Dr. Walt's happy tails: Why your stinky pet could be sick

Author: Canadian Living


Dr. Walt's happy tails: Why your stinky pet could be sick

Whether it's the time of the year or simply a very common (and annoying) problem, questions pertaining to the odours that our pets sometimes emit have dominated my e-mail lately. Here's a sampling, along with some tips on common odour sources and their control.

Dear Dr. Walt: We have a beautiful Canadian Eskimo/German shepherd dog mix who is male and 3 years old. Until now, he has always had a wonderful coat and never a bad smell. Recently, he has developed a ‘poop' odour that is with him all the time. He is otherwise clean, healthy, and happy. Can you suggest what the source of this odour problem may be?

Dear Dr. Walt:
I have a question regarding my 10-year-old yellow Labrador retriever. This summer she developed a very strong smell after swimming at the cottage that persisted even after she had dried off. This smell has continued and is very strong -- it is at the point now that it is so bad, we don't even want her in the house (although we do let her in) because the odour permeates the entire house. Someone suggested that it might be due to her diet so we changed to a lamb-based diet but she developed gas -- I don't know which odour is worse! Any suggestions?

Dear Dr. Walt:
I am dog sitting a Shih Tzu for a friend and am having a problem with an odour. The smell seems to come from his face but I can't identify the source. I have checked his ears and they are fine. He has a discharge from both eyes, which I have been told is normal for this breed, and I clean it everyday. The dog is very affectionate and wants to be near my face all the time, which is very unpleasant. Any ideas?

Well, its time to play odour sleuth -- just where is that smell coming from and what can we do to eliminate it? This is a common complaint and most pet owners, especially dog owners, find themselves in this position at some point in their pet's life. Assuming that there are no outward signs or external sources of the smell (e.g., having just rolled in that dead fish on the beach!), the common sources of pet odour are: flatulence (gas); dental disease; lip fold or other skin fold infections (pyoderma); ear infection; skin diseases (especially those resulting in seborrhea); and anal gland disorders.

This is easy to identify because it is intermittent, and a characteristic sound often precedes the odour! Generally, this is due to transient bowel upset, usually because of a dietary indiscretion and is therefore self-limiting. For some dogs, however, this problem can be persistent and in those circumstances is either related to the diet (principally the fiber source) or to underlying bowel disease. Short-term control usually means a period of fasting to give the bowel a chance to rest and recover from the upset. If it does persist, it is best to discuss this with your veterinarian to determine the best approach and any possible dietary alteration.

Page 1 of 3 -- Do you have a stinky dog? Find out what could be at the root of the problem on page 2.

Dental disease: Gum disease can result in gum infections and deeper oral problems, such as tooth root abscesses. Usually you will notice discomfort with eating food or playing with toys and there will be a red/inflamed appearance to the gum, obvious plaque accumulation on the teeth, and discomfort when handling the mouth area. Correction is via treating the underlying dental disease. If identified early, home care (e.g., brushing your pet's teeth) might correct the problem and this is definitely the best approach to prevention. If the condition is more advanced, a professional dental cleaning by your veterinarian and/or the removal of the infected tooth may be required.

Lip or other skin fold infections: When two areas of skin come together to create a fold it may trap moisture and debris resulting in a skin infection (pyoderma), which can be odorous. Common locations are the lower, middle gum line (especially in retrievers and other breeds whose upper gums overlap the bottom lips), face (common in the brachycephalic or ‘flat face' breeds [pugs, boxers, bulldogs] with excessive facial skin), and around the vaginal opening (especially if the pet is overweight). These can be controlled through local hygiene. Employ an antiseptic soap (be sure to rinse well to avoid irritation) or hydrogen peroxide, together with an antibiotic cream and keep the area dry.

Ear infection: More common in breeds with floppy ears and those that swim a lot, they will often be observed scratching more frequently at the ear and the ear may be sore to touch. Generally there is an obvious ear discharge or black discoloration to the inside of the ear. Ear cleansers and antibiotic ointments are generally curative although oral (systemic) antibiotics and an ear flushing under anesthetic may be required in more advanced cases.

Seborrheic skin disease:
When the skin is irritated, it can produce more oils in an effort to relieve the irritation. These oils often lead to an oily feel to the hair coat and a generalized body odour. The key to treatment is eliminating the skin irritant and the use of specialty shampoos designed for dogs with seborrhea. If you think this may be the cause of your pet's odour, discuss the condition further with your veterinarian.

Anal glands: The anal glands are paired glands that are located at the “10 and 2 o'clock” positions under the skin at the sides of the anus. They are small -- about the size of a pea -- and are not normally visible to the eye although someone trained in locating them can feel them. They produce and contain a smelly liquid that, during the course of the dog's evolution, was used to mark territory when a small amount of this liquid was released as the dog had a bowel movement. These glands still exist today, in both dogs and cats, although the need for territorial marking has become less through domestication. However, these glands continue to produce this foul smelling liquid and are prone to problems. Scooting, the act of a dog or cat dragging their bum along the ground (usually on your favourite carpet!) is a symptom of anal gland problems. Having them expressed periodically by your veterinarian (not the highlight of our day!) will help to control this odour source. Hope these clues help to identify and correct the source of that odour!

Page 2 of 3 -- How to get rid of the smell of cat's urine from your home, PLUS a secret skunk-removal remedy that really works on page 3.
Dear Dr. Walt: What is the best thing to use to get rif of a cat urine smell in your house? When we come in from the outside, the odour hits us right in the nose and it's embarrassing when we have company. What can we do?

As with the previous questions, the answer stems in identifying the source of the odour. Some hints:

• Make sure that if you have a male cat that he is neutered. Regardless of how clean intact male cats are, their urine will be very strong. Neutering will resolve this.

• Make sure that your cat's litter box is cleaned regularly. This may be a common source and if the litter box is not cleaned regularly, your cat may elect to go elsewhere (often outside of the litter box) in the house. Newer litter may actually neutralize the odour of cat urine -- if you are going to try this, gradually switch to the new product to ensure your cat accepts the new litter.

• If your cat seems to be no longer house trained, ensure you have your cat examined by your veterinarian to eliminate a urinary infection as the source of both the odour and loss in house training.

• Search for any areas that your cat may be using instead of the litter box. If you locate the spot, clean it well. There are a number of excellent products available commercially to accomplish this -- ask your veterinarian for her recommendation. If it has happened frequently on a carpet, you sometimes have no other choice but to remove the soiled carpeting. There are also several effective ways to retrain your cat -- ask your veterinarian.

And finally, a reader with experience in eliminating skunk odour from their dog writes in:

"Our dog Charlie was sprayed twice by skunks last summer. I tried everything to get rid of the smell, including the recipe in your past column. The only thing that eventually got rid of it was toothpaste. Charlie weighs approximately 45 kg (100 lbs) so I bought 10 tubes of toothpaste, rubbed them into her fur (including her face), and rinsed. It worked like a charm!"

Page 3 of 3 -- Stinky pets can be a symptom of an underlying health issue. Learn more on page 1.

About Dr. Walt Ingwersen
Dr. Walt Ingwersen is Chief Veterinary Officer at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. He is a 1982 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College. Board certified in Internal Medicine, he has the distinction of being the first Canadian editor of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a position he currently holds.

Involved in many aspects of the national and international veterinary community, "Dr. Walt" is the recipient of the President's Award for outstanding contribution to the veterinary profession awarded by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). He is also Chief Veterinary Officer and Chairman of the Veterinary Advisory Board at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. -- Canada's leading provider of insurance for dogs and cats.
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Dr. Walt's happy tails: Why your stinky pet could be sick