Wet Dog Smell: How to Get Rid of It (and Why it Happens)

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FOR DOG PEOPLE | By Maureen Finn

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There’s an old saying, usually said with a grin, that there’s nothing friendlier than a wet dog. Having been a recipient of soggy greetings from water-soaked canines, I can attest to its truthfulness. But why do so many dogs smell when they get wet? Here, we break down why wet dog smell happens and what you can do about it.

Wet dog smell: the basics

  • Moisture amps up odor-causing microbes
  • Wrinkly skin invites smelliness
  • Diet can play a role
  • Quick and frequent drying helps
  • Natural enzyme cleaners are magic
  • Grooming wipes are helpful in a pinch
  • Linen bedding like these beauties or this set fights stink
  • Baking soda is your friend
  • Consult your vet if odor is persistent or foul

Read on for more details and expert tips to fight the funk.

Why do wet dogs smell?

All animals—including us humans—have microbes like yeast and bacteria living on our skin. These microorganisms produce waste in the form of various chemical compounds that usually aren’t noticeable when the dog is dry. When a little water is added, however, these compounds are liberated from the dog’s skin and hair and the resulting dampness accentuates the odor.

The odor of a wet dog can vary depending on a variety of things, including:

  • quantity of drool and slobber
  • how much time they spend outside
  • what they like to roll in
  • how often they’re bathed
  • folds of skin
  • allergies, dermatitis, or yeast infections

Sometimes diet and even a dog’s breed can factor into doggy odor and wet dog smell, too. In general, dogs have a different body chemistry and different dietary needs than humans. This produces smells that can be strange or off-putting to dog owners; when mixed with water, the effect is simply amplified.

shar pei puppy wrinkles

Wrinkles, oils, and other skin factors

Back when I worked for veterinarians, two breeds we saw that invariably came in smelly were basset hounds and Chinese shar peis. Basset hounds are known for having a “houndy” odor, due in part to the sebum (a lubricating substance secreted by glands under the skin to protect hair and skin) found in their naturally oilier skin.

Sebum feeds bacteria so these dogs can have a higher population of the odor-producing microbes. A grooming bath every couple of weeks can help keep those microbes under control.

Shar peis also have more sebum as well as large, moisture-trapping skin folds that are susceptible to dermatitis. It’s important with all wrinkly-skinned, and especially wrinkly-faced breeds—think bulldogspugsPekingese, and French bulldogs—to wipe the folds clean as part of a regular grooming process.

Grooming wipes work well for this and can help prevent skin issues as well as the doggy odors that come with them.

The drool is real

A constantly wet, slobbery mouth can also be a source of doggy odor. Drool increases the wet dog smell in general because microbes love damp environments.

VIA FLICKR/DALLASFLOERPHOTOGRAPHY

Giant breeds like the English mastiff, Newfoundland, Neapolitan mastiff, and Saint Bernard, as well as hounds like bloodhoundscoonhounds, and basset hounds, are all known for excessive drooling and a generally “wet mouth.”

The grooming wipes can be helpful here, and I also recommend having a supply of “slobber rags” available to keep things from getting out of hand.

When things get rolling

If you have a dog who can’t resist detouring through every puddle, it can be hard to keep them dry. For those water-loving dogs, swimming and wading in lakes and rivers can lead to stinkier odors such as fish and decaying vegetation.

So keep a close eye on your dog. While not technically a wet dog smell, a roll in a dead fish found on the shore (or decaying anything) can be the best part of a dog’s day and simultaneously the worst part of yours. If you manage to keep your lunch down, I applaud you. The stink of dead animals is hard to get out and requires some of the uber-strong products one would use when a dog’s been sprayed by a skunk.

Tackling wet dog smell: first steps

It’s all about the quick dry.

My old setter won’t go past a few inches or so in water, but he loves to walk in the tiny pond in my front yard during the summer to cool his feet. Of course, it’s always right before he comes inside the house. I call him Swamp Legs and even have a little swamp ditty I sing to him as I clean up the muddy footprints on the floor and wipe his legs dry with a towel…then I give him a cookie.

Consider upgrading to a hard-wearing dog towel made specifically for wet dogs, or even a dog blow dryer, to help mitigate the effects of full-blown wet dog smell throughout your home.

