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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on November 10, 2018
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One of the biggest complaints that many people have about dogs, or any pet really, is that having one can result in bad odors. It’s one of the reasons that landlords may choose to ban pets at all, and one of the reasons that people who would otherwise love to have a dog might choose to avoid a pet instead. I find that really sad, for a few reasons. First, pets can’t really help it that they have an odor. Humans have odors too! We’ve managed to learn how to make deodorant and flowery perfumes, but dogs don’t have this kind of science. Instead, they just have to rock out with their natural scent.
Second, there are so many ways to get rid of pet odor that you may not ever even notice it! Not all of these methods involve a ton of work or scary chemicals, either. Considering how easy it is to get rid of pet odors, I think it would be a shame to avoid a dog altogether just because you are afraid of how it might smell. Here on the blog, we’ve talked about odorless dog breeds, dog smell neutralizers, and even how to handle a smelly puppy. Today, I want to get a little more in depth about different types of odors that come with dogs, and what you can do about them.
(1) Natural Body Odor
Some dogs have a stronger natural body odor than other dogs. Dogs that have oily coats, such as those that were bred as water retrievers or small game hunters (think Basset Hounds), can often have a bit of a musky scent that is hard to shake. These natural odors usually get stronger as the dog gets older.
However, dogs shouldn’t have a really awful body odor that is just unbearable. If they do, there is likely a skin infection or ear infection going on. These things should be seen by a vet right away, and getting them treated can help reduce the smell.
There are products you can use on your dog to try to help with the natural body odor, but be aware that this really isn’t something you can shampoo off. Their coats will continue to make oil after the bath, so the smell will just come back. Be careful to use a product that won’t harm your pet’s skin.
Getting smells in your upholstered furniture or in the carpet is one of the biggest complaints that I hear from reluctant dog owners. They’ve likely had an older relative who had a dog that was allowed to run around in the house, and they remember the way that that person’s house smelled a bit like urine or wet dog every time they entered the home. The biggest problem isn’t that upholstery clings to dog odors, however, but that any accidents weren’t cleaned up right away. Also, letting a wet dog onto the furniture directly can leave behind a smell. So if you are proactive about messes and wrap your dog in a towel or put him in his kennel to dry, you’ll likely not have this problem.
You can, of course, find products meant for upholstery and carpeting that remove dog odors, but I find that an easy method is the old baking soda and vinegar trick as well.
If your dog sleeps in his kennel all the time, you may notice that there is a bit of a smell to the kennel regardless of how often you clean it. This is because the dog is here the most often, and so naturally, his most concentrated scent will be in this spot. You can use a kennel odor eliminator to help reduce the smell if you want, and be sure to stay on top of cleaning the kennel out at least weekly.
You can also find odor controlling pads to keep in the kennel, which are typically made with charcoal inserts. If you have a particularly smelly dog, I would recommend having more than one of these that you can swap out while one airs out after some use. And don’t negate the power of fresh air when it comes to getting rid of odors. Take your dog’s kennel outside from time to time to let it air out.
Washing your dog’s bed is a necessity for keeping all the areas around the bed from smelling. You’ll want to do this without anything else in the washing machine, and you may want to let the bed air dry rather than putting it through the dryer – that could “bake” the scent on and spread it throughout your house. You may want to use a carpet shampooer to clean the dog bed in some cases. Simply letting the dog bed rest in sunshine for a bit every day is a great way to help keep the scent to a dull roar as well.
You can also find dog beds that are more odor resistant than others. For example, nylon beds are often less likely to soak up odors. Another option is to choose a mesh cot for your dog to stay up off the ground. Because it has no upholstery to cling to scents, it’s much less likely to bother your nose.
Some dogs have a condition that causes them to empty their anal sacs due to fear, anxiety, or illness. This is often a foul-smelling substance that doesn’t make anyone’s day very good. The only way to really avoid this is to have your dog’s anal sacs periodically emptied by the vet. If you notice your dog scooting along the ground, or biting at his rear end, you likely need to get this taken care of. If the sacs have already been emptied in your home, you need to take action immediately. Use a rag that you can throw away to wipe up the liquid, and wrap that rag in some plastic when you’re done to contain the smell. Then toss. Use an odor eliminating cleaner on the spot, and then let it dry.
