The science of pet odour

No one likes to smell a pet before you see a pet! Strong or offensive pet odour becomes a big nuisance for pet parents. But at the same time, it is a sign that all is not well with your pet. Here’s why your pooch smells and what can you do to prevent such unpleasant odours.

What’s a pet odour?


Pet odour may be defined as a distinctive or unpleasant smell which a pet animal emits naturally or unnaturally. Odours emitted by a pet animal maybe broadly classified into two types: natural and unnatural odours. Natural odour: A pet animal, especially a dog, has natural odour which can be unbearable to some people not used to living with them. However, most of the natural odours produced by dogs cannot be perceived by the human nose or sense of smell. These can be picked up only by the same species or other species. There are various glands responsible for this undetectable smell of dogs such as the apocrine glands which produce a pheromone or chemical signals for communication with other dogs. Dogs also have apocrine glands in their ear canals, which produce natural ear wax. Micro-organisms live naturally in this material, giving a characteristic slightly yeast odour even in healthy dogs. Like all other carnivores, a dog also possess two anal sacs or scent glands which produce a unique natural secretion that varies from thin and yellowish to pasty and greyish colour which has a very strong musty odour. A small amount of this material is deposited when dogs defecate. This odour is likely the signal being sampled when dogs investigate one another by sniffing out the anal area. Unnatural odour: Healthy pets typically don’t have offensive odour but it is the unhealthy, infirmed, or aged pets who usually do. This means that medical care can resolve many odours. Places where the skin is moist and dark like the mouth, ears, skin folds, and under the tail have the highest concentration of bacteria and yeast which are the most common causes for offensive pet odour. Yeast and bacteria cause pruritus and itching, resulting in excessive scratching causing inflammation, swelling and heat, making pet odours more offensive. Odours also worsen when pets are wet. Sources of malodour

  • Odour from ears: Ears can be malodourous when infected with bacteria and yeast. Generally, ear infection smells worse if the longer they persist. To resolve ear odour problems, cerumen, bacteria yeast and moisture from ears must be cleared. Otitis externa, an infection of the outer ear and ear canal is common in dogs, especially those whose ear flaps hang down to cover the ears.
  • Odour from skin: Unhealthy skin often has a thick layer of oil that holds dirt, clogs pores and supports odour causing bacteria and yeast. A normal skin cell forms new cells every three weeks. When the skin is abnormal, the process is either more rapid or slower than normal. Thus, in case of seborrhoea where the skin cells divide rapidly, there is flaking or thick crusting that traps oils and bacteria. On the other hand, when the skin cells divide too slowly, pets may have dull, easily damaged slow healing skin, as in hypothyroidism. Fungal infection is also common in hypothyroid dogs.

Many cancers affect skin and leave the foul odour of decaying flesh. Among cancers that can be malodourous are anal sacs tumour, osteosarcoma, mammary tumours, squamous cell carcinoma and lymphosarcoma. Clipping pet’s hair can help reduce odour to some extent. This helps alleviate the odour and make the infection easier to treat and also keeps the skin dry. Dry skin is more resistant to bacteria, yeast and fungal infections and also allows shampoos, conditioners and medications to go further.

  • Odour from mouth: Pet odour from the mouth is usually caused by bacteria that colonise the junction of tooth and gum. Weak pets may have fetid breath because they lack the strength to swallow food and clean their mouths, so the food lodges and rots. Brushing teeth for two minutes every day and visiting the veterinary dentist may help resolve pet odours from mouth. Other dental problems like gingivitis, periodontitis and an abscessed tooth may also cause halitosis. However, mouth odour may also be caused by stomach ulcer, kidney disease and diabetes. In these cases, the odour may only be checked when proper treatment for the underlying cause is done.
  • Odour caused by allergies: Allergic pets can be plagued with stinky problems, skin infections and hot spots due to fleas, frequent yeasty infections, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhoea and flatulence. In case of flea allergy, it is essential to prevent fleas because flea saliva stimulates allergic skin reactions.

For allergy related to the gastro intestinal tract, it is essential to avoid any allergy causing foods.

  • Anal odours in pets: Pet odours from the anal region may be caused by different problems which require frequent washing and drying to remove faeces and bacteria. Odours from the anal area may also be caused by the anal sacs which require the help of a veterinarian to empty the sacs. Food allergies may be the ultimate cause of itching rear end, inflammation and reduced draining from the anal sac.

Therefore, make notes of the food your pet is allergic to, so that you can avoid feeding such foods.

Dealing with pet odour

Although we deal with different kinds of odours in our home, pet odour issues always seems to be one at the top of our list. So here are some to do lists to maintain a healthy environment both for the pet and pet parent.

