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Stinky fish dog breath and how to get rid of it

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Do you have a dog that likes to lick your face and give you kisses? This can be a lovely gesture of affection between you and your pet. But it can be very unpleasant if their breath stinks. Some dogs will develop a fishy smell to their breath that is deeply unsavoury and could be a sign of poor health. So, why does your dog’s breath smell fishy and what can you do about it?

Why does my dog’s breath smell like fish?

There are a few different reasons why your dog’s breath smells like fish. Dental hygiene issues are common causes – whether that means some fish stuck in the teeth or halitosis issues from a build-up of plaque and tartar. A dog’s anal glands secrete a similar smell, so the problem may originate there.

If you are in any doubt and concerned about your pet’s health, talk to your vet. Together you can find the cause and the best solution for fresher smelling breath. Common causes of fish smelling dog breath are:

  • Food caught in the teeth
  • Bone, sticks or hair caught in teeth
  • Gingivitis
  • Tartar, plaque, and calculus
  • Decaying teeth
  • Abscess
  • Ulcers
  • Infection
  • Stomach upset
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Tumours

What’s making my dog’s breath so stinky?

The first thing to do is to check your dog’s mouth and teeth for signs of poor oral health. It may be that you aren’t cleaning their teeth effectively enough and there is a build-up of bacteria and tartar. Or, they may have simply eaten something that is lingering in their mouth. 

If all seems normal in their mouth, then you should also check their anal glands. The fluid produced here can easily transfer to their mouths, especially if the glands are blocked. 

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If this isn’t the case, but the smell persists, talk to your vet about further tests and there could be a problem with their kidneys or liver.

check your dogs gums
Check your dog’s gums for signs of redness or inflammation

5 important questions to ask when dealing with stinky fishy dog breath

As you can see, there are lots of potential issues here, some more dangerous than others. It is important to get to the root of the problem as soon as possible. This will not only freshen the breath and make things more pleasant for everyone concerned, but it will also help you treat any underlying issues that you may have to contend with. Also, remember that even if you discover the cause once, that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again. Nor does it mean that the second occurrence is the result of the same problem. 

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1) The obvious – is there fish stuck in your dog’s teeth?

Sometimes the most simplistic explanations are the ones that turn out to be true. A fishy smell to a dog’s breath might not be that uncommon if they eat a lot of fish in their diets. If the smell is stronger than normal and your dog eats real fish, there is a good chance that a bit got stuck in their teeth and hasn’t dislodged. Take a look and give the teeth a good scrub to see what’s still in there.

2) Have they eaten or rolled around in something they shouldn’t?

The culprit might smell a little fishy, but you might actually be smelling something more putrid and decaying and can’t put your finger on the source. Dogs, especially puppies, love to explore anything that is new and interesting, and will often do so with their mouths. Therefore, they may have mouthed, chewed or even swallowed something foul, dead or dying.  This could be a dead animal during a walk or faeces. On that note, watch out for dogs eating out of your cat’s litter box

Check you haven’t left the laundry liquid or pods in reach of your pooch that they may have licked. Household cleaning agents contain caustic substances which cause ulcers that can become infected and give off a fishy whiff.

Bits of bone, sticks from walks and even hair can get trapped and rot in your dog’s mouth making it pong.

Look out for other signs of ill health like vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, or a loss of appetite. These could indicate that they did ingest something they shouldn’t.

3) Do they have halitosis from poor dental hygiene?

Alternatively, you might find that your pet’s bad breath is the result of ongoing issues with poor dental hygiene. Bacteria can build up in the mouth and cause foul-smelling breath, sometimes with an unpleasant fishiness to it. This only worsens if food is left behind and if plaque and tartar build-up. Some new dog owners fail to recognise the importance of regular tooth cleaning or dental sticks.

A better dental care programme could help you notice a difference soon enough. But, it might also be worthwhile getting a professional check for underlying issues. There may be cases of gum disease ( gingivitis), ulcers or tooth abscesses causing the smells and some additional discomfort for the dog.

Abscesses sometimes show up as a swelling beneath the eye so get this checked by your vet. They will then drain the abscess and probably remove the tooth too.

4) Are they scooting and licking their anal glands?

Dog’s have a habit of sniffing and licking their behinds of themselves and any friendly dog they meet. This social interaction can become very unhygienic as matter passes from around the anus to their mouth. Often, dogs will scoot along the ground andick their behind to relieve the discomfort of blocked anal glands. Blocked anal glands can become smelly with a fishy odour and this will get onto the dog’s breath if they lick this area. So, make a point of checking their glands if your dog’s breath is suddenly fishy – especially if you know that their oral hygiene is fine.

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Could it be from anal glands?

5) Could they have any underlying kidney or liver condition?

Finally, it is worth noting that some cases of bad breath can signal bigger problems with organ health, diabetes and even cancers. Typically, this won’t be a purely fishy smell. Kidney issues can lead to an ammonia smell while other conditions lead to mustier smells. However, there could also be fishiness from other causes mentioned above. If you are worried about the smell and it doesn’t go away with better dental care and treatments, talk to your vet.

When to consult your vet about fishy smelling breath in dogs

Some of these issues are treatable at home. Lingering food or a lapse in dental hygiene is rectifiable with better oral healthcare. Look for a better canine toothbrush and toothpaste, perhaps with a natural canine mouthwash in their water. 

Regularly inspect your dog’s mouth by carefully lifting up your dog’s lips to look for inflammation or redness of the gums. Try and look at the top back teeth for tartar build-up as well. If you see these, then there are signs of problems and need a visit to the vet.

Issues with the anal glands are treatable at home if you know how. Or, you can take your dog in to see the vet for a professional approach. If you can’t diagnose or find the best treatment for fishy dog breath at home, seek advice from your vet.

Try these great healthy homemade Fresh Breath Treats to help keep your pooch’s mouth happy.

Best homemade fresh breath dog treats – wheat free – no mint

Looking for a wheat free fresh breath treat recipe for your dog? Then this is the one. Quick and easy to make and great for dogs with sensitive tummies.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Course: Snack
Cuisine: American, English
Keyword: banana, carrot, coconut oil, dog biscuit, dog treat, fresh breath, parsley, wheat free
Cost: 5

Equipment

  • Blender
  • Mixing bowl
  • Baking sheet/tray

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Rolled Oats
  • 1 cup Fresh Parsley chopped finely
  • 1 cup Fresh Carrots finely grated
  • 1 Banana mashed
  • 1/2 cup Plain Yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp Coconut Oil

Instructions

  • Melt the coconut oil. You can do this by simply leaving it in a warm place ( like by the stove)
    fresh breath dog treats
  • Put your oats into blender or food processor to make into a flour consistency. 
  • Mix parsley, carrot, banana, yogurt and coconut oil together in a bowl
  • Add the oats and combine
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  • Make small balls in your hand and flatten. Place on cookie sheet.
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  • Bake 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) for 25 minutes. 
  • Place on cooling rack to cool. 
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Notes

Store in airtight container.
Roll dough out on parchment paper for easier clean up.
Place parchment paper on cooling rack before placing cookies on the rack to stop them falling through.