You may want to talk to your vet about a supplement that can help reduce the anal sac issue. You can find these over the counter but it’s still a good idea to ask your vet if they’ll work for your dog. If this becomes a very serious concern, especially in the case of an older dog, you may need to resort to canine diapers in between trips to the vet.
Obviously, having an accident with urine or fecal matter is one of the biggest complaints that reluctant pet owners or landlords have. Dog urine definitely can have a powerful odor at times. The best way to get rid of these odors is to remove the matter. Keep some doggie waste bags handy for getting rid of poop, and be sure you have a go-to cleaner for urine. Getting to the spot as soon as possible is the best way to prevent odors from getting set-in.
One thing you can also consider, for a young dog that isn’t fully housebroken, or for an older dog that is getting immobile or having accidents, is to lay down some puppy pads. Not only will they help you contain the mess, but they are also odor eliminating so that you don’t have to smell it.
Many owners are baffled by the way their dog seems to delight in rolling around in smelly things. In fact, this habit seems to come from the wild instinct to mask their own scent on a hunt so that prey wouldn’t be scared off. For our modern canine friends, it’s mostly just a lot of fun. Dogs have a tendency to roll in the grossest things, like poop, dead animals, rotting vegetation, and more. Another thing that tends to happen when dogs get outside? Skunk spray! Chasing down a skunk will result in a dog getting sprayed with that clinging scent.
In both of these cases, the best thing you can do is to start with a good skunk-off shampoo. This type of product is very strong, so it can take care of those nasty scents the dog rolled in as well as skunk spray. It will likely take more than one bath to get the scent out fully, and in the meantime, you’ll want to keep your dog off your furniture and away from your carpet. Lay down their bed or blanket if they need to be in a room with carpet till the scent is all gone.
I’ve already gone through the seven main types of dog odors I wanted to address, but then I remembered this last complaint: dog breath! It’s true that some dogs can have some wicked breath from time to time, but this is actually something that you can fix. And what’s more, you really need to pay attention should you notice that your dog’s breath is bad. It could mean that they have some dental issues, which is a very big health concern for a dog.
The best way to battle bad breath in a dog is to take care of their teeth. Once a week, they need to have their teeth brushed, just like brushing a human’s teeth. You’ll use dog-friendly toothpaste and a dog toothbrush, and scrub away plaque or leftover food. You can also use a dog breath freshener spray while you’re at it, to ensure that you get all the smell out. You should also have your dog’s teeth cleaned professionally once a year or so, to ensure that they stay healthy.
This is more important than just getting rid of the bad smell. If a dog’s teeth are not taken care of properly, they could develop serious bodily health issues such as heart disease and even cancer. You can also help this out by giving your dog dental chews like Greenies to help them get rid of some built-up plaque on their teeth.
As for that classic puppy breath that some people seem to find charming while others hate – I’m afraid there’s no cure for that one! You’ll just have to let your pet grow out of it. This smell is due to the fact that the puppy hasn’t gotten any plaque or bacteria on their teeth yet, so it’s actually the most natural smelling dog breath you’ll ever smell.
Now that you know what types of smells to expect with a dog, and how to handle each one, maybe you’ll feel more confident about getting a pet. You can also approach your landlord with specifics on how you’ll ensure that no smell will be left behind, which could help convince them to loosen their policy.
One of the best things to do as a potential dog owner worried about smells is to consider the breed you’ll be getting. Some breeds don’t have very much in the way of natural odor, and some are also naturally very clean animals. Huskies, Whippets, Bichon Frise, and Maltese are often very odorless dogs that make for great pets. Stay on top of regular grooming and don’t let accidents sit, and you’ll be well on your way to keeping 90% of dog odors out of your life.
The only other thing you can do is just to think smart. Don’t let a muddy, yucky dog into your car without putting down a cover that you can remove and wash. Keep a special blanket handy for your dog to lay on instead of laying directly on the sofa. Have an extra dog bed that you can swap theirs out with so that you can air their bed out from time to time. Doing these few things ahead of time will make sure that your home doesn’t smell a thing like Fido’s romp through some dead stuff in the woods. Now that you know the best way to handle these odors, you’ll be able to enjoy your life with the dogs!