An unusual question is trending on the internet: “Why does my dog smell like fish?” Well reader, Newsweek has done the research so you don’t have to delete your browsing history and can now answer your burning, yet odd, question.
We spoke to Dr. Jessica Taylor, vice president of veterinary medicine at Petfolk, and Emma Newell, owner of Sadie the cocker spaniel who has suffered from this unfortunate condition. If you’re reading this on your lunch break, you may want to put the sandwich down.
Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fish?
If your dog is giving off a strong fishy odor, it could have rolled in some old tuna, or it could be suffering from anal sac disease.
Dr. Taylor explains that “cats, dogs, and many other animals have two small glandular structures just inside the end of their rectum called anal glands. These are actually similar to the glands skunks use to spray their enemies!”
In pets these glands typically produce a small amount of scented material that gets pushed out during defecation, which is how animals identify themselves to other animals, explains Taylor. “If the glands aren’t working properly, they can get full or become infected, and produce a discharge with an acrid smell similar to rotten fish or a slightly metallic smell.”
What Is Anal Sac Disease?
“If the anal glands get full and are not able to express on their during the passing of stool,” explains Taylor. “They can cause discomfort to your pet. Classic signs of anal sac disease are licking or chewing around the rear end on the floor. Pet parents may notice a dark, granular material with a strong fishy smell if your pet has anal sac disease.”
In extreme cases you may notice blood or discharge under the tail or around the rectum, “and you must schedule a vet appointment right away!” says Taylor.
Any pet can develop anal sac issues. Taylor says: “[S]maller breed dogs tend to be affected by anal gland discomfort more often. For some small breed dogs such as papillons, terriers, and poodle-type dogs, regular manual expression of the anal glands is part of their grooming routine.”
Emma’s Experience After Finding Out Her Dog Had Anal Sack Disease
Aerospace engineer Emma Newell from Northern Ireland was unlucky enough to notice these symptoms firsthand with her 7-year-old cocker spaniel, Sadie. Newell, 28, who co-owns Sadie with her sister, 32, told Newsweek: “It’s happened quite a bit over the last seven years we’ve had her! We try and take her to the vet to get her glands squeezed before she begins to leak but unfortunately we can’t predict when it’s going to happen!”.
She describes how despite the fact that it’s “pretty common” in cocker spaniels, the condition can be a difficult one to manage as it can be a surprise, “She doesn’t experience any symptoms,” says Emma Newell. “You have no idea it’s going to happen and she acts completely normally, but the really strong fishy smell usually gives it away.”
Emma does point out that it’s relatively easy to treat. “She just needs to be taken to the vet regularly to get her glands squeezed, literally takes 20 seconds! But she does need a little bath afterwards as it can leak onto the backs of her legs when it’s getting removed!”
Newell posted her fishy issue on TikTok in a video that now has over 1.6 million views and got a huge response suggesting this is an underreported issue among pet owners. “After the video went viral on TikTok, a lot of people recommended a handful of bran flakes in her food to give her more fiber which I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks, and so far so good! We can notice a difference in her stool so fingers crossed there will be no more surprise accidents on the bed, the sofa or even my lap!” she explains.
What To Do If Your Dog Smells Like Fish?
If you notice the aforementioned fishy smell, or your dog paying more than a normal amount of attention to its rear end, make an appointment with your vet just to be sure. “Manual expression of the anal glands should be done carefully to prevent any damage to the tissues around the rectum,” says Dr. Taylor. “Veterinary professionals will generally use a gloved finger to gently press out any material from the anal glands. If there is evidence of infection such as blood, pus, or severe pain, treatments will be recommended.”
In response to Emma’s suggestion of adding a few bran flakes to your dogs food for fiber, Dr. Taylor said, “There are several anecdotal remedies and supplements that have been reported in treating anal sac conditions. While there are no FDA approved therapies, some pet parents have had success adding fiber to the diet. Fiber can improve the firmness and bulk of the formed stool, which may help the anal glands express normally when passing the stool. Please consult your veterinarian before adding any supplements or medications to your pet’s routine.”
Although it might sounds a bit disgusting, it’s a relatively normal condition and your furry friend will be back to its adorable self in no time. “Anal sacs are normal structures in pets,” explains Taylor. “Most don’t have any issues over their lifetime. However, if you notice your pet scooting, licking, or a sudden very smelly discharge, they need to see a vet to have their anal glands checked! With regular expression, weight control, and maintenance, anal sac disease can be managed.”
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