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. I have noticed that dogs that are bathed frequently end up HAVING to be bathed frequently because they develop a bad smell. My friends who regularly bathe their dogs are amazed that I rarely bathe mine, because my dogs have no unpleasant odor.

  2. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianApril 25, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Many times this has to do with a good quality diet being involved with skin/coat health.

  3. Indeed, I feed my dogs very high quality food and it is worth every penny. They are in beautiful condition and my vet bills are minimal. The dogs probably have a more nutritious diet than I do!

  4. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianApril 26, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I am big fan of Wysong diets, especially the wysong epigen diet. Ideally I like animals to be on raw meat diets as they seem have the best health long term.

  5. My dog is over weight and has smelly dark skin under his legs. I have been using witch hazel to clean it and cortizone cream every day. Seems to be clearing up. Am I doing the right thing?

  6. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 5, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    I would recommend a vet exam as could be yeast or bacterial infection in this area that may need antibiotics, etc.

  7. My dog has a corn chip smell even after he has had a bath. He constantly scratches so I bathed him in a medicated shampoo but it doesn’t seem to help. what could be the cause of this?

  8. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 9, 2014 at 1:38 am

    Many possibilities from allergies to infection. Try shampooing with malaseb shampoo from 1800petmeds. Best to see vet for workup

  9. Dr. Dym, so far as Wyson I just take issue with their vegan product. It is, in my opinion, an irresponsible item to market as it is not an appropriate diet for dogs. Unfortunately, there is probably a demand for it.

  10. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 13, 2014 at 12:34 am

    HI Michelle…. With dogs, it is possible to use vegetarian diets. Not possible with cats. Pet guard also has good vegetarian diet http://www.petguard.com Some dogs do fine on these, while cats can’t be on strictly vegetarian diets.

  11. My little chihuahua came from a rescue in Dec 2013 with Demodectic Mange. We got over that, but he has been chewing his feet now for about 3 wks. I thought allergies/anxiety. All 4 paws are a mess now. I’ve tried benedryl, neosporin, medicated shampoo, etc….any ideas? I think he needs an antibiotic…and even after I shampoo him, he starts to smells in about a week. Yeast?

  12. I bought some shampoo from 1800 petmeds called Malaseb and it works wonders! Maybe you could give it a try. I had the same issue with my poodle and the smell was so unbearable. The vet on this blog suggested it and I have been using it ever since.

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 28, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    HI Cherita…. Thanks for sharing. Certainly an excellent shampoo product.

  14. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 28, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Yeast and/or staph overgrowth are certainly possible, but vet exam and evaluation would be needed. As Cherita mentioned malaseb shampoo is excellent and can be used every 3 to 4 days on areas. Vet exam may be needed for prescription antibiotic or anti fungal meds as well as you should have possible skin scrape to make sure no remaining mites, although it sounds like some sort of inhalant/contact allergy rather than mange.

  15. My mixed breed 12 year old dog has Cushings. Along with the typical symptoms of the disease she has developed a strong bad odor. She is on Vetoryl 1x a day 10 mg. the Vetoryl has helped with the symptoms but now she has the smell. Vet gave us medicated shampoo that did not work. Bought tea tree based shampoo at pet store but that didn’t work either. Changed diet to Blue. The problem must be internal based. What can I do?

  16. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 25, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Sounds like secondary yeast and/or bacterial infection from underlying Cushings disease. Your pet may need systemic antibiotics and/or antifungals for several weeks, in addition to topical shampoos, etc Would recommend vet recheck.

  17. I bathe my labs about once every two months but believe they need more. In the winter I have them bathed and trimmed up by a groomer. It’s quite expensive to do this, but I feel then need it. My husband thinks they should never, or almost never, be bathed because of their natural oils. I have natural oils but I need a bath quite a bit more often than they do–and they roll in stuff and eat poop… if I don’t stop them first! Please advise.

  18. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 2, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    Bathing will vary depending on skin condition and individual pet. In some cases up to weekly to twice weekly baths are needed.

  19. My 10 yr basenji chihuahua rescue dog has just been diagnosed with cushings. He has all the typical symptoms pot bellied stomach hair loss excessive thirst and hungry all the time. He has been on 30 MG of vetoryl for 18 days and our Vet has just told us that it isn’t strong enough and he will need to take 40 MG per day. He is also taking a blood pressure pill enalapril and is also is taking ketoconazole. He has a very strong bad odor coming from his skin. The Vet is going to look at him tomorrow for that. He has actually started feeling better the past few days and I was so hoping that his medicine for the cushings would be lowered because he seems to be sick from it for the first few hours just after we give it to him in the mornings. I asked the Vet about this and he said he didn’t think it was the vetoryl. Please any help/advice would be so appreciated. We love him so much and want him to feel better and not be sick. Oh the Vet said his cushings was from the pituitary. Thanks.

  20. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    There are some natural alternatives to Cushings disease to add to your regimen and/or possibly lower doses of conventional drugs. Melatonin and lignans can help in some cases. To learn more go google Lignans for LIfe in Cushings Disease in Dogs. Also learn more about homeopathic approach to conditions like this http://www.doctordym.com

  21. My dog, a pitbull with other mixed breed has developed pink skin all over her body which seem to be itchy as she constantly licks her paws. There is no evidence of open wound anywhere. It just really has a strong unpleasant odor. Although some of her skin especially on the side of her face and around the nose area are peeling but healing and forming a scar. I haven’t taken her to vet but have tried some home remedies by bathing her in Apple cider vinegar mixed with 60% water and always keeping her areas and kennel clean. There has been no changes with her diet at all. She is not a stray dog and is pretty much clean. The only change in her environment is the new play area built using cement surrounded by wiring. She hasn’t been put there though for a week now but she still has same condition. What do you think is the possible cause? Pls help. Thank you.

  22. My dog started taking ambisol for blood pressure and all the dogs keep smelling him and one even has attacked can this drug make a dog give of a scent.

  23. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 19, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    I have not heard of any medications for blood pressure causing changes in odor of a dog, but who knows?

  24. Hi I also have a chihuahua with Cushings – in addition to this informative blog, I highly recommend that you post your Vetorly and dosing question on K9cushings.com. They’ll need to know the weight of your dog (impacts the dosing level of the meds) and what your dogs blood test results were (post anything higher or lower than it should be) along with your the results of the dogs ACTH test results — needed to determine if dog should go higher or lower on dosage of Vetoryl or Trilistane. Vetoryl can cause stomach upset and it varies per dog — some dogs have sensitive stomachs and sometimes the dose might be to high — and, you might be already, but make sure your giving the Vetoryl to your dog right after a full meal so the meds absorb correctly.

  25. Thank you for the information.

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