The Real Story Behind Dog Odors

A dog’s sense of smell is said to be about 1,000 times stronger than ours. As dog owners, we should probably consider that something of a blessing. In fact, we’re often so unaware of our dog’s odor funk that it often takes a family member or good friend to point this out. (With tact, one hopes.)

Or maybe you have noticed that your beloved family pet smells a bit off lately. If so, you shouldn’t make a big stink about it; you should investigate, say experts. That’s because there are a range of possible causes from the harmless (your dog rolled in something) to the dire (cancer).

If you’ve tried obvious methods of alleviating the stench, including giving your dog a bath, a good combing and maybe a trip to the groomer, then you should take a closer look.

Sources of Dog Odors
Dr. Louis Crupi, a veterinarian in Nutley, N.J., says odors most often emanate from the ears and mouth. “Check to see if your dog is pulling at its ears or shaking its head,” which could indicate an infection.

Another common cause of dog funk is a yeast infection, which prompts a sickeningly sweet odor, says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a veterinarian based in Knoxville, Tenn., and a regular contributor to Exceptional Canine. “Any time you smell a sweet or sour odor on your dog, you should get it checked out,” she says. Yeast infections often signal an allergy of some sort. While yeast is normally found on the skin and ears in small numbers, a dog with allergies doesn’t have normal skin defenses, says Dr. Corrina Parsons of the Longwood Veterinary Center in Kennett Square, Penn. Yeast infections can be a problem for dogs in an environment that promotes yeast growth, such as a dog that swims and always has wet ears, notes Parsons.

However, yeast infections can also be an indication of thyroid problems or a weak immune system, notes Dewhirst.

Your dog’s breath might never smell like roses. But if it’s excessively malodorous, then it could also connote dental disease, tartar, back molar problems, stomach infections or oral cancer, says Dewhirst, who acknowledges that some dogs naturally have better breath than others. Of course, a regular program of canine dental care, including teeth-brushing, can help prevent dental problems.

You Won’t Miss This Dog Odor
If your dog’s anal sac is ruptured or partially or fully emptied for one reason or another, a telltale, feces-like scent signals something’s amiss. Even if your dog’s anal sac empties outside the house, there’s likely to be a trail of odor on the dog’s coat. Dogs often make it worse by rubbing their bottom on the floor in an effort to scratch the area. Dewhirst says an anal sac rupture or leak is usually an indication of a yeast or bacterial infection, but, in worst-case scenarios, can also be prompted by cancer. Obesity and food allergies are more common causes of anal sac inflammation.

Finally, there’s flatulence. Though it’s normal for your dog to pass gas on occasion, you should watch for an excessive degree, which could indicate a food allergy or, once again, cancer.

The important thing, caution experts, is to not dismiss your dog’s odors as commonplace. “Your dog shouldn’t smell,” says Dewhirst. “It’s not normal.”

Meanwhile, Crupi cautions to not overdo it with bathing, even if your dog is primarily an indoor pet. To get rid of those common smells, Crupi recommends frequent brushing. “You should brush rather than bathe,” says Crupi, noting that three to six baths a year is probably sufficient. “You want to preserve their natural oils.”

Make Your Senior Dog Feel at Home

Elderly people often make changes in their homes, such as adding a grab bar in the shower for safety. Your senior dog can also benefit from minor household modifications. An orthopedic bed here or a ramp there will go a long way toward making your senior dog’s life at home pleasant and comfortable.

Older Dogs, New Problems
There’s no specific age when a dog becomes a senior; it varies from breed to breed. But sooner or later, most dogs start showing their age. When that happens, “many dog owners wonder if senior pets have any special needs regarding nutrition, exercise or grooming” says Dr. Amy Schein, a veterinarian at Coral Springs Pet Resort & Medical Center in Coral Springs, Fla. “There are no one-size-fits-all recommendations. However, older dogs are at risk for many of the same problems that affect older people. Many medical conditions can be managed with simple lifestyle or diet adjustments.”

Experts such as Schein say these items can help:

  • Raised food and water bowls make it easier for tall dogs to eat and drink, especially if they have arthritis in their neck or front limbs.

  • Steps or a ramp to help your dog get into the car or onto furniture.

  • Baby gates to keep pets from falling down stairs or entering rooms with slippery floors. This is especially helpful for dogs with neurological issues.
  • Body harnesses instead of neck collars for dogs with arthritic necks or intervertebral disk disease.
  • Skid-resistant throw rugs and rubber puzzle mats for hard floors. These add traction for unsteady legs and create a comfortable napping surface.
  • Orthopedic beds, especially for large-breed dogs that are prone to developing calluses on bony prominences. Some people swear by magnetic beds for dogs that have arthritis.

