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Stinky Dog Face: Vet Reviewed Signs, Causes & How to Help

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By Nicole Cosgrove

australian shepherd dog licking the owner's ear

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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When a dog licks your face, that’s the ultimate sign of affection. It’s like a gentle kiss from the fur baby! However, no matter how much you love receiving those licks, if the pet’s face has a bad odor, you’ll have a hard time enjoying its tongue all over you. That said, this is a very common issue, one that you should deal with promptly. So, why does the four-legged bud have a stinky face?

With most dogs, it’s the result of bad dental hygiene and crusty eyes, but the bad smell can also be caused by ear and skin infections or dirty fur. Thankfully, it’s not that hard to treat it once you figure out the root of the problem. And today, we’ll go over the signs, causes, and most effective treatments for the stinky face. Stay tuned!

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What Is a Stinky Dog Face?

This term is used to describe a situation when your pet’s face radiates a bad odor. Now, sometimes, a dog can have a meal for breakfast that smells funky or bury its face in the dirt: that’s totally normal for a curious, energetic doggo. But, if the smell doesn’t go away after a proper bath, then you have a problem on your hands. How should you handle this, then? Look for the causes instead of shying away from the dog’s affection and making them feel rejected.

A quick visit to a veterinarian will help determine exactly what’s going on with the pooch. It might be that the doggo is suffering from skin fold pyoderma, issues with the digestive tract, an UTI (urinary tract infection), or impacted anal glands. That’s why it’s so important to let a licensed animal doctor inspect the furry bud: if they rule everything out, that means the offensive smell is, indeed, emanating from the face.

Thoroughbred Corgi dog is examined. Veterinary clinic
Image Credit: Andrii Medvednikov, Shutterstock

hepper-dog-paw-divider 3What Are the Signs of a Stinky Dog Face?

The most obvious indicator here is going to be the bad odor. You’ll feel it the second the pet gets close to you. The stench will become even more apparent once they start licking you. It could be that the dog has bad breath: this is a very common cause of a smelly dog face. If there is calculus buildup on the pet’s teeth, you might be able to see it when the pooch opens their mouth. Inflamed gums is another sign to look for when you suspect dental problems.

We’re talking about skin problems, red, hairless, or crusty areas might be seen. This could be caused by an allergy (mites, fleas, or even pollen) or parasites. To make sure, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian. Also, don’t forget to take a closer look into the fluffy companion’s eyes. Do you see any goop/gunk there? If so, that’s a clear sign of a stinky dog face, along with redness and swelling. Lastly, look at the dog’s behavior.

Is the canine scratching their ears all the time and shaking their head? Do you see discharge coming out of the ear canals? That means they’ve got an infection. They cause our furry buddy discomfort, itchiness, emit bad odors, and can be very dangerous if left untreated. Thankfully, it’s not that hard to notice the signs if you know where to look. But what’s causing all these conditions/medical issues? Could the smell be produced by dirty fur? Let’s talk about that next.

hepper-dog-paw-divider 3What Are the Causes of Stinky Dog Face?

1. Poor dental hygiene

Just like humans, dogs are prone to plaque buildup and calculus formation. And, over time, that leads to a foul smell. So, if your dog’s face stinks, most likely, it’s caused by bacteria accumulated in your dog’s mouth. Periodontal disease can be very common, and it is reported to happen to approximately 80% of mature dogs (three years of age and older). But that doesn’t mean that this is considered normal; it is usually caused by a lack of dental hygiene so visit your vet to get on top of the problem as soon as possible!

vet checking dog teeth
Image Credit: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV, Shutterstock

2. Dermatitis

Skin problems can be common in some dogs. As mentioned, they are often triggered by allergies or parasites. And when our dogs start scratching their skin, they actually make matters worse. By “peeling off” the skin, they create the best environment for bacteria and yeast colonisation and overgrowth, and that causes the smell. Dermatitis needs to be treated ASAP. Otherwise, the pet will keep scratching the skin, leading to even more inflammation and infection.

3. Eye problems

Certain eye disorders in dogs lead to ocular discharge or epiphora (tear overflow). We’re talking about conjunctivitis, inward-growing eyelids, damaged tear ducts, and other issues. When the tears and mucoid discharge turn into crust around your dog’s eyes, they generate a stinky smell. This is important: some dogs (usually the long-haired and short-nosed breeds) are more prone to these issues. It is vital to visit your vet if you notice this problem since the itchiness and discomfort can make your dog rub and scratch their face, resulting in severe problems such as corneal ulcers. Eye problems can be common in Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and Bulldogs.

