Dogs produce sebum to keep their fur waterproof and supple, and bathing too often with low-quality shampoos can cause the production of too much sebum. A good brushing, which should be carried out regularly anyway to rid them of excess hair and dead skin, isn’t why they smell.
How often to bath your dog is subject to debate among experts, but most agree that once every 3 months is OK, and once a month or more if they are filthy. It is suggested that medium to long-coated dogs do well with a bath every 4-6 weeks, and a shower with fresh water after a dip in the sea doesn’t mean a bath every time.
Their stink shouldn’t be overwhelming and shouldn’t persist after a bath. All dogs have that ‘wet dog’ smell after bathing or when they’re rained on, but sometimes our dogs can still stink even after a bath. Skin issues from hot spots to anal sac impactions could be the cause, and excessive dog stench could suggest an underlying medical condition.
Ear infections - Check ears regularly for dirt or inflammation. Healthy dog ears don’t produce a smell, but if you catch a whiff of a cheesy pong, they may need ear medication. Keep their ears dry when bathing, as water may actually do more harm than good by creating a perfect environment for ear microbes. Pet wipes and baby wipes are designed for comfort cleaning, not for full-on disinfecting or sterilising. This doesn’t mean that they can’t clean a surface in a pinch - Just be sure not to push any of the wipe into their ear canal - otitis externa (inflammation of the external ear canal) is an infection that your vet can diagnose and treat and will use an otoscope to check the eardrums and perhaps take a culture swab to check.
Secondary skin infections and dermatitis - Secondary bacterial and yeast infections on the skin are sometimes causes of dog stench. Microbes, like some bacteria, harmlessly exist on your dog’s skin and fur, but when something goes wrong, an overgrowth of bacteria occurs, leading to a secondary skin infection. These change with contact with water and leads to a foul smell, and dogs with overlapping skin folds are susceptible.
Malassezia dermatitis (yeast) and superficial pyoderma (bacterial) are common dog skin infections, and it’s not easy to get rid of the smell even with frequent baths. Your vet can prescribe antibacterial soaps or shampoos to combat skin issues, but you can inspect the skin for redness, flaking, or inflammation. If your pet nibbles or bites at the problem this might worsen dermatitis because of the moist area it makes.
Oral issues like periodontitis - Poor oral hygiene causes dental issues that - at best - cause a ‘death-breath’ in your dog’s mouth you will recoil from, and at the very least they may lose teeth. I didn’t know this – apparently nearly 80% of all dogs suffer from canine periodontitis before the age of 3 - a dental disease that results from tartar accumulation and gingivitis. It is said you should brush your dog’s teeth at least twice a week and offer chew toys and dental chews to promote oral health further. Small dogs and those with short snouts need special attention to the teeth.
Anal gland problems - This is where everyone goes ‘eewww!’ Dogs have two anal sacs at their rear that normally secrete a pungent smell, even when healthy, which you probably can’t smell. It’s like a fingerprint for other canines and is why dogs sniff each other’s rear ends when greeting. When your dog poops, they naturally express their anal sacs, but if the anal sacs are inflamed or have another issue, your dog will have a horrible, fishy pong.
Dogs with diarrhoea might fail to express their anal glands when the poop isn’t solid enough, and this can cause these glands to be impacted – the sacs fill up with fluid, causing them to become swollen and painful, and abscesses may develop. A vet is the best person to empty impacted anal glands because it’s a sensitive process that could hurt your pet.