Look for Signs of Age-related Problems
Growing old isn’t an illness in itself, but it’s not uncommon for older dogs to develop age-related diseases. “Pet owners don’t always recognize early signs of age-related issues in these friends they’ve had for so many years,” says Dr. Corrina Parsons, a veterinarian at Longwood Veterinary Center in Kennett Square, Penn. “Any change in behavior, like a decreased willingness to play, climb stairs or jump on furniture, could be signs of joint pain in the hips, knees or back. Early signs of dementia could include late-night walking, barking or forgetting to go to the bathroom when outside. Many of these diseases can be managed by intensifying the relationship between you, your dog and your veterinarian.”

You can help your aging dog by following this advice:

  • Keep your pet’s weight at a healthy level. Obesity might worsen arthritic conditions and predispose your dog to developing diabetes or other metabolic diseases.
  • Stimulate circulation to its coat and skin with gentle grooming and massaging. This also helps discover new lumps or changes to the skin or coat.
  • Create a comfortable sleeping area on the ground floor if your pet has difficulty climbing stairs to or from your bedroom.
  • Visit your veterinarian for regular physical exams, blood work and urine tests to determine if your senior dog needs a special diet, medicine or treatment.

Jen and John’s Dog House
Lucky are the senior dogs that have devoted owners. Jen Holmquest and John Lawrence are the poster parents for how to care for geriatric dogs. They provide their 13-year-old Labrador Retriever, Merle, and their 11-year-old Golden Retriever, Clifton, with every necessity, from pet stairs to help them get on the couch to covering their orthopedic beds with waterproof comforters. They take both dogs to the vet twice yearly for senior exams and tests. “Clifton has become more sensitive to thunder and other scary sounds, so we sleep downstairs with him when there’s a storm coming,” says Holmquest. “Merle is neurologic in her hind end, so we use the garage one-step entrance instead of the porch stairs to go outside.”

Common sense and a lot of TLC can make all the difference for your dog’s golden years. “We deal with their aging issues because we love them,” says Holmquest.

Groom Your Dog Like a Pro

When it comes to your dog, good grooming is more than pretty pink bows or a jaunty new collar. Your regular care makes a difference in your dog’s appearance and health -- and in your relationship.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a basic guide to keeping your best friend looking his or her best.

Regular Brushing Is Important
Make sure your dog never has a bad hair day by giving him regular brushings. Not only will his coat shine, but you will also help socialize your dog as you touch him. This also offers an opportunity to look for pests like fleas and ticks, as well as health problems indicated by lesions or lumps.

Choose from the following equipment:

  • Slicker brushes have beds of fine, closely spaced wires that are hooked or bent. They’re considered all-purpose tools for removing mats, tangles and debris in dogs with all types of coats.
  • Pin brushes include widely spaced tines that look like straight pins. These are excellent for use in longer-haired breeds to remove knots.
  • Bristle brushes are used as a final step to smooth and shine the fur on a shorthaired dog.
  • Metal combs give a finishing touch to extra-long coats.

Begin your grooming session by using the slicker or pin brush to remove dead hair, debris and tangles. (You might need both tools if you have a long-haired breed or if your shorthaired pet spent the afternoon romping in a bog.) For tough snarls, hold the tangle at the root and brush it out to avoid painful pulling. Smooth the coat with a bristle brush or comb. Please note that you’ll want to give your dog a break every few minutes.

After a thorough brushing, your dog might be ready for a bath. He can go two to three weeks between bathing sessions, though you can dunk him in the tub if he gets especially stinky.

  • Fill a basin with warm water. Check the temperature using your elbow, which is more sensitive than your hand.
  • Place your dog on a nonskid surface, talking gently and praising him.
  • Slowly pour water over his paws, working your way up to his collar. Do not immerse his head yet, so that he can get used to the sensation.
  • Using specially formulated dog soap (soaps formulated for humans can be irritating to dogs), lather his coat.
  • Rinse twice to ensure the suds are out.
  • Approach his head and repeat the process.
  • Dogs love a good toweling off; if he’s patient, you can try to use a blow-dryer.

Proper Paw Care
Dogs generally don’t like having their paws handled, but it is necessary to make sure the fur between their toes and pads does not become matted or infected. Here’s how to do it:

  • Remove mats from the fur under your dog’s feet.
  • Using scissors, trim fur so that it is level with the foot.

Next, trim his nails. Again, he won’t think this is nearly as fun as a game of fetch, but it is necessary to ensure his good health. Do the following every few weeks:

  • Using a guillotine-style clipper made for dogs, trim only the hook of the nail.
  • Never trim into the quick -- the live portion of the nail -- which can draw blood.
  • Trim the dewclaw -- the thumb-like portion on the paw. If allowed to grow, they will curl up and pinch the skin.
Ear Care

During your dog’s bath, wash the outside of his ear with water. You can then remove interior wax with an ear-cleaning solution:

  • Warm the bottle in your palms.
  • Squirt a dab into the ear canal.
  • Gently massage the base of the ear.
  • Remove dirt or wax with a dry cotton ball.