Getting wet dog smell out of the house

If your wet dog is like mine, even though you wipe them down thoroughly when they come in from the rain or after a bath, they still like to rub along the side of your bed, the sofa, and the carpet to help dry off, thus transferring their wet doggy scent to your home. Yay!

Regular baths can go a long way in keeping your dog smelling fresh. Generally no more than every two weeks is best, and if you have a large, or heavily coated breed, once every month or two is plenty. And be sure to wash his collar frequently, too. A nylon collar can go in the wash, but get a leather cleaner if he wears a leather collar.

There are also spray-on odor neutralizers made for pets. Most are geared toward cleaning up house training accidents but all will work for doggy odor as well. Be sure that products you use are made for pets—some of the plug-in air fresheners or essential oils can be harmful to them.

If your dog sleeps with you, then investing in quality linen bedding will significantly reduce pet odors in your bedroom. Linen is sturdy, odor-repelling, but also soft. You’ll find plenty of options at online and brick-and-mortar retailers; we love these luxe organic European duvet covers and these soft linen sheets.

Cleaning your dog’s bedding and gear

For your dog’s wet smell-absorbing bedding, slipcovers, and other doggy items such as fabric or nylon collars and leashes, use a good odor neutralizer detergent such as Costco’s Kirkland brand, or any “oxy” detergents, including Arm & Hammer.

Nature’s Miracle, a well-known brand of pet odor neutralizer, makes a popular, safe product you can add to your regular laundry detergent to deodorize those doggy blankets.

In addition, it’s helpful to add a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar in with the detergent cycle, as well as the rinse cycle.

Pro tip: be sure that any product you use isn’t just masking the odor with a frilly scent. Check to see that it actually contains odor-eliminating ingredients such as enzymes or baking soda.

Getting wet dog smell out of the car

If you drive your dog to a place to swim, say at the local dog park, your car can begin to smell like a wet dog. Always bring a few large dog towels so you can towel him off before he jumps into the car for the ride home.

If your dog spends a lot of time going on rides in the back seat of your car, a blanket thrown over the top is easier to remove and wash than your upholstery. Along with resisting the wet dog smell, this helps to protect against permanent stains.

That said, one of the best, and safest, ways to remove doggy odors is tried and true: baking soda!

Use the baking soda by sprinkling it liberally on your fabric furniture or car upholstery, paying attention to the cracks and crevices, and use it on your carpet as well.

It’s a good idea to do this at night, or early in the day, so you can leave the baking soda on for several hours to give it a chance to absorb odors. Then vacuum thoroughly to remove the baking soda. (For vacuums for dog owners dealing with excess smells and pet hair, see our article The 20 Best Vacuums for Dog Owners That Actually Work.)

PIXABAY

Smelly is in the nose of the sniffer

For most pet parents, wet dog smell comes with the territory.

To me, burying my nose in the scruff of my dog’s neck fur on a cold winter’s day is one of the best smells in the world. It’s a scent that evokes something from our ancient past, the wildness of nature, a little bit of my dog’s wolf ancestors, the unknowable mystery of the world around us.

It makes me grateful for my life with dogs, smells and all.

Further reading

Need Dog Grooming?

Does your dog need a fresh trim? A groomer can now come to your house! Rover offers dog grooming in SeattleAustin, and Denver. To learn more, please check out our page here.SHARETWEETPIN IT

Maureen Finn

Maureen Finn is a writer, editor, and rescue advocate who serves as the Rottweiler Breed Rep for http://www.spdrdogs.org/. Her current animal family comprises two English setters and a Rottweiler, plus three cats, two box turtles, two beehives, and 17 Shetland sheep. You can follow her on Instagram @macfinnfarm.

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From Our Friends

FOR CAT PEOPLE | By Zorah Johnson

True Story: How I Moved Across the Country With My Cat

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In 2017, my cat Tang and I moved across the country from our home in Minnesota to Washington state, where my boyfriend had recently landed a job. I’ve had Tang for most of her 18 years and was lucky enough to be chosen as her favorite human, so obviously I couldn’t leave her behind.

