Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish?

Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish
Written by Graeme Hall

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Have those playful dog kisses gone from a pleasant surprise to a stinky, fishy nightmare? You love your little guy, but lately, it seems like he’s sneaking out in the middle of the night and raiding every garbage bin in the neighborhood in the search for rotten fish. Why the hell does my dog’s breath smell like fish all of a sudden?

Unfortunately, this imaginary garbage bin raiding is most likely not the explanation for your dog’s fishy breath. While it is normal for your dog to have slightly bad breath when you get a sudden whiff of fishiness coming from your pooches mouth it can be unsettling.

Is it normal? Continue reading to find out why your dog’s breath smells like fish, and how you might be able to deal with this problem!

What is Causing the Bad Breath in my Dog?

We’ve all experienced a stint of bad breath (Halitosis) in our life, and it happens when you don’t brush our teeth often enough or when we’ve foolishly devoured the last piece of anchovy pizza just before bed.

Just like us, dogs can suffer from bad breath, and many breeds are prone to gum disease, and tartar build-up too, all of which can contribute to the state of your dog’s breath. Smaller breeds that tend to have flatter faces, such as the Boston Terrier, are even more prone to dental issues due to their teeth being so tightly packed together.

Keeping your dog’s teeth in tip-top condition should be the priority of any dog owner. We get it, sometimes trying to brush your dog’s teeth can turn into a hectic game of hide n’ seek as your dog runs in the opposite direction sending the living room furniture flying as he goes. But, this is the only way to prevent dental problems in your dog and even more so in senior dogs.

Taking a preventative approach to the well being of your dog’s teeth will save you a lot of heartache and expensive vet bills later on.

If you struggle to get a toothbrush anywhere near your dog, you can always opt for an excellent dental chew instead?

Brushing their teeth also does as much good for them as it does for you. However, if you think your furry buddy might need a more thorough deep cleaning, best to check with your vet.

But why is my Dogs Breath so Fishy?

Your dog doesn’t even eat fish but yet, his breath smells like he’s gorged himself on days-dead trout he’s pulled out of the neighbor’s garbage. What gives?

That’s an excellent question, and assuming that you’re sure your four-legged friend hasn’t been chowing down on trout or other types of fishy snacks, then it’s unlikely that what you are smelling has anything to do with fish at all.

In fact, the cause of the fishy dog breath might have a more disgusting source than you might think and it has nothing to do with the mouth or fish for that matter, this pungent smell can be linked to the butt. (“Peee-yew!”… and you just let your furry buddy lick you on the lips!)

Okay, calm down, you can stop washing your face with Lysol disinfectant like it’s going out of fashion.

You did come here looking for answers, right? Here’s the yucky truth.

We all know that dogs love to lick their butts, (that in itself should be enough to put you off facial dog licks for life) well when they do, they can pick up a stinky fishy smell if their anal glands are not completely emptied.

Dogs have sacs in their anus that excrete fluids whenever your dog goes to the bathroom. However, if your dog’s glands are not emptying properly, that can cause them to fill up and become infected.

In a nutshell, that’s what’s causing your dog’s fishy breath: the glands fill up, the fluid gets infected, and your dog’s breath gets fishy every time they lick their backside.

“eeeeewww” yes, sounds digesting I know, but, at least you know the root cause of that stink, and maybe you’ll refrain from those playful dog licks from now on?

Even though the fishy stench is repulsive to you, your dog is more than likely feeling unwell. Even though a mild case of impacted anal sacs shouldn’t cause severe pain, it can cause a bit of discomfort for your dog – and that’s more than likely why they’re licking their backside in the first place.

How Can I Tell if my Dog is Suffering From This Condition?

The classic visual symptom that is a sure give away that your dog has a problem with his anal sac is when they start “scooting.”

I’m sure you’ve all seen this before? This is when your dog sits down and then proceeds to drag his backside across the floor. This is their way of trying to unclog the sacs.

Anal gland problems typically aren’t a reason for running off to your vet, and they often do clear on their own with or with the “scooting.” However, in some cases, anal glands can become infected, and abscesses can form. If this happens, your dog will be in a considerable amount of pain and discomfort, so much so, that he may try to bite you if you touch the sensitive area around his tail and backside.

If you suspect that your dog does have an infection in this area, it’s always best to take your dog to the vet for a checkup.

Remember, that the reason for your dog having fishy breath is often related to this condition. However, there can be a plethora of possible problems that could be causing your dog’s bad breath such as poor dental hygiene (not fishy, but still unpleasant, and costly, if left untreated.)

How Can I Fix My Dog’s Bad Breath?

If your dog is suffering from fishy bad breath (remember, typically caused by the aforementioned anal gland blockage), the solution can be a little tricky. This isn’t something you want to tackle at home by yourself.

a dog scooting

I recommend that you book your fury buddy in at the vets as soon as you can. Your vet will make a full diagnosis and in most cases will suggest that your dog’s anal glands need to be expressed. Now, this isn’t as scary as it sounds, and the majority of dogs can do this by themselves; it happens naturally.

Your veterinarian will be able to take care of it. Once the blocked glands have been emptied, the fishy breath smell should go away.

I’m Brave: Can I Express My Dog’s Anal Glands Myself?

Sure, if you think you’re up to the task. But it’s worth pointing out that this should only be attempted in mild cases. If the glands have become infected it’s best to take your dog to the vet where he or she will make sure the sacs are emptied and that your pooch is prescribed some antibiotics to clear up any infection.

If you still want to try to do this yourself, here’s what you need to know.

Ideally, two people are needed to carry out this procedure. One will hold the dog while the other will express the blocked glands. You can hold your dog gently with one arm under their neck and the other arm around their body.

If you own a large breed, I recommend that one person kneels behind the dog. Smaller breeds can be placed on a table. If possible, I suggest wearing rubber gloves (because this could get messy) and also some lubricants such as petroleum jelly.

Now I warn you, this isn’t going to be pretty.

Gently lift your dog’s tail and insert your index finger into your dog’s anus. You should be able to locate the blocked gland (in fact there are two). If not feel around until to find something that is about the size and shape of a small marble or pea.

Once you think you have located the blacked gland have a paper towel ready and gently apply pressure onto the gland and squeeze towards your self. By gently doing this, the blocked gland should empty.

Once you have carried out this procedure, you shouldn’t be to feel the gland; as it is now empty.

You will find a gland on each side, and they should be gently squeezed and empty one at a time, wiping the area clean after each expression.

I told you this procedure wasn’t going to be pleasant. For most people taking your dog to the vet will be the better option, both for safety and peace of mind.

About the author

Graeme Hall

Graeme is the founder of Doggytastic! which is where he blogs about dog training, health, nutrition and anything else related to keeping a dog happy and healthy. Want to know a little bit more? Make sure to check out his full bio.

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