My Dog’s Breath Smells Like Fish, What Should I Do?

As a dog owner, you’re probably aware of all the smells and behaviors that are normal to your precious pet; but if your dog’s breath smells like fish and you’re not used to that, you might need help in figuring out why it’s happening and what you can do to combat the bad breath.

Here’s a short introduction on what to look for if your pup starts smelling like a fish market, what you can do about it, and even a short step-by-step guide to fixing the problem yourself. Grab your pup and get comfortable, because this article is going to help you figure out where that smell is coming from!

What is Normal Dog Breath?

If you have a dog, you’re probably familiar with the term “doggy breath.” It’s that type of breath you inhale as your dog gives you a kiss that smells like either their food, dirt or some other odor that you can’t quite place.

But did you know that’s not normal for your pet?

It’s true: normal dog breath doesn’t have an odor of any kind. Just like you, a dog with a healthy mouth won’t have a breath that reeks of anything. If you notice that your dog has any type of odor, that means that it’s time for a dental checkup!

Dog kisses

What Causes the Fish Smell?

If you’re playing with your dog and you notice a fishy smell, you probably have questions about where the smell is coming from, especially if you haven’t been feeding your pet sardines and they’re on a regular dental hygiene regime.

If your pup has a fishy mouth, consider these questions: does your dog currently eat kibble that contains fish ingredients? Did you serve your dog some salmon? Is your pup on a regime of fish pills? Did you leave fish in the trash and your puppy snuck it out and ate it for a snack?

If you can’t find the answer to those questions, then there’s one other place on your pet to check: the tail end.

The fishy smell that lives in your dog’s mouth may actually be coming from two anal glands. These are positioned, you guessed it, on your dog’s bottom just south of the rectum.

A healthy dog’s body uses the anal glands to process fluids and help pass stool, meaning that these glands stay in top condition. For other dogs, however, the anal glands can become blocked, leading to a strong fishy smell that isn’t pleasant for you or the dog.

These anal glands can become impacted or infected for a variety of reasons, including soft stool, poor diet, or illness; when they become impacted, these sacs fill with fluid. Without getting too graphic, the smell can become unpleasant because the sacs take time to fill up; the anal glands also focus on passing feces, so you can imagine how strong the odors can get.

If your dog feels the discomfort from impacted anal glands, they might lick these anal glands to get some relief. The fluid flows from the glands and then ends up in your pup’s mouth, which is how the strong scent goes from tail to mouth.

Dog butt

Other Signs it’s the Anal Glands

There are a few ways to determine whether or not the problem lies in your dog’s anal glands without involving the vet right away, and these tend to be focused on behavioral changes.

One clue is to see if your dog scoots. This is generally a sign of discomfort in the rectum and anal gland area, so if you catch your pup doing this, it might be down to their anal glands.

The second clue is probably the most obvious: you notice your dog is obsessed with licking its bottom. If your dog is excessively licking its behind, it’s time to seriously consider that the problem may be its anal glands.

Dog scooting

How to fix my Dog’s Breath

There are two ways to deal with your dog’s bad breath; one is a short-term solution and the other is a long-term solution.

The short-term solution is to use products to mask the smell until you can get your pup to the vet. These include doggie mouthwash, doggie mints, doggie toothpaste, and food additives that you can sprinkle on your dog’s food to eliminate bad breath.

The long-term solution is to drain your pup’s anal glands. For first-time dog owners, it’s advisable to go to a vet to get it done before trying it yourself.

These products are great for freshening your dog’s breath:


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Food additives

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Breath treats

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Regular bathing with proper dog shampoo should also help.

Can I Express my Dog’s Anal Glands Myself?

The short answer is yes, you can express your dog’s anal glands yourself. The long answer is that yes, you can do it yourself, but only if you’re sure you know what you’re doing and there isn’t an abscess or infection.

If you take a look at your dog’s anal glands and they look infected, puffy, have puss coming out of them, or are bleeding, do not attempt to express the glands yourself. Go to the vet and let them examine your dog; if the area is infected, expressing the glands yourself might cause more pain and discomfort for your pet. Going to the vet also gives you a better idea of what might be causing the bad breath and give you a way to treat it in the future.

You should also remember that expressing the anal glands yourself is not natural for pets; don’t do it if your pet is comfortable and doesn’t have bad breath because it can cause irritation and inflammation in the area. Over stimulating the glands can lead to an overproduction of the fluid found in the sacs and can actually cause infections, which is counterproductive to you needing to express the glands in the first place.

How to Express a Dog’s Anal Gland

If you’re ready to do the job of expressing your best friend’s anal glands on your own, take a look at this step-by-step guide on how to get it done. The entire process shouldn’t take more than a minute or so, but take the time to read over everything before you get started.

A note before getting into the process: it’s recommended that you express your dog’s anal glands right before a bath. Doing this serves two purposes in that you can wash away any liquid that might end up on your dog and will keep his or her rump clean and healthy after expressing.

Ready to get started?

The first step is to slip into some old clothes. This is not going to be a fun or clean process, so don’t wear anything you care about keeping clean and smell-free. If you’ve chosen to give your dog a bath, wear the same clothes you normally wear to bathe them.

The second step is to stock up on paper towels and take them with you to the bathroom. You’re going to want to fold several of the towels together to make a huge wad; this is going to act as the catch-all for the fluids that will come out of your dog’s anal glands.

Now you’re ready to express the anal glands, so grab your pooch and position them so you can easily access their tail. Lift their tail and put the paper towels over his backside so it covers the rectum and anal glands.

The anal glands are located at the four o’clock and eight o’clock positions. The best way to think about this is to imagine that your dog’s anus is the clock face. You should be able to find them easily from this position.

Take your time and gently squeeze the anal glands, using your thumb and forefinger. Your dog might squirm a bit, so don’t take too long! Use the paper towels to catch the liquid and throw the towels away as soon as possible.

The last step is to wash and rinse your dog’s tail end; that’s why it’s a good thing to do right before a bath. Keeping the anal glands clean is a great way to keep the smell from coming back. It has another added benefit: anal glands are bacteria prone, so washing the butt after expressing the glands keeps the area bacteria-free.


If your dog’s breath smells like fish, finding a solution right away is high on your priority list, right? Knowing that the fishy smell could be something as simple as your dog’s anal glands needing to be expressed or something more serious like an impacted anal gland will help you make the right decision for your pet. And whether you decide to express the glands yourself or head to your vet for a check up, know that paying attention to your pet’s breath might potentially save them from a lot of discomfort and pain. Good luck on getting rid of the fish smell!

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