Like most cats, Tang doesn’t get out much. She’s an indoor cat that has only ridden in the car a few times and had a couple of backyard adventures. So, flying with her halfway across the country was definitely going to be a new experience for both of us.

ZORAH JOHNSON

How I Prepared for Flying with My Cat

Book a Ticket

I wasn’t initially sure how we were going to move across the country. Would we be able to fly? Or would we have to drive?

Thankfully, my boyfriend got a relocation package when he was hired, so his company made arrangements to have our things moved and reserved a plane ticket for Tang and me.

When it comes to flying, reserve a ticket according to your airline of choice’s pet policy page. I flew Delta. They recommend you call to reserve your ticket when flying with a pet as there’s a limited number of pets allowed on each flight.

Buy an Airline-Approved Carrier

After the ticket was booked, the next thing to do was get an airline-approved carrier. I needed a carrier that would fit under a seat and wanted a soft carrier that would be more forgiving.

I read through reviews of the highest rated carriers on Amazon and checked to make sure they’d fit the under-seat dimensions provided by the airline. Eventually, I chose a pink carrier (very similar to this one) with great reviews and a removable and machine-washable bed inside, in case of any accidents.

Take a Trip to the Vet

With the new carrier in tow, our next step was to visit our vet. We initially made the appointment to get Tang a sedative for the flight, a copy of her health records, and to make sure her shots were up to date.

What I hadn’t realized was that every pet moving to a different state needs a Certificate of Veterinary inspection by a licensed and accredited veterinarian. Thankfully my veterinarian was aware of this and was able to fill it out for us during our visit.

State requirements for moving pets vary depending on the state, so it’s a good idea to search the pet entry requirements for the state you’re moving to before going to the vet.

Moving Day

ZORAH JOHNSON

Pre-Departure

Before we left for the airport, I was sure to give Tang her sedative to make sure she’d be as comfortable as possible during the flight. I made sure she stopped eating a few hours before the flight so she wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom or vomit during the flight. I also packed a little food for her in case our plane was delayed and she got hungry.

Check-In

When you fly with a pet there’s generally a fee you have to pay at check-in, which varies from airline to airline. At the time, Delta’s fee was $125.00. The cat carrier was considered my carry-on, so I had to check any extra luggage.

Airport Security/TSA

Going through airport security with a cat was by far the most stressful part of flying with Tang. When we got through the line I was told I would have to take Tang out of her carrier and carry her with me through security. I was traveling by myself so this made maneuvering airport security extra tricky.

Tang was not particularly fond of being taken out of her carrier and doesn’t usually like being held, but her sedative seemed to be working and she was content to stay with me while going through the metal detector and waiting for our bags.

The Flight

The actual flight went very smoothly. The carrier fit under the seat well and Tang was generally pretty quiet aside from a few quiet meows every once in a while.

When she did meow, I’d try and comfort her by talking to her and petting her a bit, which generally calmed her down.  My seatmate was a bit startled when he heard her meow and noticed he was sitting next to a cat. He asked me if she traveled often and I told him this would definitely be her one and only flight.

Welcome Home

Tang meowed pretty loudly the whole way home and when we arrived was very glad to be out of the carrier. My boyfriend had a litter box along with food and water all set up for her and after she refreshed herself she quickly made herself at home.

In the almost two years since our move, Tang has acclimated to life in the Pacific Northwest and even enjoys the rain.

ZORAH JOHNSON

Helpful Tips I Wish I’d Followed

  1. Research ahead of time. It’s always less stressful when you know what to expect.
  2. Plan ahead. You need time to book your flight, visit the vet, and get a carrier.
  3. When in doubt call the airline. If you’re unsure about your carrier’s size or anything else just call the airline to double-check.
  4. Bring a blanket. Having a blanket to swaddle your cat in during airport security can help keep your cat safe and you from being scratched.
  5. Bring something familiar. Bring something from home to keep your cat company in the carrier and help acclimate them to their new space.

If you’re moving with your kitty soon, Tang and I wish you luck!

More about cats

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Zorah Johnson

Zorah Johnson is a freelance writer and animal lover from Seattle, WA. She shares her home with her elderly-yet-spry cat Tang and is in a long-distance relationship with her family dog, Ted, in Minnesota.

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