Why Does My Dog’s Skin Smell Bad?

One of the most common dermatological complaints in the veterinary clinic is the complaint that a dog’s skin smells bad.

One of the most common dermatological complaints in the veterinary clinic is the complaint that a dog’s skin smells bad. By far, the most common causes of offensive smelling skin are overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. Yeast and/or bacteria may overgrow for many possible reasons, including underlying inhalant/contact allergies, flea bite allergies, as well as food allergies.  Hormonal diseases, including hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease may also cause bad skin odor. Localized inflammations including allergic hot spots on the skin may also cause unpleasant odor of the skin.

In my practice I have often found that pets on poor processed commercial pet food diets often have a lot of allergies and bad skin odors. In these cases, I find that placing pets on naturally preserved diets including Petguard, Wysong or Nature’s Variety can be helpful in improving coat health and skin odor over time. Ideally, I recommend evolutionary appropriate home prepared raw meat based diets that are low in processed carbohydrates as the best way to go toward not only improved skin and coat health, but overall health of the patient in treating and preventing disease.

I also will recommend Omega 3 fatty acids, such as Be Well, as well as digestive enzymes including NaturVet Digestive Enzymes as nutritional supplements that may help with bad skin odor. Western and Chinese detoxifying herbs also may be helpful in those pets on poor diets. Treatment of bad skin odor may include medicated or prescription based shampoos. I often prefer natural tea tree based shampoos when yeast or bacterial infections of the skin occur. Diagnosis of the cause of bad skin odor is best made by veterinary exam and visit and specific treatment is best determined by a conventional or holistic veterinarian.

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  1. Stephanie BratcherMay 14, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    I have a pit- lab the scratches alot and smells really bad he scratches so bad that he has red spots all over his skin where he scratches what can I do

  2. Most of time this is due to secondary bacterial or yeast infection from underlying allergies. I would recommend a vet exam and evaluation as may need prescription antibiotics, etc. You can start with antfungal/antibacterial shampoos such as ketochlor or malasseb shampoo every few days from 1800petmeds. Also consider benadryl at dose of 1 mg per pound twice daily until vet exam and oral fatty acid like Be well fatty acid supplement

  3. Antonietta sanacoreJune 15, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    I have a Spanish water dog. She is on moist food, grain free because she has a history of bladder stones. She also scratches a lot and smells bad just a day or 2 after a bath. Her skin is so red. I have tried so many things to try to help her but nothing seems to be working. Sprays, tee tree oil. Medicated shampoos. All symptoms seem to point to yeast. Isn’t their a pill that I can just give her to help her?

  4. If your dog truly has a yeast overgrowth on the skin, your vet can diagnose and prescribe a prescription antifungal such as ketoconazole or fluconazole. There are shampoos like ketochlor or malaseb shampoo from 1800petmeds which are also anti fungal and antibacterial. You need to see your vet for full allergy workup, as could be inhalent/tontact allergies known as atopy. Add fatty acid like nordic naturals pet omega 3 to meals. History of stones should not preclude the use of fatty acids

  5. Hello Dr. Dym I have a almost 2 year old pug mix. He has these crusty little sores on his back and they itch and he stinks I’ve given him baths and have kept him clean but not sure as to what to do now I’m getting very bothered for him what could this be please help

  6. He most likely has underling allergies either inhalent/contact allergies known as canine atopy and/or less likely food allergies. These lead to secondary yeast and/or bacterial infections, which need to be treated most likely with antibiotics, etc as well as address these underlying causes by seeing your vet. For now, I would use benadryl at dose of 1 mg per pound twice daily, as well as add fatty acid like Be well to his diet from 1800petmeds. Shampoo with malaseb shampoo or another chlorihexiderm based shampoo from 1800petmeds every few days until vet assessment

  7. Dr. Dym, our 7 year old male German Shepherd has developed a bad skin odor. We eat a lot of wild salmon and give him the skin. We’ve always done this with all our Shepherds and from what I’ve read its okay. But I’m wondering now if this might be causing the odor. Aside from the fish skin we give him cooked veggies once in awhile with a high quality dog food. I’d really like to know your opinion on feeding salmon skin. Thank you!

  8. Hi Dave. I am all for feeding fresh salmon to dogs, which is an excellent protein source as well as source of natural omega 3 fatty acids for body and skin health. Not familiar with feeding specifically the skin, however I would go to your local vet and have full exam, as he may have overgrowth of yeast and/or bacteria on his skin from underlying allergies which is common in shepherds. He may need prescription antibiotic and/or oral anti fungal to help with yeast or bacterial overgrowth. For now, you can try shampooing with ketochlor shampoo and/or malaseb shampoo from 1800petmeds every few days.

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