Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish? Not What You Might Think!

Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish

Having a dog means that you often have their sticky tongue all over your face, whether you like it or not (not, more often). And let’s not mince words here – doggy breath stinks. Really, really stinks.

But it can actually get a little worse than rotten or stale breath, believe it or not. If you’ve noticed that your dog has a particularly fishy or ‘off’ smell on his breath these days,  you need to look into it.

So if you’ve been greeted by a happy tongue yet one more time smelling like an old salmon at the bottom of a trash bin, you must be asking yourself: why does my dog’s breath smell like fish?

The answer to that is a little unappetizing, but important to know. Read on for more information:

Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish?

The first thing you should know about this, is a little canine anatomy. Like cats, dogs love going to town on licking their butts. It’s not unusual to see dogs have a long and languid butt-licking session, especially after they’ve gone a number two.

What happens here, is that dogs have specific anal glands on both sides of their anus. These glands are responsible for secreting their natural secretions that, when left with their poop, mark the dogs territories, send scent signals to other dogs, etc.

It’s a particularly strong smelling secretion, and rather unmistakably pungent. If you’ve noticed dogs out on walks, you know the immediate sniffing of mutual butts dogs do to get to know each other. It’s practically a message transmission service for dogs.

When your dog goes a number two, he cleans up after himself by licking away all the remnants of the scent messages that he’s left behind for other dogs. The only problem is that these scents are strongly fishy in smell. So the cleaning session leaves your dog carrying this ‘off’ smell in his mouth, which of course, he then brings to you and insists on licking you with.

But it’s not just his anal gland secretions you’re smelling on your dog’s breath. There are certain other factors that influence how noticeably fishier your dog’s breath is. His diet, for example.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the lack of a proper bowel movement can lead to your dog being so focused on his anal region. When dogs are passing stool that isn’t hard enough to stimulate the anal glands to release these secretions on their poop, these glands remain full.

Which, in turn, is very uncomfortable for your dog, so he keeps licking himself repeatedly. This makes the pungent smell coming from his mouth even stronger.

But it’s not simply a matter of it being a repulsive smell. It’s also possible for your dog to get sick as a consequence of this. The blockage can well turn into an abscess, if your dog has constant loose stools and these glands remain full and painfully tender, and end up getting infected- which is highly likely, in the anal region.

Another common reason for an unexpectedly strong fishy odor is -surprise, surprise- more poop. But this time, not necessarily your dog’s. Some dogs develop a habit called Coprophagia, or simply put, eating poop. Some dogs eat their own feces, while others come across other dogs’ poop while out on walks, and eat it before they’re spotted. If your dog is doing this, you probably should consult your vet about changing your dog’s diet!

Oral Hygiene

Some dogs have horrible breath as a consequence of bad oral hygiene. Not every dog allows brushing, especially if they haven’t been trained for it right from the beginning. Bad oral hygiene can quickly turn into gum disease, plaque, and degenerative tooth conditions, leading to a massive build up of bacteria in the petri dish that is a mouth – especially a doggy mouth.

And sometimes, the cause of a dog’s breath smelling like fish is actually very simple- he’s eating fish! Dogs that are fed diets rich in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, or foods with added salmon, herring, whitefish, or fishmeal, all have lingering fishy breath, even if they’re otherwise completely healthy.

The causes don’t always have to be one or the other. Which is why the solutions require a multi-pronged approach as well.

  • If you notice that your dog is licking his tail region repeatedly, especially after pooping, make sure to mention this to your vet at your next visit. Certain breeds of dogs like Terriers have trouble expressing the secretions out of their anal glands by themselves.
  • Similarly, if you notice your dog trying to scrape his butt along the ground, or scratch his anus against another surface because he can’t reach it himself, your dog needs help expressing his anal glands.
  • Once you are shown how, you can attempt to do this for your dog. For example, right before giving him a bath, you could put the gloves on and use a lot of tissue paper or paper towels to catch the secretion, and then wash him right afterwards.
  • However, the secretions from these glands smell very, very pungently strong. So if you would rather get a groomer or the vet to deal with it, it’s not a bad idea either.
  • Another important thing to keep an eye on is your dog’s poops. It’s not the most pleasant of topics, but if your dog has a constantly upset stomach, or is chronically constipated, he’s unwell. If you notice your dog struggling while going #2, you should consult your vet and ask about altering your dog’s diet to a more suitable menu.

Dental Hygiene

And lastly, dental hygiene is a very big consideration. If you have a puppy or a dog who you have trained already, brushing your dog’s teeth won’t be a massive undertaking. But if you are just starting with this, you’ll have to be a lot more careful and patient with your pooch.

Brushing teeth is just as beneficial for dogs as it is for human beings. Brushing their teeth gets rid of all the food remnants lodged in the crevices in their mouth and between their teeth. Old and rotting food bits stuck in a hot, wet, moist atmosphere – a lab for growing bacteria. Dogs with jowls suffer from gum disease even more, because of the larger ‘pockets’ of moisture in their mouths, which are the ideal breeding grounds for bacteria.

Luckily, there are plenty of specially designed dog toothbrushes and specially flavored dog toothpastes that you can use to help clean out your dog’s mouth. With a little positive reinforcement and some coercion, your dog may even start looking forward to the brushing sessions as a form of playtime with you.

Another handy tip is to give your dog cleaning dental sticks and hard chews. Specially flavored dental chews for dogs come in various textures, but they all have one thing in common – cleaning. The chewing and gnawing that your dog will be busy with, cleans the surface of his teeth with mechanical abrasion.

Special dental doggy treats, rawhide bones, etc. are available at all pet stores and even most supermarkets. Even kibble, for example, helps scrape plaque off, while your dog is chewing it.

However, if nothing seems to help, and your dog has a persistent fishy odor to his breath even after brushing, or after bathing, you should consult a vet. Certain diseases and gastrointestinal conditions can be responsible for bad and stale, fishy breath in dogs. Onset of internal organ failure, certain hormonal imbalances, etc. all can manifest as a strong chance in the odor of your dog’s breath.

Certain other imbalances, like digestive impairments, can be treated quicker, such as with adjustments in your dog’s usual food, switching to higher quality food, larger sized kibble, incorporating rotational diets, etc. Your vet can guide you best about your dog’s exact requirements. The sooner the underlying disease is diagnosed, the quicker your dog can start getting better.

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