Does Your Dogs Breath Smell Fishy? Here’s Why!

HealthDoes Your Dogs Breath Smell Fishy? Here's Why!

Dogs and bad breath…those two things seem to go hand in hand. When you get a dog, you just have to accept the fact that their breath isn’t always going to be pleasant. But what if your dog’s breath smells fishy? As you know, there’s a big difference between the typical “dog breath” and fishy breath. Regular dog breath is tolerable, but the fishy breath is borderline intolerable.

What’s causing this sudden change in your dog’s breath? Is it something you should be concerned about? Is there anything you can do about it? We will be answering all these questions in today’s article.

But before we get into the details, a quick disclaimer. When it comes to your dog’s health, it’s always best to give the vet a call and explain the situation to them. As you’ll see below, the cause of fishy breath could be something as harmless as fish in your dog’s kibble to something serious such as kidney failure.

With that disclaimer out of the way, there are four main reasons your dog’s breath smells fishy.

  1. Oral Health
  2. Self Cleaning
  3. Anal Sac Disease
  4. Fish in Their Food

Let’s take a closer look at each of those reasons – you’ll get back to enjoying dog kisses in no time!

Reason 1: Oral Health

Most dog owners do a great job of making sure their dogs have a comfortable place to sleep, are well fed, well groomed, and well loved. But one area a lot of dog owners tend to forget about is oral health.

Contrary to popular belief, dry kibble does not clean your dog’s teeth. That myth that started floating around when the dry dog food business started taking off (Hmmm, I wonder who started that myth?!).

If you’ve made the mistake of ignoring your dog’s oral health (don’t worry, most dog owners make this mistake), there’s a good chance periodontal disease is causing your dog to have breath that smells fishy.

The unfortunate truth is that 80 percent of dogs suffer from periodontal disease at some point in their life.

What is Periodontal Disease

Most people confuse gingivitis with periodontal disease. Gingivitis will make your dog’s breath smell bad, but it won’t make it smell as fishy as periodontal disease will. With that said, it is true that gingivitis will usually turn into periodontal disease if action isn’t taken.

Periodontal disease causes the gums to become swollen and red. It will also weaken the support structure of the teeth. Unfortunately, it can be very painful for a dog. Some dogs (especially small dogs) will be in so much pain that they’re unable to eat dry kibble and have to switch to wet food.

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How do you know if your dog has periodontal disease? The only way to know for sure is to take them to the vet. In the meantime, you can check for reddened, bleeding, or swollen gums…and of course, fishy breath, but you don’t need to check for that one!

It occurs because of hardened plaque buildup on the teeth, but it’s also curable if action is taken. If you suspect your dog’s fishy breath is due to periodontal disease, be sure to schedule an appointment with your vet and see what their recommended plan of action is.

Reason 2: Waste – Yuck!

If you’re confident oral health is not causing the horrible breath, then waste could be the issue. Let’s be clear…by waste, we mean poop. So how can going to the bathroom cause a dog’s breath to smell fishy?

The first is self-cleaning, the second is because they’re eating their own poop. Let’s take a closer look at each one.


We have a luxury that dogs don’t have…toilet paper and hands! When a dog goes to the bathroom, they’ll clean themselves the only way they can – with their mouth.

A dog’s anatomy is much different than humans. After they go to the bathroom, they don’t need to wipe…so why do many dogs even bother licking themselves after pooping?

Because they don’t want to leave a scent! This is a survival instinct, and although your domesticated dog won’t become prey, the instinct is still built-in. They don’t want predators to be able to track them down from the scent.

The unfortunate thing about “licking away” the scent means your dog’s breath will now smell horrible. Next time your dog goes to the bathroom, check to see if they clean themselves afterward. If they do, there’s a good chance the fishy breath is caused by self-cleaning.

Eating Their Poop

Another reason going to the bathroom could make your dog’s breath smell rancid is because they’re eating their own poop! This is a lot more common than you think, and you might not even realize your dog is doing it.

Some dogs eat their own poop for the same reason they clean themselves after going to the bathroom…it’s a survival instinct. If they poop near where they sleep, they want to “clean up the mess,” so predators can’t track them down.

Even if your dog only does this every once in a while, it only takes a few times to make their breath smell yucky.

Luckily there are a few things you can do to prevent your dog from eating their own poop…more on that at the end of this article.

Reason 3: Anal Sac Disease

I think it’s safe to say that the average dog owner doesn’t think about their dog’s anal glands very often…until there’s a problem with them! The point of anal glands is to provide lubrication when a dog poops. They also give each dog a unique scent, which is why dogs sniff each other’s rear ends when meeting each other.

