Why Does My Golden Retriever Smell Like Fish and How to Get Rid of It?


We all know that goldens require regular bathing and grooming to keep their beautiful golden fur healthy.

I made sure to do the same thing with my golden retriever, but she started to smell like fish lately and I tried everything that I could, but the smell didn’t go away.

So I did my research, and here’s everything you need to know.

Why does my golden retriever smell like fish? Golden retrievers can smell like fish for two reasons; one: when dogs are scared they can secrete a smell from their anal sacs, which is normal, if a bit odorous, and two: there may be something going on with their anal glands. Many people described the smell as fishy. 

That was the short answer, but it’s a lot more to it than that, let’s take a deeper look and learn how to get rid of that smell.

What are anal glands?

Image of dog laying on the ground on their tummy to show the anal glands place to answer why does my golden retriever smell like fish

Anal glands or anal sacs whatever it’s called, are small glands that take place on the side of the dog’s anus.

They are responsible for the smell that the dog secretes and they are the dog’s fingerprint for other dogs in a way. They are what make every dog special to other dogs.

They are full of specialized sweat glands that cause the fishy smell.  A dog can secrete this smell when they are scared or around other dogs.

4 Reasons Some Golden Retrievers Smell Like Fish

Here are 4 possible reasons why your golden smells like fish

  1. Communication with Other Dogs
  2. Anal Glands Diseases
  3. Anal Glands Tumors
  4. Infections

Dogs can smell like fish for many reasons and all of them are related to anal glands, except one, before we get to the other reasons, let’s discuss this one first.

Communication with other dogs

Dogs of various breeds greeting each other by sniffing while standing in back lit on green field on spring day

Dogs can’t communicate with each other verbally, but they can with the smell they leave behind. They use their anal glands smell to let other dogs know and learn about them.

They leave their smell all over any place to let other dogs know that they were here, and that explains why they smell each other’s tails or when they smell another dog’s poop as well. It’s their detective way of knowing who was here.

Anal glands disease

Anal glands disease is common in small breeds such as corgi, dachshund, beagle, Australian terrier, french bulldog, Norwich terrier, pug, Shi Tzu, and Russell terrier.

It’s not that common in big dogs such as goldens or labs.

Every time your dog poops their anal glands are expressed in small amounts, and that doesn’t mean that it’s empty, there’s some fluid left and that fluid becomes dry and sometimes it causes impaction.

When that happens it cannot be expressed in the right way, and it’s really painful for them.

Impacted anal glands should be emptied by the vet. It will come out as a thin ribbon of brown material.

Warning
if your dog is suffering from the anal glands disease, avoid touching them especially the affected area, their behavior may be unpredictable because they are in pain.

Taking your dog to the vet in that situation is a priority in this case. If impacted anal glands aren’t treated, it may become abscessed.

Symptoms of anal glands disease

Besides the smell of fish, there are more symptoms that will make it easier for you to notice if your dog suffering from anal glands disease.

A dog who has that disease will:

  • Lick or bite the area of the anus
  • Scoot on the floor a lot
  • Blood in urine or poop.
  • They are having difficulty going potty or peeing
  • Pain when peeing or pooping.

Look for other signs and make an appointment with their vet as soon as possible if they are doing it a lot.

What causes impacted anal glands?

  1. Soft stool
  2. Abnormality in anal glands
  3. For dogs with obesity, when their anal glands do not empty in the right way.

How to prevent it

You may not be able to definitely prevent it but there’s always something you can do to reduce the risks, help your dog, and make it less painful.

Like I’ve mentioned before dogs who suffer from obesity can be more likely to suffer from that disease because their anal glands can not be emptied right away.

The first thing you’ve already guessed it, feeding your pup healthy food with the right amount of fiber and vitamins which can be provided in fruits such as berries, mango, and bananas or vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and green beans.

You can choose from our recommended dog foods for golden retrievers here. I’ve only included foods that I personally get from my dogs and which have been doing great for me so far.

Make sure they drink a lot of water. They should always have access to freshwater. I have this excellent water fountain (Check it here on Amazon) that always gives my dogs freshwater even when I’m not at home.

Anal Glands Tumors

Under the weather 7 week old Golden Retriever puppy with a blue ice bag on her head lying on a hardwood floor inside a home “Missy”

Make sure they drink a lot of water. They should always have access to freshwater. I have this excellent water fountain (Check it here on Amazon) that always gives my dogs freshwater even when I’m not at home.

If your dog has anal glands tumor it will limit their ability to express their anal glands, but mostly it will mot be expressed at all.

The only solution will be taking them to the vet to perform ultrasound and treat it in the right way.

Infections

Your dog’s anal glands can get infected, and just like the anal glands disease if it’s not treated it will become abscessed. 

Infected or abscessed anal glands will make your dog suffer and they will be in incredible pain.

The affected area can be swollen and some marks may appear. The dog will need pain medication or antibiotics (which should not be given without the vet’s permission), and it may even need surgery.

Fortunately, no matter what is the reason behind the fish smell it can be treated. There’s no harm to check regularly on your dog, and it can save you and them a lot of pain.

How to get rid of the bad smell? 

The only way to get rid of the bad smell is by taking your dog to the vet, it requires to be emptied manually by the vet.

If it’s a small dog you’ll need to take them to the vet regularly to express their anal glands.

You can learn to do it by yourself (if you can handle the mess and the smell), but you should know that emptying their anal glands has to be done only if they can’t be emptied naturally.

Because doing it manually too often, could cause inflammation and other problems.  Remember: No YouTube video can replace an actual vet.

Related Questions 

Why does my dog’s butt smell like fish?

Because of the anal sacs which are located on the side of their anus, its smell is described as fishy,  the anal sac secretes a smell for one of the following reasons

  1. Anal gland disease
  2. Anal glands tumor
  3. Anal gland infection

They can also secrete this smell when they are scared.

What is the least smelly dog?

Here a list of the least smelly dogs

  1. Dalmatian
  2. Poodle
  3. Saluki
  4. Basenji
  5. Maltese
  6. Bichon Frise
  7. German pinscher
  8. Schnauzer
  9. Kerry blue terrier
  10. Papillon
  11. Portuguese water dog
  12. West highland white terrier
  13. Yorkshire terrier

Why does my female dog smell like fish?

The female dogs have a bacterial flora that exists inside their vagina, but a foul odor which is the reason behind the fish smell or even worse, that may be a medical condition that will need to be handled. Their uterus can be affected causing other symptoms, such as pyometra.

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