Taking care of your dog’s grooming needs does not have to be a hair-raising experience for either of you. With practice and patience, he might even begin to enjoy his turn in the salon chair.


Size up Your Puppy's Food

Whether your dog is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane, Los Angeles–based veterinarian Dr. Amber Andersen figures she knows something about your pal’s approach to dinner. “They’re all chowhounds,” says Andersen with a chuckle.

But even though most puppies share the same voracious appetite, they have unique nutritional needs, depending on their size and breed. There are several important steps you can take to make sure you’re meeting your dog’s unique nutritional needs:

  • Educate yourself. Read up and talk to a breeder about the health issues and unique characteristics of your dog’s breed.
  • Talk to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian should also evaluate your puppy’s development and caloric needs.
  • Feed your dog size- and/or breed-specific food. “The best thing veterinarians recommend is high-quality dog food, grouped by size,” explains Andersen (visit her at “Some brands will even offer foods for a specific breed,” and selling breed-specific food is not some marketing gimmick, notes Andersen. “Pet food companies will modify nutritional components based on previous known issues for the breeds. They’ll modify because, just like people, different dog breeds have specific dietary needs.”


What Does Your Dog Need?
So what is your dog likely to need nutritionally, depending on his or her size? Here’s an overview:

Small dogs: Small-breed puppies have faster metabolisms and reach maturity quicker. This means they need higher levels of protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus to support growth and development of bones, muscles and other tissues. Moreover, their mouths and tummies are dainty, so their meals must come in the form of a petite kibble.

Medium dogs: These breeds are -- you guessed it -- right in the middle. They’ll weigh between 20 and 50 pounds as adults. Food for these breeds should have the appropriate-sized kibble and meet their unique nutritional needs. High-quality foods contain antioxidants, including beta-carotene and vitamin E for immune system strength. They also include fiber, such as beet pulp; digestible carbohydrates, such as barley and grain sorghum; and omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, for skin and coat health.

Large dogs: Large-breed puppies tend to grow fast. If they’re not eating the right nutrients, their developing bones can’t handle the weight. Their skeletal systems bend and break, and these beautiful creatures can be hobbled for life as a result. “Large-breed puppies, or those expected to weigh more than 50 pounds as adults, should eat balanced food with controlled energy content along with calcium and phosphorus levels that have been formulated specifically for their needs,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Eukanuba. If you’re not sure what food to get for your dog, ask your vet or breeder for recommendations.

Feeding Frequency
A St. Bernard puppy can gobble more chow in a sitting than a Yorkie can. But no matter your dog’s breed, it’s best to meet your puppy’s caloric needs by breaking up feeding into several small meals. Andersen advises offering your puppy at least three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Avoiding Winter Health Hazards

As cold weather approaches, you winter-proof your car and your house. But it’s also important to think about your dog: Only you can protect him from winter hazards when the temperature drops.

Your Dog’s Special Winter Needs
Any time you take your dog for walks in icy conditions, take special care to check his paws for ice balls and cuts. Wipe his paws dry with a cloth after he treks on salt or chemical snow-removers.

Also be particularly attentive to your dog’s daily needs as winter arrives. His caloric needs might change if he’s either less active (and needs fewer calories) or exercising in the cold (and requires more). And regular grooming also helps your dog’s coat do its job better in protecting him from the cold, advises the American Kennel Club.

Treating Frostbite
Frostbite is caused by exposure to extremely cold weather. The symptoms, which don’t develop until 48 hours after exposure, include pain and swelling. If the blood flow to the extremity is entirely interrupted, the tissue will turn black and fall off. To treat suspected frostbite:

  • Hug your dog to you so that your body heat can warm him.
  • Never rub him, as this could damage tissue.
  • Place him in a bath of warm (never hot) water. Test the water’s temperature by dipping your elbow in it -- a much more accurate analysis than using your hand.
  • Take your pet to the veterinarian immediately if he is severely chilled or unresponsive.

Beware of Hazards in the Garage
If your dog spends time in the garage during the winter, be aware of these potential hazards:

  • Licking up only a few teaspoons of antifreeze -- which tastes sweet to a pet -- can kill a dog. Be sure to check your car to make sure the radiator isn’t leaking.
  • Never leave your pet in the garage while you start the car, as carbon monoxide (which escapes from the tailpipe) can kill him.
  • Rat and mouse poisons are used more frequently in the winter months, says the American Humane Society. Make sure your dog can’t access them.