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Why Does My Dog’s Breath Smell Like Fish? 3 Reasons & What to Do

Ed Malaker

By Ed Malaker


As pet owners, we experience our pets engaging in some pretty strange behavior. In some cases, we’ll wish we could get it on film, and other times, it can leave us confused or even angry. Strange behavior can also be a symptom that something is wrong with your pet, especially if it’s a strange smell. So, it’s not unusual to start asking questions if your dog’s breath suddenly starts to smell like fish. If this has happened to you, keep reading while we look at the reasons that might be behind your dog smelling like fish as well as what you can do about it.

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The 3 Reasons Dog’s Breath Smells Like Fish

1. It’s In The Food

Your dog’s breath might smell like fish because your pet food contains fish among the ingredients. Omega fats are an increasingly popular and healthy ingredient in pet food. Each year more companies add it to their recipes, and the majority of omega fats come from fish oil. Even if you feed your dog chicken or turkey dinners, there may be fish oil in the food that’s causing your dog’s breath to stink. Look over the ingredients of the food you provide, including the treats to look for fish or omega fats. Omega fats can be in wet or dry dog food.

labrador dog eating from the feeding bowl
Image Credit: Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

What Can I Do About My Dog’s Breath

You can try to switch brands to find one that masks the fish smell better. However, omega fats are extremely helpful, so you should try to find a way to keep them in your pet’s diet. They can help your dog maintain a shiny coat and help reduce inflammation, among many other things.

2. It Could Be Halitosis

If plaque and tartar build up on your dog’s teeth, it can lead to bad breath or halitosis. The odor can resemble the smell of fish without your pet eating any.

What Can I Do About Halitosis?

If you think halitosis is the reason behind your dog’s fishy smell, the best thing you can do is take it to get a dental cleaning. Strange smelling halitosis can be a sign of dental disease, and it’s quite common, with some experts suggesting more than 80% of dogs over 3 years old are affected. If you can’t afford a doggy dentist, you can try brushing the teeth manually to see if it helps, and you should feed your dog dry kibble. Dry kibble helps scrape away plaque and tartar to prevent dental disease and halitosis.

3. Impacted Anal Glands

Nobody wants to say it, but if you have a dog, especially a small or overweight one, you will have to get used to it. Impacted anal glands are a common problem for many dogs, and one of the symptoms is scooting across the floor dragging their butt. Another is the unmistakable smell of fish that impacted anal glands produce, and we all know that dogs like to lick their butt, and now you know why their breath also smells like fish.

Anal glands are small sacks near the anus that are similar to sweat glands, except these excrete the odor dogs use to mark their territory. The “sweat” these glands produce rubs off onto the feces when your dog does its business, and it becomes a territory marker. These glands also explain why dogs are so keen on sniffing each other’s butts when they meet. It’s the best way to get acquainted with each other’s scent. If the anal sacs become clogged, your dog cannot squeeze the scent onto the feces, and it continues to build up in the sacks, which can become quite painful for your pet. When you see them scooting across the floor, they are trying to squeeze the glands for relief manually. As the sacks continue to fill, they can become infected and create a fishy smell.

french bulldog scooting on bed
Image Credit: eva_blanco, Shutterstock

What Can I Do About It?

If you believe your pet is suffering from swollen anal glands, we recommend taking your dog to the vet immediately. The vet can express the gland to remove the fluid and even show you how to save on medical costs. The vet will also look for the more serious cause of the impacted glands, like tumors. Overweight dogs have a difficult time completely emptying the sacks, so maintaining proper weight can significantly reduce the frequency of impacted anal glands.

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Unfortunately, if the fish smell is strong and seems to come from the entire dog, including its breath, there is a good chance the cause is impacted anal glands. If you see your dog doing the scoot, it will be time to visit the vet. If the fish smell is only something you’ve been noticing when it kisses your face, we recommend checking the ingredients in the food for omega fats. If you still can’t explain the smell, schedule a dental cleaning to ensure there isn’t some infection in the mouth. Crunchy kibble will keep your dog’s teeth much cleaner than canned food and can prevent halitosis and slow dental disease.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this guide and found the answers you needed. If we have helped your dog smell better, please share this guide to why your dog might smell like fish on Facebook and Twitter.

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Featured Image Credit: san4ezz, Shutterstock

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