WHY DOES MY DOG STINK?? 7 facts about dog odor you NEED to know


7 facts about dog odor you NEED to know


Karen Helton Rhodes, DVM, DACVD                                           www.HealthySkin4Dogs.com

Terri Bonenberger, DVM, DACVD                                               

Canine Skin Solutions, Inc.


Some people love the smell of “puppy toes” which is typically a rather subtle odor. At other times, doggy odor is quite stinky and pungent and not so “pleasurable”! 


#1 What causes that “corn chip” odor?

The “corn chip” odor is caused by normal organisms that live on the surface of the skin.  Bacterial organisms can contribute to doggy odor but the main offender is a yeast organism called Malassezia pachydermatis.   This yeast got its name from the fact that chronic yeast overgrowth and subsequent irritation can cause “elephant skin”(pachyderm= elephant).  This thickened and pigmented skin is also called “lichenified skin”. Yeast love folds and crevices…dark, warm, and moist!  What better place to set up home than between the toes, neck folds, ears, facial folds, and around the anus! 


#2 Are Yeast Organisms Supposed to be on the Skin?

Yes, Malassezia are considered normal flora and can be found on normal skin.  Folds regions just seem to perpetuate overgrowth due to optimum features (warm &moist region).  Some diseases can also predispose the pet to overgrowth.  For example, allergy patients have an altered epidermal lipid barrier.  This barrier is responsible for protecting the body from invasion of bacteria, yeast and even allergens.  With a defective barrier, organisms can more readily take advantage and over-colonize the skin.

So, yes….yeast organsism are “normal” on the skin…. BUT…. they should not be present in large numbers!

#3 Will a high starch or grain diet “feed the yeast” and cause the problem to worsen?

NO, NO, NO!  Unfortunately, the internet is rampant with comments regarding diet and yeast organisms.  There are numerous videos and Facebook posts as well as chat rooms promoting this myth.  It is simply untrue and there is NO scientific evidence to support the myth.  This is an URBAN LEGEND!  Some even go so far as to say that “corn-based diets cause skin odor”.  Others report that “grains and starches are more acidic and promote inflammation in the body, changing the pH and chemical nature of the paw….this favors yeast and certain microbes, which are responsible for the smell.”  Really…..NO!  This pseudoscience may seem rational to the causal reader but let me be clear……there is simply NO scientific merit to these statements!


#4 Are there any times that diet can influence yeast overgrowth? 

Yes, dogs with food allergy or the newer term: CARF (cutaneous adverse reaction to food) will often experience an overgrowth of malassezia.  This holds true for most allergy patients….whether they be allergic to food or environmental allergens (grasses, weeds, or trees).  Allergy patients have an altered skin barrier (epidermal lipid barrier) as well as skin inflammation….both compound the problem with yeast overgrowth.  So….yes,  diet can contribute to yeast dermatitis BUT it is in certain cases of food allergy or hypersensitivity…..not simply due to a grain or starch component. Also, keep in mind that it is very RARE for a dog to be allergic to grains!  The benefit of “Grain Free Diets” is another myth perpetuated by digital media.

#5 Can Certain Diseases be Associated with Doggy Odor?

1.  Diabetes…..sometimes a “sick sweet” odor…… bacterial & yeast overgrowth

2.  Allergy……..”corn chips/ Fritos”….yeast overgrowth

3.  Immunosuppressive disorders, cancer

4.  dental disease/ gum disease (bad breath)

5.  urinary tract infections/ bladder infections

6.  vaginitis

7. perianal fistulas (draining tracts around the anus)

8.  ear infections

9.  hormone imbalance triggering bacterial /yeast overgrowth

10. lip fold dermatitis/ facial fold dermatitis

11. Abscesses

12.  Kidney or liver failure (usually bad breath)


#6  Should I worry About “Doggy Odor”?

Yes, a strong dog odor can indicate a problem!  The odor may indicate an underlying medical issue.  Typically, skin and ear infections are the most common cause of intense dog odor.  Why is there an infection?  Look for allergies, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, etc. and initiate methods to correct or mange those medical problems. Both oral and topical therapies are often used to treat these secondary infections.  After the infection is cleared, the problem must be managed with long term preventative care.  Remember, these organisms are “normal flora”….you are not going to permanently eradicate them!  You must identify the underlying disease or cause and then manage the problem for success.  Think of the situation as you would for a person with acne.  You need to (1) treat the current outbreak, (2) look for a reason for the outbreak, and then (3) use long term face washes and lotions to prevent future outbreaks.  The same concept holds true for your dog!


Don’t overlook a pungent dog odor……it may be an early indicator of a brewing medical issue that can be corrected and/or managed.


#7 Is Frequent Bathing bad for my dog’s skin?  NO

Don’t believe the wive’s tale that frequent bathing is bad for your dog.  Not True!  Frequent bathing is vital….it can lower populations of bacterial and yeast organisms from the skin surface and thus prevent doggy odor…. as well as infections! At the same time, bathing will mechanically remove allergens from the skin surface and help prevent frequent allergy flares & lower the clinical symptoms of allergy….itching and red rashy skin!

**About the authors:  Dr. Helton Rhodes, DACVD and Dr.Bonenberger, DACVD are certified specialists in the field of veterinary dermatology.  They are members of the “American College of Veterinary Dermatology”, the only group credited with appointing specialty board certification.  Their credentials insure medical integrity for the reader.