Veterinarian hands applying medical eye drops to Shih Tzu dog's eyes for treatment and prevention eyes disease
Image Credit: Orawan Pattarawimonchai, Shutterstock

4. Ear infections

Dogs with floppy ears are highly susceptible to ear problems. In contrast, pups with short, pointy ears are at a lower risk. If your dogs like to swim, that can be another extra factor to consider. When left untreated, the bacteria/yeast thrive in the pet’s ear canal (moisture is the best “breeding ground” for it) and that’s where the bad odor comes from. To check for signs of infection, you’ll need to lift the pup’s ear and look inside.

5. Dirty coat

If the dog has healthy teeth, ears, eyes, and skin, but the smell isn’t going away, go ahead and check the coat. Maybe it’s clean, just wet, and that’s what’s generating the funky odors.

hepper-dog-paw-divider 3How Do I Care for a Dog with Stinky Dog Face

1. Clean the pet’s teeth

If the dog has bad breath, start by brushing their teeth regularly. Don’t use your own toothpaste for that, though, as it can harm the pet. Instead, invest in dog-specific paste and brush. Dental chews and chew toys will help as well (by crushing some of that plaque). But it’s essential to practice daily dental homecare and have your vet check whether your dog needs to have their teeth cleaned by a professional.

dog teeth cleaning
Image Credit: Kachalkina Veronika, Shutterstock

2. Use anti-parasite treatment and understand if your pet has an allergy

Speak to your vet about the best product to prevent and kill the most common external parasites in dogs: fleas and ticks. If your vet diagnoses your pooch with an allergy, the might recommend hyposensitization therapy. The results are impressive (up to 80% less itching), but this treatment takes time to have a full effect (up to six months). Your dog might need medication to control their itchiness and antifungal/antibiotic medication to deal with the infection. Also, the doctor will tell you what kind of shampoo to use back home.

3. Clean the area around the eyes

We all get crust in our eyes in the morning after a good night’s sleep; dogs might get a tiny bit as well. If you notice this, with no other signs of eye problems, you should clean them carefully with a soft cloth (soaked in warm water/salty water) or eye wipes for dogs. However, if your dog has an eye condition, only a qualified veterinarian will be able to diagnose and treat the problem.

4. Ear cleaning and treatment

Have the dog checked at the local vet clinic. They’ll probably recommend a medicated ear drop to resolve the infection and inflammation. Topical medication, anti-inflammatory meds, and antibiotics might also be prescribed. It usually takes a few revisits to make sure the ear infection is successfully treated. In severe cases, veterinarians may recommend surgery, but this is normally after conventional treatment is unsuccessful. Make sure you contact your vet as soon as you notice the common signs of ear problems: head shaking, discomfort around the area, discharge, or malodour.

vet cleaning dog ears
Image Credit: Zivica Kerkez, Shutterstock

5. Wash the dog’s coat

There’s nothing hard about this one: regular baths should fix the problem. To ensure the smell goes away for good, ask a veterinarian to pick a shampoo for the pet.


hepper-dog-paw-divider 3Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is Stinky Dog Face Dangerous?

Yes, it can be dangerous if you don’t do anything about it. As we discussed earlier, bugs in the dog’s teeth, ear canals, and inside the skin are a disaster waiting to happen. To ease off the pain and help your furry friend avoid serious medical conditions (and hefty vet checks), make a habit of visiting veterinarian clinics regularly for a thorough inspection. Fungi, bacteria, and parasites should always be taken seriously!

Can I Fix It on My Own?

Even if you managed to get rid of the stinky dog face by showering their coat, removing the crust, or cleaning their teeth, we still recommend paying the doc a visit. Often, home remedies are good for dealing with the signs, yet not the root cause. So, make an appointment with a vet to make sure the dog receives proper medical attention. Most procedures don’t take that long (15–30 minutes or less) and won’t make the doggo feel uncomfortable.

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If you’re the proud owner of an affectionate, cuddly doggo, you’ll be blessed with lots of licks and head rubs. Top that off with some rubs and gentle scratches, and the pet will answer with even more licks. Unfortunately, if the pooch has a stinky face, that can ruin those precious moments for the two of you. But don’t worry; this can be treated.

More importantly, the bad smell might be caused by a serious condition. So, don’t distance yourself from the pet. Instead, check their teeth, eyes, ears, and skin. Also, talk to your veterinarian about this issue. Chances are that the furry companion is suffering from an infection and needs your help to deal with it!

Featured Image Credit: Cat_Bee, Shutterstock

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