Why Does My Golden Retriever Smell Like Fish?

by Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM

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cropped view of man stroking golden retriever dog

Does your Golden Retriever smell bad? They may even smell like fish. There are many reasons that your dog may be smelling this way. Many of these issues can be quickly and easily be fixed by just bathing them, while some of the other things may take you a little while to figure out why your Golden Retriever is smelling like fish.

8 Reasons Why Your Golden Retriever Smells Like Fish?

  1. They have an Ear Infection
  2. They have anal gland issues
  3. They have diarrhea
  4. They have an infected tooth
  5. They have gas
  6. They have a skin infection
  7. They are dirty
  8. They have a urinary tract infection

These are some of the most common reasons that you may be getting a fishy smell from your Golden Retriever.

1.) They Have An Ear Infection

If you have ever noticed a bad fishy smell or black discharge coming from your Golden Retriever’s ear, your dog most likely has an ear infection. If your dog has an infection in its ear, you will most likely need to see your vet. They will take a sample from your Golden Retriever’s ear and see what is growing in your dog’s ear. Your vet can then start your dog on medication to treat the infection. The ears are very important to your dog’s hearing, and any infection in them can cause them not to hear very well.

Your Golden Retriever can have a fishy smell coming from their ears before you start to notice any signs of an infection. The fishy smell is due to excessive moisture building up in your dog’s ears. This extra moisture can cause a bacterial and yeast infection, producing a horrible fishy smell.

Keeping your Golden Retriever’s ears clean can sometimes be a labor-intensive task that you should do to keep your dog’s ears healthy. Your groomer or vet can help clean your dog’s ears, or you can learn how to take care of your dog’s ears yourself. Golden Retrievers are more prone to ear infections than some other breeds due to the floppiness of their ears.  Their ears create the perfect warm, dark environment for an ear infection to start. 

2.) They Have Anal Gland Problems

All dogs have scent glands located near their rectum. These glands release a bad smell, just like a skunk. Your Golden Retriever will express their glands every time that they poop. The fishy scent that they express from anal glands has a very strong smell that can cause your dog to smell very bad.

Your Golden Retriever can also get a little bit of poop stuck in the fur that is around their rectum. If you notice a bad odor on your dog, the first thing to do is to look under their tail to make sure that this area is clean.

If the anal glands are causing your dog to have issues, this means that you need to take your dog to the vet. Your vet can express these glands for you or show you how to express these glands at home. They will also make sure that their anal glands are not infected. If your dog’s anal glands stay full, they can easily get impacted and infected.

You can add a little bit of fiber to your dog’s diet to help them express their anal glands easier. There is a supplement that you can give your dog called Glandex. This will help your dog be able to express their glands easier each time that they poop.

3.) They Have Diarrhea

Your dog may smell like fish because they have gastroenteritis or other GI diseases. If your Golden Retriever does have gastroenteritis, they will also have diarrhea. Diarrhea can be very fishy, smelling, and can even stick to the fur around their rectum.

If your Golden Retriever does have diarrhea or other GI signs like vomiting, it would be best for your dog to see your veterinarian. They may want to run bloodwork on your dog or take x-rays to see what is causing these issues in your Golden Retriever. Most of the time, these GI issues can be quickly cleared up by giving your dog antibiotics, a bland diet for a few days, and probiotics.

4.) They Have an Infected Tooth

All dogs can have bad breath. It is very common for the bad fishy odor that you are smelling is coming from your Golden Retriever’s mouth.  This can be because of an issue with their teeth or a tooth infection. Dental disease is often an extremely bad smell that you can easily pick up on when your dog is giving you kisses.

If your Golden Retriever suffers from gum recession or has broken a tooth, this will cause an increase of bacteria present in your dog’s mouth. The bacteria that are present in your dog’s mouth can cause their breath to smell like fish.

The two main causes of dental issues seen in dogs are:

  • Periodontal disease or Gum Disease– This is caused when pockets form in your dog’s gums, causing their gums to recede from around the tooth. These pockets will easily trap food and bacteria near your dog’s tooth leading to receding gums.
  • Plaque and Calculus– Both of these are caused your dog’s food to stay on the teeth. This easily and quickly allows bacteria to grow. These bacteria will cause a build-up of dental plaque, which is soft and can be easily removed. If this is not brushed off your dog’s teeth, it will progress to calculus or tartar. Once tartar has formed on your dog’s teeth, it will require you to have your dog’s teeth to be cleaned by your veterinarian.

There are many ways that you can keep your dog’s teeth clean at home. These are two main ways:

  1. Giving your dog a dental-specific treat or chew toy. This allows your dog to clean their own teeth while chewing on a taste treat.
  2. Use a doggie toothbrush and toothpaste. By manually cleaning your dog’s teeth weekly, you can stop the bad breath.

