Smelly Pets

Pete Wedderburn
7th January 2020 - 2 min read
Terrier sleeping

Odour Investigation

A ‘smell investigation’ in a veterinary clinic is common. Every animal has a mild odour of some type, but animal smells should not be unpleasant. If a new, strong smell develops in a pet, this can be a sign of underlying disease.

Some types of animals have a stronger ‘normal’ smell than others. Most small pets (such as hamsters or rabbits) should not have a noticeable smell, but regular cage cleaning is important to ensure that soiled bedding does not begin to cause problems.

Cat Odour

Cats are usually smell-free, with the dramatic exception of entire tom cats who enjoy marking their territory with small squirts of urine. This contains smell-markers designed to send territorial messages to other cats in the area. If a tomcat starts to mark his own home with urine, the entire building rapidly becomes uninhabitable. Fortunately, the neutering operation is very effective at smell reduction. 

cat sitting on stairs

Dog Odour

Most dogs are also odour free – they keep themselves clean naturally, without bathing. Dogs don’t even seem to need to groom themselves as fastidiously as cats. However, some dogs are capable of producing a much wider range of bad smells than other animals, and the odour can originate from many parts of the body.

The most common dog smell is simply the normal ‘doggy’ smell from the coat. This is most obvious when a dog has been swimming –  a wet coat emits a stronger odour. It is useful to dry your dog well with a towel before letting him into your car or your home. Some dogs exacerbate their coat smell by deliberately rolling in foul smelling substances such as manure. This is an ancient, deeply ingrained canine instinct, and a difficult one to stop. Regular grooming is the best way to minimise coat smells, and close clipping of the coat of long haired dogs can be very effective.

Dental Problems

Smelly breath can be caused by dental problems that may need treatment. In other cases, gases produced in the stomach can cause the breath to smell, and a change of diet may be the answer. Ear infections can cause strong smells around the head, and these can be difficult to resolve. A course of ear ointment followed by regular ear flushing is sometimes needed.

Rottweiler with open mouth

Anal Glands

Smells around the rear of the dog can be caused by a build up of secretions from the anal glands which often need regular cleaning by a vet. There are many other causes of smells – for example, animals with some illnesses (such as kidney failure, or diabetes) may have distinctive but subtle odours on their breath. It is sometimes possible to diagnose illness simply by using the sense of smell. 


  • Healthy animals should not normally have a strong smell.
  • Small pets need to have their cages cleaned regular to keep down any odours.
  • If dogs and cats have a strong odour, it can be a sign of illness.