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What’s That Smell? How To Tell If Your Pet’s Odor Is A Sign Of A Medical Problem

Let’s face it.  Sometimes our pets smell.  A dog that needs a bath or one that has gas or one that has bad breath all have distinctive aromas.

But how do you know if your smelly pet just needs a bath or if he has a medical problem?

Check out this list of common animal smells and what they mean.

Does your pet smell like moldy bread?  Overgrowth of yeast on the skin or in the ears can cause a pet to smell strange.  Some people use the phrase “frito feet” to describe a yeast infection between the toes because the smell is reminiscent of corn chips.  Stinky feet or smelly ears or an overall musty smell can point to a potential problem with yeast.  Yeast overgrowth also causes itchiness, so if your pet is also scratching his body or ears, scooting his rear end or licking his paws, schedule an exam to rule out this common skin problem.

Ketones are chemicals that are created when the body breaks down fat to use for energy.  This usually happens in undiagnosed or unmanaged diabetes, where the body doesn’t have enough insulin to use glucose, the normal source of energy.  Ketones build up in the blood and make it more acidic.  This condition, called ketoacidosis, causes a sickly sweet scent to the breath.  Ketoacidosis is a serious condition that needs immediate treatment, so if you notice this smell, call the office immediately.

Severe Halitosis
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of pets will develop periodontal disease by age 3.  Gingivitis, or inflamed gums, eventually progresses to periodontitis, where the integrity of the tooth’s support structures are compromised and teeth bleed, abscess or fall out. Some method of oral care is a must for all pets, but even pets who have their teeth brushed daily will still have some form of “dog breath.”  The difference between normal mouth smell and an oral problem that needs intervention is usually the severity of the smell.  Does your dog stink up an enclosed space by simply panting?  Is his saliva very odiferous or does he drool excessively?  Does his mouth smell so badly that you don’t want him to lick your face?  Can you see pus in his mouth?  Does your cat’s fur smell terrible after he bathes himself? All of these are indications that your dog or cat needs some dental work.  Occasionally, dogs and cats develop polyps in their throats or nasal cavities that can cause foul odors as well.  The good news is that dental work has an extremely high rate of success.  Cleaning off calculus, removing diseased teeth and treating infections helps sweeten dog breath.

E. coli is a bacteria that is most famous for causing food poisoning in humans when it gets into food or water.  Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but some can cause urinary tract infections. Signs of a UTI are increased water intake and increased urination, blood in the urine or straining.  From an odor stand point, urine from dogs infected with E. coli is very foul smelling and cloudy.  Untreated E. coli infections can cause organ damage so it’s important to contact your vet if you notice this smell.

This is a bacteria that is resistant to multiple antibiotics.  It is considered an opportunistic organism because it appears to take advantage of a body that is somehow compromised.  It is difficult to treat and requires intensive and prolonged treatment.  Pseudomonas can cause urinary infections but it most commonly appears in ears, where it causes a thick, purulent discharge, swelling, crusting and bleeding and a terrible smell.

Viral Diarrhea
Diarrhea is one of the most common causes of visits to the vet among cats and dogs.  The cause can be difficult to pinpoint because diarrhea can be a symptom of anything from stress to parasites to cancer.  A single episode of diarrhea is usually nothing to worry about, especially if your pet is otherwise feeling fine.  But some viruses, like the parvovirus that strikes puppies, cause severe, watery and sometimes bloody diarrhea that has a terrible odor.  Owners who have pets with viral diarrhea often are unable to describe exactly what the diarrhea smells like, other than smelling “sick.”  Since diarrhea is one of the biggest ways viruses are spread, it’s important to schedule an appointment if your pet’s stool seems extremely abnormal.  Viruses have no cure, but supportive care will help your pet feel better and recover sooner, as well as decrease the amount of other pets that are exposed.

Coppery/fishy Anals
Sometimes we receive calls about pets that suddenly smell like “copper pennies” or rotten fish.  Dogs and cats have scent glands just inside the rectal opening called anal glands.  They are normally expressed when an animal has a bowel movement.  Some animals will express them accidentally when they are scared or excited or startled.  The liquid that is expressed has a distinct fishy or coppery smell.  Anal glands are a normal part of cat and dog life, so you shouldn’t worry about smelling this smell from time to time.  But the glands can get impacted or infected, so if you notice the presence of pus or if your pet is scooting, licking or chewing the area, he probably needs an exam.




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