Stinky Dog Syndrome: Veterinary Tips For Dog Bathing and Hygiene

Stinky Dog Syndrome. The struggle is real. As veterinarians, it’s our job to tell you that there is no such syndrome, per se, but, as pet owners, we get it. Whew, do we get it! There are some grooming and bathing habits you can practice to improve your dog's olfactory output. Some breeds of dogs require grooming to maintain their coats but even those dogs could often benefit from good hygiene in between appointments. From a good dental routine and dog baths to nail trimming and cleaning accessories, there’s a lot more to good dog hygiene than you might imagine. Another thing you might not realize is that good hygiene also contributes to good overall health for your pooch. We outline the reasons for that and tips for dog grooming and establishing and maintaining good dog hygiene below.

What is a good hygiene regimen for my dog?

That depends on your dog and your lifestyle. For your average little “purse pooch” that rarely touches the floor and just hangs out in your lap, regular grooming may not be as necessary as a breed that’s known for rolling around in the mud on the regular (hello, Labradors). Your dog's activities and even the time of year certainly play a role in that. Dogs that like to swim a lot or dogs with certain medical conditions may need more frequent baths. And if your dog likes to sleep in your bed, this might be motivation enough to do a weekly or bi-weekly bath!

In terms of other things besides bathing, regular nail trims are important. Even just the sight of the trimmers can cause some dogs severe amounts of anxiety and stress, so you certainly need to work around your dog and potentially chat with your veterinarian about alternatives that make your dog less anxious.

As veterinarians, we tell our clients that the bare minimum of regular hygiene for your dog that needs to be done regularly is tooth brushing. Just as we brush our teeth twice a day every day, brushing our dog's teeth daily is ideal and is considered not only a hygiene issue but also an overall health issue. Dog tooth brushing benefits dental health by getting the plaque and bacteria off their teeth regularly, maintaining good dental health long-term, and making for a happier, healthier dog. Not doing so can lead to painful and possibly expensive dental procedures down the line. Again, if you’re having trouble in this arena, reach out to your veterinarian. We’re always there to offer tips on toothpaste and techniques that might work best for your dog. Need more incentive? Your dog kisses will be much better when your dog’s breath is better!

What are some signs and symptoms of poor hygiene in my dog?

Some signs of poor hygiene in dogs can be fairly obvious: matted fur, really dry, itchy skin, or a dull or greasy hair coat. With poor dental hygiene, you’ll notice foul breath, discoloration of teeth, and possibly drooling. When it comes down to it, it’s about using your senses and knowing your pet. Look at your dog. Do they look well-groomed and healthy? Do they smell well-groomed and healthy? How are they feeling? How are they acting? If you have a dog that's not moving around as much or is having trouble moving around, then we'd want to get them checked out to make sure there's not an infection. We can also give you some tips on grooming or bathing your dog on a regular basis. Make no mistake—that pep in your dog’s step after a bath is real. Dogs like to be clean, even if they don’t enjoy the bathing process itself.

How does keeping my dog clean contribute to good health?

As already mentioned, keeping their teeth clean can keep them healthier and more comfortable long-term. If you can imagine not brushing your teeth for months on end and the potential of tooth decay resulting from that, that's pretty uncomfortable and can lead to many health problems. And dogs can be rather stoic about pain so you might not realize there’s an issue until it’s fairly advanced.

Be aware that dogs that are swimming regularly are at a higher risk for skin infections if they're not drying well, and they could be exposed to potentially contaminated substances or things like harmful algal blooms.

Lastly, regular nail trims are essential for comfort while walking, especially in our older pets for traction.

How important is it to keep my dog’s environment clean?

Keeping your dog’s environment clean is imperative! Imagine wearing the same sweater every day; our hair gets stuck in there, our skin oils. So if we did that for months and months on end, we'd get pretty fragrant. Things get stiff and unwieldy and uncomfortable.

The things around your dog are the same way, as they could get very unsanitary if not cleaning for long periods. Just as we change our sheets regularly, you want to change your dog's bedding regularly. Wash not only food bowls but water bowls too. If you've ever stuck your hand in a dog's water bowl that's been sitting for a while, there's a nice, gross film on the bottom of the bowl, so it’s crucial to throw those bowls in the dishwasher or the sink at least once a week. Give them a good scrub, and make sure you're rinsing well so there’s no soap residue. The same thing goes for collars and any sort of clothing they may wear.

How do I find the right bathing or grooming products for my dog?

The first thing is to find something specific for dogs. You don't want to use human shampoo or anything like that on a dog. The pHs of our skin are different than dogs are, and so by using a human-specific shampoo, we could cause excess drying and discomfort on the dog's skin. And although it’s tempting to disguise your dog’s scent, most veterinarians will recommend avoiding anything that has a powerful fragrance. Dogs can smell so much more than we can, and we don't want to overwhelm them. Making them smell like a rose or mango might make us happy but it could very well make your dog miserable.

And then you want to look at the product and look at the company like you would for anything for yourself. Make sure they're well-established and that they don't do a lot of animal testing. In general, if you have a happy, healthy dog with no extraordinary skin issues, you’re looking for an aloe and oatmeal shampoo—something mild without a fragrance to wash the coat, wash the skin and get the dirt off their bodies.

How can my veterinarian help me with my dog hygiene issues?

We are here to help you with pretty much anything related to your dog. So if you have questions about a smell, about how your dog looks, about how your dog's acting, we'd rather hear from you than have you wait.

If you need some guidance on dog bathing and hygiene, don't hesitate to call your veterinarian, particularly if you think there’s an issue affecting your dog’s health and happiness. Don't have one yet? We can help you find a local veterinarian


Contributing DVM