Dog Smells Like Fish When Scared: Eau de Fear

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Have you ever noticed that your dog smells like fish when scared? When your dog gets frightened and suddenly gives off a fishy smell, you might be taken aback.

Many dog owners notice this particular odor when their furry friend is frightened. This fishy odor can be traced back to a natural part of a dog’s anatomy called the anal sacs.

These sacs are located on either side of your dog’s rear, and they release a scent that is unique to each dog.

Normally, these sacs are emptied when your dog goes to the bathroom, but fear can cause them to express spontaneously and release this potent scent.

dog smells like fish when scared: A dog's nose wrinkles as it cowers, emitting a strong fishy odor

Learning about why this happens can help you better care for your buddy in stressful times. Dogs communicate through scent in ways we’re just beginning to understand.

The fishy smell that can sometimes be so strong it fills a room, is part of their complex communication system.

If your dog smells like fish when they’re scared, it’s likely because they’ve expressed their anal sacs. It’s a natural response, although not the most pleasant experience for your nose.

Keeping an eye on your dog’s stress levels and maintaining regular vet check-ups can help manage or prevent these smelly surprises.

Understanding Dog Scent Communication

A dog with a fearful expression emits a strong fishy odor

When your dog gets scared, their body has a unique way of communicating through smells. This is how it works…

Role of Scent Markers

Dogs use scent markers to let other dogs know about their presence and emotional state. These markers are chemicals they release, often found in their urine or glands near their rear.

When your dog leaves a scent mark, they’re leaving a message like, “Hey, I was here,” or “This is my space.”

Scent and Stress Reactions

During stressful situations, dogs can release a fishy smell. That’s because fear triggers a release of fluids from their anal glands, which carry a strong odor.

While this reaction might seem odd to you, it’s a normal part of canine communication. In the dog world, this scent can convey feelings of discomfort or anxiety to other dogs.

Anatomy of Canine Scent Glands

A portrait of a dog with looking confused

When your dog is scared, you might notice a strong fishy smell. This scent is a result of their highly specialized scent glands, but how do they work?

Anal Glands and Their Function

Anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are two small glands located on each side of your dog’s anus. These glands play a crucial role in territory marking and communication through scent.

Typically not noticeable, the liquid inside the sacs is usually expelled when your dog poops, releasing a strong, pungent smell.

Sometimes, when dogs are scared or overly excited, they might release this odor as a defense mechanism.

Other Scent Glands in Dogs

While the anal glands are the most talked about, dogs have other scent glands. These include glands found in their paws and skin.

Dogs use these glands to mark their territory too. Every time your dog scratches after doing their business or walks around, they are leaving their own personal scent stamp on their environment.

Remember, if your dog’s fishy smell is persistent or you notice them scooting or licking the area often, it’s a good idea to talk to your vet.

It might be a sign the anal glands are impacted or infected.

Causes of Fishy Odors

dog smells like fish when scared: A small dog cowers in a corner, its fur standing on end. A strong fishy odor emanates from its trembling body

When your dog smells like fish, the most obvious suspect is their anal sacs, but that’s just one of the possible causes.

Anal Sac Issues

Usually these glands are filled with a smelly fluid that’s expressed when your dog poops, but sometimes things can go a little wrong.

If the sacs don’t empty properly, the build-up can lead to a fishy smell.

This is often a sign you need to express the anal sacs or that there could be an underlying anal sac disease.

Bacterial and Yeast Infections

A mix of bacteria and yeast is always present on your dog’s skin and inside their ears. However, when there’s an overgrowth of these microorganisms, infections can happen.

These infections can produce a foul, fishy odor. Look out for scratching, redness, or a greasy coat, which could all indicate an infection.

If you notice these signs, a vet visit is necessary for proper treatment.

If your dog smells like fish when scared, there might be health issues involved. Conditions can range from a simple scare to something needing a vet’s attention.

Anal Gland Conditions

As we’ve previosly mentioned, dogs have anal glands that release a distinctive fishy smell.

