Why Does My Dog Smell of Fish?

We love our dogs, and there are many reasons why. No matter the size or breed, a dog is a reliable and loving companion and one that brings many years of pleasure and enjoyment to the whole family. Taking a dog for a walk, throwing the ball in the garden, cuddling up to it at home – all are pleasures that come from owning a dog, but there are some less pleasurable experiences!

One, which all dog owners will experience at some time, is that of unusual odours; smells that emanate from dogs – particularly at the rear – can be quite unbearable, especially that horrible fishy smell that comes about every now and again. So, what’s it all about, what does it mean, and how can you deal with it? Let’s have a look!

The Anal Glands

It’s all to do with the anal glands – or anal sacs – that all dogs have. These contain a substance that emits a powerful smell. When you see your dog sniffing another dog’s rear end – or vice versa – it is actually the anal glands specifically that they are checking out. The glands are there to give other dogs an idea of the current availability of the dog in terms of sexual or physical condition.

In normal situations, the fluid that causes the odour is cleared out when the dog goes to the toilet, but if a blockage occurs, you get to be party to the smell you really don’t want to know about! What can you do about it? The best option is to seek the services of a vet who will have experience in squeezing and clearing anal glands in dogs. It’s not pleasant for the animal but it is a brief procedure, and the vet will be able to perform an examination to check for any signs of further anal gland problems. However, your dog may have anal sac disease. Read on for more information on that subject.

Anal Sac Disease

Anal sac disease is very common among small dogs and refers to a number of problems with the anal sacs. Sometimes dog anal sacs are impacted making the anal sacs hard to touch and unable to express anal glands properly. When the anal sacs are expressed manually by professionals, they produce a small ribbon of pasty brown material.

Infections also can be a problem, and anal sacs can get very painful and appear discoloured and swollen. The abscesses can rupture through your dog’s skin if left untreated.

Anal gland tumours limit the anal glands and stops them expressing properly and makes the sacs feel enlarged and firm. In most cases, your vet will need to take a biopsy and use ultrasound to diagnose it, and most of the time the sacs will not express anything at all.

Symptoms of Anal Sac Disease

Other than the most obvious symptom, the smell of fish, symptoms of irritated anal sacs include, scooting on the floor, biting of the anus, or difficulty defecating. Scooting may seem humorous, but it is a sign of something that could be causing discomfort for your dog. If you notice any of these symptoms or discolouration of the anus you must get into contact with your veterinarian and get your dog some treatment of some sort.

What to do about your dog’s fishy smell

Some dogs, particularly smaller dogs, will need to have their anal glands expressed regularly by a veterinarian or groomer. You can learn to do it yourself if you do not mind the smell of fish. The smell of fish might just be resolved after a veterinarian has manually emptied your dog’s anal glands. The first thing to do is always get into contact with your veterinarian.

Compacted anal sacs require the assistance of a vet. The veterinarian may use a softening agent or a saline rinse to moisten the compaction if it is particularly dry. After it has been cleaned, your vet might recommend a diet with more fibre for your dog.

If the anal sac has been infected or abscessed, it will need to be cleaned with an antiseptic and will probably need to be treated with antibiotics. As well as this, your dog may have to have a hot compress put on it if there is a suspected abscess. The sac may require a few flushes to begin to work again properly.

Anal sacs and infections that do not resolve with treatment will need to be dealt with surgical removal. Potential complications include continence, but will not usually affect your dog’s quality of life if the procedure is successful.

Preventing the problem

As with all such conditions, there are preventative measures you can take to ensure your dog’s anal glands do not get blocked. A healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fibre is essential, and if you think this might not be what your dog is getting right now, you can talk to your vet about a new diet and try your dog on different mixtures. Some dogs, however, just tend to get blocked glands every now and then, no matter what you try, and you can learn to empty the glands yourself. However, it’s not a pleasant experience, so we recommend you check with your vet on a regular basis to make sure your dog leads a comfortable life.

It is not always possible to prevent anal sac disease, but there are practical measures you are able to take minimise the risk of the disease. Your dog will need to get plenty of water, foods with fibre in his diet and exercise, and you must keep an eye on his weight. Watch your dog’s stool formation as well to make sure it is well-formed.

Fortunately for dog owners, anal sac problems are easy to treat. The smell of fish should go away after the underlying cause or problem has been resolved. If the dog regularly has an odour of fish, think of it as a reminder to take your dog to the vet or groomer.

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