  • Keeping the pets clean: Although pets do have their natural odour, their fur picks up odours from urinating and defecating, rolling over their excreta, playing with other animals and the food cooked at home. So, it is best to have a regular bathing routine or wash them when they smell. Finding the correct shampoos also helps a great deal. Check with your vet or groomer for the best pick.
  • Prevention is better than cure: Cleaning of pet’s ears and teeth not only contribute to your pet’s well being, but also helps control pet odour. Dog breeds with long ears need regular cleansing as there may be debris accumulation faster than pointed eared dogs. A routine dental check-up will also help prevent bad breath and periodontal disease.
  • Pet beddings: Pet bedding can accumulate a lot of dirt, resulting in unpleasant odour besides being breeding ground of fleas. Wash the pet beddings regularly with hot water and add white vinegar, then dry thoroughly before being used again. Besides bedding, make sure you wash his collars and accessories too.
  • Confinement of odour causing activities: To help reduce the smell of pet odours, feed pet in one room and wash his feeding and water dishes at least twice a day.
  • Vacuum to clean pet hair: A dog sheds a lot of hair which also contributes to the smell in your house. Therefore, vacuum all carpets and furniture that your pet comes in contact with.

Let’s keep the environment clean for pooches and us

  • Proper disposal: Your pets can be poisoned if they ingest gas, oils or other household cleaning products. Dispose off these properly so that your pets may not come in contact with it.
  • Pick up after your dog: Always carry something to put your dog’s waste in when taking them for a walk. If their waste is left behind, it may not only damage the aesthetic looks of the place but also spread diseases. Scoop up their poop and flush it down the toilet or put it in the trash.
  • Protect your pet: Keep your pets free from disease by vaccinating them and also put a license tag on them.
  • Fresh food and water: Changing pet’s food and water on a regular basis helps in avoiding pest infestation at home. Keeping the feeding area clean will help eliminate dirty pests and insects.

(Dr Ruby Ng Sailo is veterinary officer at State Veterinary Dispensary, Kawnpui, Mizoram).

Groomer’s viewpoint…Smelling nice!

–by Divyang

Every dog, like us, has a particular body odour. If this odour is beyond the desired limits and is irritable, then these are indications of concerns pertaining to his health and hygiene. One or the other following situations can lead to pet odour- prolonged delay in grooming (odour is due to the dirt that has collected in the coat); bad odour from mouth (sign for need of oral hygiene); flatulence (due to improper diet habits); smell from ears (ear infection or presence of mites); while smell from the rectum can be a result that anal glands are not expressed.

Dealing with pet odour: First identify the cause of the odour then take necessary steps to control the odour.

  • In case of odour from mouth, ears and due to flatulence, get advice from vet. Sometimes skin infection, which is not visible, can also release odour, so check for signs. Once you are sure about the cause, you can follow appropriate steps to eradicate the odour problem.
  • Make sure that you clean the pet’s bedding regularly.
  • A proper grooming schedule should be maintained to keep your pet odour-free.
  • Potty scooper and smell eradicating sprays should be carried while you take your pet to parks and other public places.
  • Train your dog to relieve himself at a place decided by you and appreciate him if he follows your instruction well.
  • Maintain cleanliness in his residing area, food and water bowls.

After all, nothing more is as refreshing as returning home after a long day and hugging your sweet smelling pet!

(Divyang runs Pet Inn, a pet centre for boarding, day care and professional training and grooming in Ahmedabad).

Tips to deal with pet odour

–by Shweta Munjal

  • Do not bathe your pet frequently to get rid of the smell. Try and get to the cause of the problem.
  • Dog’s bedding can be slipped with some lavender buds to create a fresh scent.
  • Use a micro fibre towel to remove excess water from the dog’s body, followed by complete drying.
  • Feed your dog with chew sticks made of natural ingredients to keep the teeth clean.
  • Get rid of any parasites like ticks, fleas, mites, etc to keep your dog’s coat healthy.
  • Make brushing of the coat a regular habit (irrespective of the coat type). Brushing can do wonders to the coat and help your dog look clean and healthy.
  • Take your pet for professional grooming at regular intervals to maintain a healthy lifestyle for him.
  • Don’t hesitate to consult a groomer or vet on any of these issues.

A pet’s health is the sole responsibility of the pet parent. So, without wasting time take proper action because if a smelly pet seems unpleasant to you, chances are even he feels the same about himself.

(Shweta Munjal runs Prince of Tails Grooming Salon & Spa in Bengaluru).