5.) They Have Gas

Some Golden Retriever’s stomachs can be sensitive to certain types of dog foods. A common cause of your dog to smell like fish is due to them passing gas from an upset tummy.

If this is what is causing your dog to smell like fish, then you can try to switch their food to a better diet. Switching foods may be the best cure for their gas. You do not have to cook a meal for your dog every day. There are other great options of food commercially available for you to buy for your dog to keep them from being so gassy.

There are many different sources of protein found in different diets, such as fish, lamb, and rabbits. Most dogs with food allergies are usually not allergic to these proteins but are allergic to chicken and beef. Your local pet store should have plenty of options available for dogs with food allergies.

6.) They Have A Skin Infection

Atopy is the medical term for a skin infection in a dog. Your Golden Retriever may have a skin infection due to many different reasons. A few common reasons are allergies to food or something present in the environment. Allergies commonly cause your dog to have a secondary bacterial infection causing their skin to smell bad.

Common signs that your dog has a skin infection are a bad, sometimes fishy smell, skin rashes, itching, sneezing, watery eyes, and inflamed skin.

The fishy smell that you may be smelling is coming from different oils reacting to the skin. The infection is usually caused by bacteria or yeast. This will give a distinct fishy smell.

If you think that your Golden Retriever does may have a skin infection, it would be best for them to see your vet. Most skin infections can easily be cleared up by giving your dog antibiotics from your vet. Your vet may also recommend that you give your dog a bath with medicated shampoo. This will help with this infection.

7.) They Are Dirty

Many dogs love to play in the water, dirt, and mud. It is common that you may let your Golden Retriever outside play. When they come back inside, they are covered in grass and dirt. This causes them to smell very bad, and they may even have a fishy smell. It is best to give your dog a bath frequently, so they stay clean and happy

Retriever
Retriever

8.) They Have A Urinary Tract Infection

If your Golden Retriever is having urinary accidents in the house or seems painful when they are urinating, they may have a urinary tract infection. This can cause them to have a fishy smell when they pee. You may notice that your dog is drinking more water and asking to go outside to potty more often.

If you think that your dog has a urinary tract infection. It is best for them to see your vet. They can quickly see if this is the cause of their fishy smell or something else. Your vet will be able to prescribe your dog antibiotics to help clear up their infection.

What Can I Do About My Dog Smelling Like Fish?

If your Golden Retriever is constantly smelling like a fish, there are many things that you can do at home to help your dog start to smell much better.  Once you figure out exactly what is causing them to smell like fish, you can then quickly and easily fix the problem.

Give Them A Bath

It is best if your dog gets a bath at least every few weeks. Some dogs will need a bath more often.  If your dog goes outside and finds a mud puddle to roll in, they will need a bath before coming inside.  Monitoring how your dog smells will easily allow you to figure out when your dog needs a bath.

When bathing your dog, make sure to fully lather them with soap and let them sit for a few minutes before washing them off.  This helps allow the soap to remove any bacteria and dirt from your dog’s skin.

Clean Their Ears

If your Golden Retriever has had an ear infection, it is best to clean their ears. If your Golden Retrieve makes frequent trips to the groomer, then they will not need this done as often.

Brush Their Teeth

Brushing your Golden Retriever’s teeth can be a part of their daily routine to help them smell good. While this will not remove the hard tartar on their teeth but can remove mild build-up.  Keeping your dog’s teeth cleaned will help them smell great. They even make dental treats that you can give your dog to help freshen their breath.

Use Doggy Perfume

For a quick cover-up to their bad smell, you can use dog perfume. This is good for those times your dog comes back inside and smells bad, and you do not have time to give them a full bath. Dog perfume will help mask the bad smell until you can figure out where the smell is coming from and fix the issue.

Make an Appointment with your vet

Sometimes no matter how much you investigate, you cannot figure out why your dog is smelling like a fish.  Your vet can examine your dog and see if there is anything medically wrong with them, causing them to smell like a fish.  Your vet can also prescribe antibiotics to help with any infection that your dog may have caused them to smell.

Final Thoughts

If your Golden Retriever is smelling like a fish, there are many reasons that you may notice this smell. Start by looking for where these smells are coming from so that you can quickly figure out how to stop these bad smells. Once you figure out where the smell is coming from, you can quickly and easily stop your Golden Retriever from smelling like a fish.

If you are having issues trying to figure out why your Golden Retriever is smelling, it may be best for your vet to see your dog. They can make sure that there is not anything medical causing these bad smells. They can help you get your dog back to smelling very good.

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