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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Offensive smells can be antisocial ...but what causes them ?

Our sense of smell is very acute, and only a relatively small number of molecules of a "smelly" substance need to reach the nose to give us a pleasant, or an unpleasant, sensation. There are many reasons why a pet can become "smelly" including :

  • Bad breath (halitosis) due to :
    • Dental disease - look for tartar or calculus build-up on teeth, loose teeth, exposed tooth roots. Discharging tooth root abscesses.
    • Foreign materials eg food remnants or bones lodged in the mouth
    • Ulcerated gums
    • Oral cavity infection eg gum infection, gingivitis
    • Cancerous growths in the mouth
    • Gastrointestinal or related disease, eg gastritis, vomiting
    • Waste products on the breath eg urea (smells foul) in kidney failure. Some waste products are "sweet" smelling eg ketones on the breath in diabetes mellitus, and with ketoacidosis seen in liver disease.
    • Following food high in nitrogenous compounds ie high protein foods
    • Following coprophagia
    • Inflammation or necrosis in the pharynx
    • Cancer of the tonsil
    • Foreign material in the tonsillar crypt
    • Diseases (infections or inflammation) of the nasal cavity or sinuses
    • Oesophageal diseases (megaoesophagus)
  • Skin disease
    • Infection 
      • Discharging abscesses - particularly following bites or penetrating wounds
      • Surface infection eg in the skin folds along the margin of the lips, around the vulva, between the toes, superficial wounds/abrasions
      • In the external ear canal - called otitis externa
      • Nail bed infections
    • Excess scurf and greasiness in the coat - seborrhoea
  • Soiling of the coat with :
    • Faeces - incontinence, diarrhoea, inability to stand properly or to move away 
    • Urine - incontinence, inability to pass urine properly or to move away 
    • Environmental debris/chemicals in the coat
    • Body secretions eg anal gland (scent gland) discharge - located near the tailbase; secretions in the male prepuce.

What should you do if you have a smelly pet ?

  • Try to localise the smell - front end/back end; mouth or anal region; generalised
  • Look for obvious signs of disease as mentioned above. If you find a problem seek advice from your veterinarian
  • Bathe the pet thoroughly with a sweet smelling, pet shampoo to remove any unwanted debris/chemicals. Dry thoroughly with a towel or blow drier
  • Remove soiled blankets/bedding and clean the area where the pet lies thoroughly
  • If the smell is still present seek the advice of your veterinarian


Updated October 2013