Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish?

Minty fresh breath is simply something dogs do not have. Even the best cared for among pets can have somewhat foul smelling breath. Regularly chewing on bones, hard treats, and toys can help the situation, but their breath will never be all that pleasant.

A dog’s breath can take on a variety of odors. This depends upon where their mouth has been. Most of these odors are unpleasant, and many dogs will acquire a fishy smelling breath at some point in their lifetime. This leaves dog owners wondering what is behind this oddly oceanic smell.

What is Causing the Bad Breath?

Everyone knows what bad breath, or halitosis, is. People will get it when they don’t brush their teeth often enough or when they eat certain foods and spices such as onions and garlic. Bad breath is caused by the build-up of bad bacteria in the mouth, stomach, or lungs. This bacterium creates a foul-smelling odor that isn’t very appealing on people or their pets.

Dogs cannot brush and floss their teeth so they are much more susceptible to tartar, gum disease, and plaque. All of these can be contributing factors to bad breath. That is why it is important for dog owners to keep their pet’s mouth as clean as possible. Breeds with flat faces and many of the smaller dogs such as Boston terriers and pugs are more prone to these issues due to the fact that their teeth are so close together.

A specially made dental chew, dog treat, or chew toy will often do the job when it comes to caring for a dog’s teeth. Brushing is ideal. Owners can find dog tooth brushes and pastes online or at the local pet store. It is also recommended to have a dogs teeth routinely checked by a vet. They can determine when a full professional cleaning is required.

Why Does It Smell Like Fish?

The fishy smell actually comes from a dog’s anal glands. These glands excrete anal gland fluid when the dog goes to the bathroom. Normally, these glands will take care of themselves, but if they do not empty properly, it will lead to the glands filling up. They can quickly become infected when this happens.

The impacted fluid inside of the glands will acquire a fishy odor. Mild cases of impacted anal glands will not cause a dog severe pain, but it is bothersome. Because the infection is causing discomfort, the dog will lick himself in an effort to fix the problem. Once they do this, they can pick the odor of fish up on their breath.

Dog owners can watch for other signs of impacted anal glands to help determine if this is the source of the bad breath. A very common reaction to this problem is scooting. Dogs will sit on their hindquarters and drag themselves across the floor or ground in an attempt to unclog the glands.

If impacted anal glands are suspected, the dog may need medical attention. Mild cases can often be treated at home, but in cases where the glands have become infected or abscessed, a trip to the vet will be necessary. When it reaches this point, the dog will be in extreme pain. It may snap at its owner if they try to touch anywhere around the base of the tail.

How to Fix the Problem

If the bad breath is indeed related to clogged anal glands, the owner has a few options when deciding upon a solution. This should be discussed with a vet. They can determine if the glands will express on their own. Some dogs in this situation need to have the glands expressed. The vet can do this for them. Once the anal glands are empty, the fishy smell on the dog’s breath will go away in time.

If the fish odor persists or returns, the dog may have a situation where the anal glands clog on a regular basis. The odor returns because they continue to lick themselves. Once the anal glands become impacted routinely, the vet will place the dog on a high fiber diet. This will make the stool firmer which will apply more pressure to the anal glands and cause them to excrete the fluid normally.

In the most severe cases where this continues to be a problem, the vet may need to perform a surgical procedure called a sacculectomy. This is when the vet removes the anal glands. Although it is a simple procedure, the dog may be incontinent afterwards.

Home Remedies

The dog owner can express the anal glands themselves at home. This should only be done with mild cases. Once the glands have become infected, only the vet can help. In these severe cases the dog may not let their owner touch the area. In addition, the infection will need antibiotics in order to clear up.

The first thing to do when expressing a dog’s anal glands is to position the dog. One needs to kneel down behind a larger dog. Smaller breeds can be placed on a table or counter top. Two people are needed. One will restrain the dog while the other expresses the glands. The dog can be held gently with one arm under their neck and the other arm around their body.

It is necessary to wear latex gloves and use a lubricant such as petroleum jelly. Gently lift the dog’s tail. Feel just inside the dog’s anus with the index finger and on the outside with the thumb. One should be able to feel the gland. It will be about the size of a pea or small marble depending on the size of the pet.

Once located, a paper towel can be used as the owner places pressure on the glad as they squeeze towards themselves. The gland should empty. The gland should not be able to be felt after the procedure is complete. There is one gland on each side. They should be done one at a time, wiping the area clean after each expression.

Is Bad Breath Dangerous To a Dog?

There are many other possible reasons for a dog to have bad breath. These reasons require a varying level of concern depending on the source of the bad breath. If the bad breath is simply a matter of the teeth needing to be cleaned properly, it is fairly easy to take care of. Even having impacted anal glands are not the worst possible medical reason for bad breath.

There are instances where a dog’s bad breath could be caused by more severe problems. Kidney and liver disease as well as worms can create a foul odor on a pet’s breath. If the odor continues or becomes severe, a visit to the vet’s office is in order.

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