These scents are natural, but if you notice this more often, especially when your dog is scared, they could have an anal gland condition.

Infections, abscesses, or tumors in these glands are concerning. Look out for your dog scooting or licking their rear more than usual; these might be signs you need to see your vet.

Urinary and Genital Health

A fishy smell can also point to problems with your dog’s urinary or genital health.

Common issues include urinary tract infections (UTIs) or inflammation like vaginitis.

Diseases affecting these areas might also cause unusual odors. It’s important to monitor any changes in how often your dog goes to the bathroom or any discomfort they show.

Don’t wait to get this checked out if things seem off.

Diet and Nutrition

Here’s what you need to know: Your dog’s diet greatly affects their odor, and certain foods can make your dog smell better or worse.

Influence of Diet on Dog Odor

You are what you eat, and this applies to your dog too. Their diet can lead to a fishy smell when they are scared. This is often due to the oils in their food.

High-quality proteins and fiber help manage your dog’s weight and reduce bad breath. Also, enough water in their diet ensures that their digestion is smooth, cutting down on smelly issues.

  • High-quality protein: keeps their body and coat healthy.
  • Fiber: aids in digestion, can help with the scent.
  • Water: supports every function of their body and flushes out toxins.

Appropriate Diet for Odor Control

You’ll want to feed your dog a balanced diet to control that fishy scent. Focus on these key elements:

Protein: Lean meats like chicken or beef, but watch their weight.

Fiber: Vegetables are great for digestion.

Water: Always make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water to drink.

What works for other dogs might not work for yours. So, keep an eye on their response to their diet and adjust as necessary.

Grooming and Hygiene

To keep your dog smelling fresh and reduce that fishy odor when they’re scared, focus on regular grooming and proper hygiene practices.

Regular Bathing and Cleaning

Bathing: Make sure to bathe your dog with a mild dog-specific shampoo. Aim for every few weeks, but adjust based on their lifestyle and needs. Avoid over-bathing, as this can strip natural oils and worsen odors. After outdoor fun, a quick rinse can help remove dirt and prevent smell buildup.

Cleaning after accidents: If your dog has an encounter with feces, clean them up promptly to prevent the scent from lingering.

Dental Hygiene and Ear Care

Dental Care: Bad breath can add to the unwanted smells. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly to prevent tartar and plaque buildup. Use toothpaste made for dogs and a dog-friendly toothbrush.

Professional Cleanings: Schedule annual cleanings with your veterinarian. They can tackle hard-to-reach plaque and keep your dog’s mouth healthy.

Ear Care: Clean your dog’s ears gently with a vet-recommended cleaner to prevent infections. Smelly ears can be a sign of a problem, so keep an eye (and nose) out for any changes.

Always handle your dog with care during grooming to keep it a fun, positive experience.

Behavioral Responses and Management

When your dog gets scared, they might smell like fish due to the release of anal gland secretions. Handling this involves managing their fear and reinforcing positive behavior through training.

Handling Fear and Anxiety

You’ve noticed your dog is scared, and there’s that fishy smell again. They’re probably nervous, and this can cause them to release contents from their anal glands, resulting in the smell.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Watch for the warning signs: Check for poo issues, scooting, and excessive licking, as these can be signs of stress.
  • Comfort and exercise: Give your dog a safe space and make sure they get plenty of exercise to reduce anxiety.

Training Tips

Training is an important method to help your dog cope with their fears.

Here’s some practical steps:

  • Positive reinforcement: Always reward calm behavior. This encourages your dog to stay relaxed in stressful situations.
  • Consistent routine: A predictable routine can reduce anxiety. Set times for walks, play, and rest.
  • Desensitization: Gradually introduce them to the things they’re scared of in a controlled way.

Patience is your best friend when it comes to helping your dog manage their fear and anxiety, so take your time and don’t rush things.

