Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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A Smelly Pet May Need To See Vet

Pet Column for the week of June 19, 2000

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Carrie Gustavson
Information Specialist

"Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?" sings Phoebe, of "Friend's" sitcom
fame, in this song about a tangy tabby. "They won't take you to the vet. You're obviously
not their favorite pet." But in the humor of the song lies an unfortunate truth: some cats and
dogs really smell bad.

"When a cat or a dog smells bad, there may be an underlying problem," says Dr. Allan
Paul, Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in
Urbana. "The first step to having a better-smelling pet is to figure out where the problem

Usually cats are meticulous groomers, so if you notice an odiferous emanation from your
feline, it could be the sign of a bigger problem. A cat's aroma can be less than pleasing for
many reasons. "The typical things in we see in cats that tend be smelly are oral or gum
disease, ear infection, skin problems, and abscesses," says Dr. Paul. "But a bad smell can
also indicate a more serious systemic illness."

Cats are particularly prone to abscesses. "If your cat is slightly chunky or has long hair, you
might not even notice an abscess until it starts draining," says Dr. Paul. "At that point, if you
don't see it, you'll smell it."

Dogs, on the other hand, aren't quite as compulsive in their grooming habits as cats and
consequently often just need a bath. "Dogs seem to like to try to disguise their dog smell by
rolling in particularly stinky things, such as dead fish," says Dr. Paul. "Apparently they think
this fools potential 'prey' animals into thinking they're not a dog at all."

Dogs also often have less-than-desirable snacking habits when allowed to make their own
choices. "My dog feasts on horse manure whenever he gets the chance," says Julie, a
second-year veterinary student, about her mixed breed dog, George. "It's like a doggie
delicacy or something!"

If it is just that your dog has been rolling in something smelly or swimming in smelly water, a
good bath should do the trick. Dr. Paul recommends bathing your canine companion with a
mild shampoo made for dogs.

Skunks present a particularly stinky problem for dogs and their owners. "If your dog gets
'skunked,' you'll know about it and your neighbors will know about it for several weeks.
Every time your dog gets wet, you'll smell skunk," says Dr. Paul. "The best solution is to
dilute apple cider vinegar in water and pour it on your dog. Tomato juice works as well.
There are also special pet products available to rid your dog of the skunk odor."

Dogs are also well-known for their ability to cause quite a stench of their own. "Both dogs
and cats posses anal glands, but they tend to cause more problems in dogs," says Dr. Paul.
The anal glands can become clogged and cause discomfort and irritation. Occasionally
these sacs full of smelly fluid are emptied in frightful or stressful situations. "The anal sacs
have no useful function in the dog," says Dr. Paul. "It is believed that in the past the sacs'
contents were used to mark territory. Today it seems their only purpose is to cause

Like cats, bad breath and smelly ears in a dog can be a sign of underlying disease. If you're
pretty sure that bad bouquet is coming from your pet's breath or ears, it may mean it's time
to visit the veterinarian to get to the root of the problem.

For more information about how to have a pleasant-smelling cat or dog, contact your local