Help! My Dog Always Smells Bad

Five things to do if your dog consistently stinks.


Most of us love snuggling with our dogs and burying our noses in our dogs’ soft, shiny coats. But if you find yourself avoiding that last activity due to your dog’s persistent unpleasant odor, read on!

1. Check your dog’s coat for debris.

Many dogs love to roll in stinky things. Look over your dog’s body to see if there is a particular problem area, such as eau d’animal mort (aroma of dead animal) on his shoulders or cat-poop war paint on his face. He could also have stepped in something nasty, so don’t forget the paws!

2. Examine his skin and coat.

Does his hair feel greasy? Is his skin reddish, with little pustules? Does he have a lot of dandruff? A wide variety of skin conditions can cause your dog to smell funky. Ear infections due to yeast or bacteria can make your dog’s ears smell bad.

3. Give him a bath.

If the bad odor is limited to a small area, you can clean just that area. If the smell is coming from his ears, soak a cotton ball with ear cleaner and squish it inside your dog’s ear, then use more cotton balls to wipe out the debris. Q-tips can be used in the folds of the outer part of your dog’s ear, but don’t stick them in any farther. Then, skip to #5.

If the smell is emanating from some spot on his coat, start with paper towels to get the worst of the gunk off, then break out the hose (outside or in your shower) to get the rest. Use dog shampoo or Dawn dish soap to cleanse the area and leave it smelling fresh. Rinseless shampoos are useful if you don’t have the time or place for a full-body bath.

If your dog’s odor seems to be more of a whole-body event, though, that full bath is definitely in order. If you can’t bear having the swamp monster in your house, check with local pet-supply stores; many feature do-it-yourself dog-wash stations.

spaniel puppy getting a bath

© Oleksandr Lypa |

If your dog’s coat just seems a little oily or he has some dandruff, he may simply be overdue for a bath. Short-haired dogs in particular seem to get a “doggy” smell when they have gone a long time without a bath. Skin folds on dogs with loose skin require extra attention to keep those areas clean. Suds up!

If your dog’s skin seems to have more going on, a medicated bath may be in order. Start with something gentle, like an oatmeal shampoo, then set up an appointment with your veterinarian. Your vet can identify any skin problems and provide you with the right medicated shampoo to resolve the issue. When using a medicated shampoo, be sure to read the directions; many require some soaking time before you rinse to be most effective.

Dry your dog thoroughly afterward, especially if he has a long or thick coat. This is doubly important for dogs with skin disorders, as excess moisture can exacerbate the problem. Blow dryers made for dogs are an excellent investment for the abovementioned dogs. Human hair dryers can be used with caution – only with the heat on the lowest setting so that you don’t burn your dog’s skin.

4. Wash the dog’s bedding.

If your dog has been marinating that stink for a little while, his bedding is probably due for a wash, too. Fresh, clean bedding will help to keep your clean dog staying that way. Don’t forget the blanket in your dog’s crate in the car.

5. Schedule a vet appointment.

If your dog smells funny, but his skin and coat look fine, or if he seems to get smelly quickly after a bath, there may be an underlying problem. Bad breath can indicate dental infections, kidney disease, or diabetes. Ear infections require examination under a microscope to identify and treat the cause of the problem. And skin problems may require testing to rule out allergies.

Kate Eldredge is a licensed veterinary technician from Plattsburgh, New York. She also trains, shows, and breeds Belgian Tervuren and is working on her canine-rehabilitation certification.