shampoo and conditioner combo you can use is Igroom All in One.

In between grooming appointments, this gently cleans the greasy, dirt-grabbing buildup on your dog without stripping his skin’s protective and necessary oils.

I Heard Your Dog Smells: (Properly Caring for Your Dog’s Ears)

Tropiclean dual action ear cleaner can help reduce odor on a dirty ear, but if the ear looks a healthy flesh-color and isn’t visibly dirty, it’s best to leave it alone.

Wiping or flushing the ear can cause it to become irritated or imbalanced. Never wipe where you can’t see in the ear and avoid scrubbing and irritating the sensitive ear canal.

The ear wax is actually a healthy sebum (protective oil). The sebum’s job is to keep the dog’s ear lubricated and carry debris to the outer ear opening.

If the sebum is allowed to do its job, and isn’t constantly scraped at, it will bring dirt to the surface of the ear. From there, you can carefully and gently lift it away with a cotton ball or tissue dampened with cleaner.

Red, Cheesy, or Stinky Dog Ear? Time to See the Vet.

Of course, a red, cheesy, or stinky ear should be seen by your vet ASAP.

A groomer will pluck an overly hairy ear, but make sure they never pluck an infected ear. If your groomer uses ear powder, it should only be used on their fingers and never dumped into the canal. Otherwise, it can form a plug that your vet will have to figure out how to remove.

Keep in mind that the ears aren’t supposed to be “dry”. They are meant to have a healthy micro biome to keep both the yeast and bacteria in check.


A fishy smell from your dog may require medical attention to resolve. So, it’s a good idea to treat the issue seriously.

The odors coming off your dog can give you valuable clues about his health or problems in his environment. It’s important to involve your vet in dealing with fishy and undesirable dog smells.

There are also dog smells that are totally benign and can be fixed with some gentle cleaners and a little elbow grease!

I hope that you found this article helpful. I wish you many, happy, healthy, and sweet smelling years ahead with your dog!

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Dog Sitting in Boat Picture by John Cameron

Fish Picture by David Clode

Couple Holding Dog Picture by Drew Risner

All Other Pictures by Absolute Animal Care

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