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My Dog Smells Rotten: 11 Causes + What To Do Now!

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What might start out as an offensive odor can turn out to be a troubling medical issue.

We’re not just talking about wet dog smell or bad doggy breath.

If you feel like your dog smells rotten, worst case it’s comparable to a deceased animal or meat turned bad.

Naturally, you want to get rid of the smell and make sure your pooch is healthy.

A rotten smell may actually indicate an underlying medical issue.

Commonly affected areas include the dental region as well as the skin.

Curiously enough, I just recently caught a whiff of a diseased animal – my Rottweiler.

Seemingly out of nowhere, she was smelling extremely rotten. Since her heat was just over, we assumed it might be dried blood or discharge. So we bathed her, but the smell didn’t go away.

Cue: Bacterial ear infection.

Took quite some time to treat with antibiotics, ear-cleaning solutions, and multiple vet visits. Your dog may suffer from something entirely different though which is why it’s crucial to take the smell seriously.

My Dog Smells Rotten

Dogs smell rotten due to dental disease, oral cancer, skin infections, anal gland infections, ear infections, or rolling in animal remains. Rotten smell is a symptom, the underlying cause needs to be treated.

Other reasons for a rotten smell include parvovirus, urinary tract infection, diabetes, and kidney failure.

Since the latter contenders are relatively unlikely, I’ll go into more detail later.

For now, let’s focus on the most common causes.

Bulldog with lots of skin folds rolls on grass.
Photo by otsphoto on Shutterstock

Some issues are easy to rule out while others require a vet to run a couple of tests.

First, it’s best to rule out contact with contaminated food or animals.

Did your dog get into the garbage? Rolled in a suspicious spot outside?

After you’ve ruled that out, check your dog’s dental status.

Is the rotten smell emanating from your dog’s mouth? How do your dog’s teeth look? What do you do for dental hygiene?

Only 16% of the respondents in my newsletter survey said they regularly brush their dog’s teeth.

A survey among my newsletter subscribers about how often they brush their dog's teeth.
Doggy Dental Survey by Pawleaks

Generally, brushing your dog’s teeth is recommended.

Dental chews can also help with maintaining dental hygiene.

I prefer single-ingredient, natural chews such as bully sticks, dried lamb ears, or raw meaty bones.

If you determine the smell’s source is your pet’s mouth or you notice anything irregular in the dental area, consult your vet and have your doggo’s dental status checked.

Your vet might perform dental x-rays and recommend professional teeth cleaning.

If dental disease has progressed already or gum disease already affects some teeth, an extraction might be necessary.

The steps would depend on your dog’s specific diagnosis (gum disease, abscess, oral cancer, etc.).

Dogue de Bordeaux puppy is bathed in a small bucket with a toy duck and towel.
Photo by WilleeCole on Shutterstock

Next, I’d recommend checking your dog’s skin.

Some breeds such as those with extreme wrinkles and skin folds are prone to skin issues. All breeds can have skin issues though.

Skin issues might cause redness or swelling, but can also be noticed by your dog’s behavior.

Does your dog lick or scratch a certain spot excessively?

Treatment of skin issues varies.

Dry skin is a top contender and can be caused by swimming (especially in saltwater).

Other issues are caused by parasites or fungi.

While you’re at it, check your dog’s bottom.

Redness and swelling might indicate an anal gland infection.

While some of these steps can be performed at home, it’s best to always consult a vet.

If you notice something irregular, seeking treatment is crucial. If you can’t pinpoint the root of the rotten smell, a vet needs to find and treat the underlying cause.

To summarize, here are all the steps you can take to help your vet find the cause.

  1. Has your dog rolled in a deceased animal or dug through garbage?
  2. Is the rotten smell coming from your dog’s mouth?
  3. Do you notice signs of skin issues (redness, swelling, scratching)?
  4. Are there any signs of infection around your dog’s bottom?

Bathing your dog is an easy way to find out whether or not something external is causing your dog’s rotten smell.

I’d personally avoid scented shampoo and go with a relatively neutral smell (such as an Oatmeal shampoo).

Preparing a bucket with a dozen or so drops of apple cider vinegar and water to rinse your dog after bathing can go a long way in eliminating undesirable smells.

Not all dogs like the smell, but it’s also said to be good for a shiny coat and repellent for ticks (not many studies out there proving its efficacy though).

If your dog has a skin condition, definitely consult your vet before applying anything.

My Dog Smells Like Rotten Meat

If your dog smells like rotten meat, think about whether or not your dog has come into contact with rotten food or an animal carcass.

Some dogs are known to get into the garbage can, roll around in animal carcasses, or are generally attracted by odd smells outside.

Assuming you really pinpointed the smell as “rotten meat”, it’s highly likely that your dog came into contact with actually rotten food or an animal carcass.

However, everybody perceives smells differently and the rotten meat smell may indicate another medical condition.

Even if you’re sure it smells like rotten meat, make sure your vet checks for issues such as oral disease or skin infections.

If you can absolutely rule out contact with rotten food or animals, tell your vet so they keep trying to find the root cause.

My Dog Smells Like Something Dead

In case your dog smells like something dead, search for signs of oral disease or skin infections and question whether your dog might’ve rolled in something smelly outside.

More often than not, the bad smell can be attributed to one of these three issues.

The stench from rolling in an animal’s carcass can be really appalling.

As mentioned above, veterinary attention might be required.

While you can do a simple check at home, a vet needs to treat it or, if you’re unable to find anything, find the underlying cause and start treatment from there.

Dog Smells Like Dead Animal

A dog who smells like a dead animal may have come into contact with one or suffers from other undiagnosed issues such as oral disease or skin issues.

Dogs are often attracted by smells we’d find appalling.

If you know, you know.

That moment of fixation on a seemingly empty spot on the ground.

The knees get wobbly after a good whiff and the next second your pooch is writhing around.

An animal carcass or remains, guts, or a gooey puddle beyond recognition.

Dogs just absorb this stuff and there are multiple theories as to why.

Lucky dog owners can trace their dog’s rotten smell to a decaying animal.

If you know your dog rolled in something, give him a good bath and pray there were no parasites or bacteria for which your dog might need veterinary attention.

Dog Smells Like Decay

If you feel like your dog smells like decay, it’s best to consult a veterinarian if the odor persists and is really strong.

As mentioned above, check your dog’s body, and mouth, then evaluate whether there’s something in their medical history that might indicate an issue.

All 11 causes why your dog might smell rotten:

  1. Dental disease
  2. Oral cancer
  3. Skin infection
  4. Anal gland infection
  5. Rolling in animal remains
  6. Contact with rotten food
  7. Yeast infection
  8. Parvovirus
  9. Urinary Tract Infection
  10. Diabetes
  11. Kidney Failure

While we’ve discussed most of these issues above, the ones lower on the list are not the most common causes of a bad smell but are still possible.

Dogs can smell rotten due to parvovirus, UTI, diabetes, or kidney failure.

Parvovirus is usually on the table if other symptoms fit, especially if your pup hasn’t been vaccinated.

Urinary tract infections or diabetes can smell rotten or more like pee.

Your dog might’ve even peed while sleeping and that smell is now perceived as something decaying.

With kidney failure, the kidneys can’t effectively remove waste products from the blood, possibly resulting in a foul smell.

As you can see, the exact cause of your dog’s rotten smell is hard to pin down and a vet visit might be necessary.

Most of these issues have simple fixes but a persistent offensive odor is definitely enough to warrant diving deeper into your dog’s health status.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.