Veterinary Care and Preventive Measures

Taking care of your dog’s health might help you prevent the unpleasant fishy smell when they’re scared.

Regular Check-Ups

You should always take your dog for regular vet visits to keep on top of their health. These check-ups catch problems like anal sac tumors early on.

Your vet can provide treatments or suggest diet changes to prevent the smell.

Prevention and Early Detection

Taking preventive measures, like keeping up with vaccines, helps stop certain conditions that could lead to fishy odors.

Keep an eye out for signs that might indicate a problem.

If your dog seems to smell fishy without reason, talk to your vet about it immediately.

How can you prevent issues?

Vaccines:Follow the vet’s recommended schedule
Observation:Keep track of any unusual scents or behaviors

Final Thoughts on why A Dog Smells Like Fish When Scared

Discovering that your dog smells like fish when scared can be surprising, but it’s a natural and manageable aspect of dog health.

This smell comes from their anal glands and is a normal part of how they react to stress or fear. Knowing about it means we can better care for our pets, ensuring they feel safe and comfortable.

While dealing with a fishy scent may not be pleasant, it serves as a straightforward reminder to pay attention to our dog’s health and comfort, steering us towards practical solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dealing with a dog that smells like fish when scared raises a lot of questions.

Let’s take a look at the most common concerns.

Why does my dog’s bed smell like fish even after washing?

The fishy smell can cling to fabrics if your dog’s anal glands are frequently secreting. Using a pet-safe enzymatic cleaner on the bed can help break down the odor-causing substances more effectively than regular washing.

Can a dog’s fishy smell affect other pets in the house?

While the smell itself won’t physically affect other pets, it can cause stress or behavioral changes if it significantly alters the household scent. Keeping the environment clean and neutral can help maintain harmony among pets.

Does diet play a role in my dog smelling like fish?

Yes, a dog’s diet can influence the secretion of their anal glands. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are healthy but might contribute to a fishier smell. Balancing their diet and consulting with a vet can mitigate this issue.

Are certain breeds more prone to emitting a fishy odor?

Dogs with tighter tails or those prone to anal gland issues, like Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, and Basset Hounds, might experience more frequent fishy odors due to difficulty in natural gland expression during defecation.

Can anxiety cause my dog to smell like fish more often?

Yes, stress and anxiety can trigger more frequent anal gland expression, leading to a fishy smell. Addressing the root causes of your dog’s anxiety can help reduce these occurrences.

Is it normal for a dog to leave fishy-smelling spots where they sit?

If your dog is leaving fishy-smelling spots, it might be a sign of overactive anal glands or an infection. Consulting with a vet for an examination would be advisable.

Could a fishy smell indicate a health issue other than anal gland problems?

While the fishy smell is commonly associated with anal glands, persistent or unusually strong odors could indicate dental issues or other health concerns that require veterinary attention.

How do seasonal changes affect my dog’s fishy smell?

Seasonal allergies can lead to inflamed skin and anal glands, potentially resulting in more frequent expressions and a stronger fishy smell. Managing allergies with the help of a vet can alleviate this problem.

Does swimming make my dog smell fishier than usual?

Swimming can lead to water entering the anal glands, which might cause them to express more frequently or even become infected, leading to a stronger fishy odor. Drying your dog thoroughly after swimming can help prevent this.

Can regular grooming reduce the fishy smell in dogs?

Yes, regular grooming, including anal gland expression by a professional, can help manage the fishy smell. However, it’s important not to overdo gland expressions, as this can lead to irritation or injury.


All information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian's advice.
Jen Smart

Jen is the founder of, a leading resource for managing and treating anxiety in dogs. With over a decade of experience in working with rescue dogs, Jen holds diplomas in Understanding Canine Anxiety, Canine Holistic Health & Therapy, CBD Oil for Animals, and Zoopharmacognosy. Her expert insights help dog owners navigate the challenges of anxiety with compassionate, innovative solutions. Follow Jen’s guidance at Anxious Canine for a calmer, happier dog.

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