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Most dogs will go their whole lives without having a problem with their anal sacs. However, if the sacs don’t express properly, there will be a buildup, which will cause a very stinky situation and can lead to an infection.

But what does all this have to do with your dog’s breath smelling fishy? When a dog has an anal sac problem, they become very uncomfortable. Dogs deal with pain, discomfort, and itching by licking or chewing the area that’s giving them a problem…in this case, the anus.

Constant licking and biting of the anus will cause the breath to smell like fish. You can tell if your dog has a problem with their anal sac by looking for the following signs:

  • Scooting rear across the floor
  • Foul odor coming from rear end even if they didn’t go to the bathroom
  • Leaking fluid from the rear
  • Soft and mushy stool
  • Licking and chewing the rear

Keep an eye on your dog the next few days to see if you notice any of those signs. If so, give your vet a call as soon as possible.

Reason 4: Fish In Your Dog’s Food

Have you ever looked at the protein source in your dog’s food? The most common are chicken and turkey, but sometimes the protein source is fish.

If the protein source is fish, the fishy smell is masked by other ingredients, which is why the dry kibble doesn’t smell like fish. But when your dog bites into the food, it will release the fishy smell.

If it only lasts for a few hours after they eat, this could be the cause. Look to see if fish is a protein source. If it doesn’t specifically say fish, but it does contain omega-3 or omega-6, it probably has fish product in it.

Taking Care of Your Dogs Oral Health

Now that you’re aware your dog has oral health needs that likely aren’t being taken care of, you might be wondering how to care for your dog’s oral health.

Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

The optimal way to take care of your dog’s oral health is to brush their teeth. Although you can use a human toothbrush, it’ll make your job a lot easier if you get a dog-specific toothbrush. A quick search on Amazon will show you plenty of options.

You also want to use toothpaste, but make sure you DO NOT use human toothpaste. Again, a quick search on Amazon will show you plenty of options for dog toothpaste.

It’s best if you can brush their teeth every day, but brushing 2-3 times per week is enough to prevent bad breath and most dental diseases.

Use a Dental Chew Toy

It can get annoying brushing your dog’s teeth 2-3 times per week. Although brushing the teeth is the best option, if you really don’t want to add another chore to your weekly to-do list, you can invest in a dental chew toy.

A good chew toy will have bristles to scrub the teeth while they’re chewing on the toy. You also want to make sure there is a spot in the toy where you can place some dog toothpaste to freshen up the breath.

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Depending on how hard your dog chews, you may go through a new dental chew toy once per month.

Dental Care Water Additives

In addition to brushing your dog’s teeth, you can pour some dental care water additives in your dog’s water bowl. This will kill the bacteria and germs that cause bad breath and can even remove plaque and tartar, which will help prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Freshening Up Your Dogs Breath

Now that you know all four primary reasons your dog’s breath smells like fish, you’re probably wondering how to freshen up their breath. Here are a few things you can do to keep their breath nice and fresh

Check For Existing Issues

The first thing you want to do is check for pre-existing dental issues. Take your dog into the vet, explain to your vet that your dog’s breath smells fishy. They’ll check for any existing problems that could be responsible for the bad breath.

The reason this is the first step is because if there is a current issue, that needs to be addressed first before you apply the rest of the tips below.

Brush Dogs Teeth 2x Per Week

We went over this earlier, but just as a reminder, you want to brush your dog’s teeth at least two times per week. You must use a toothpaste made for dogs, not humans.

Use Peppermint Oil in Water

This is a great trick that can keep your dog’s breath smelling fresh with minimal effort. Each time you fill up your dog’s water bowl, just place a few drops of peppermint oil in the water. The peppermint oil will temporarily freshen the breath.

Prevent Them From Eating Poop

There are a lot of ways to prevent your dog from eating poop, but the easiest is to put meat tenderizer on their food. To your dog, this makes their poop taste really bad (as if it didn’t already taste bad), and they likely won’t eat it.

Article Summary - Why Does My Dogs Breath Smell Fishy?

There are four main reasons why a dogs breath would smell fishy:

  1. Oral Health
  2. Self Cleaning
  3. Anal Sac Disease
  4. Fish in Their Food

The best way to freshen up your dog’s breath is to take them to the vet to check for any pre-existing conditions, brush their teeth at least twice per week, use peppermint oil in their water, and make sure they aren’t eating their own poop.

If you follow those four tips, your dog’s breath will be minty fresh before you know it!

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Bryan Harkins
Bryan Harkins
Bryan Harkins is an avid dog lover and the proud owner of, a website dedicated to all things canine. With years of experience working with dogs, Bryan is passionate about providing valuable information, tips, and resources to help pet owners provide the best possible care for their furry companions.

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