The distinct stench of ‘wet dog’ is something pet owners know all too well. A swim in the lake, a walk in the rain, even giving them a bath to try to make them smell better can release a distinct and pungent scent. This is different from what your dog smells like when dry, and even different from the bizarre corn chip smell that many dogs have emanating from the pads of their paws.
Smelly wet dog fur is normal and common — but why does it happen?
It’s due to your dog’s microbiome, which is made of up of tiny microorganisms that are totally natural. It’s nothing to be worried about (even if it is an affront to your nose).
Why Does Wet Fur Smell?
Tiny microorganisms like yeast and bacteria live on your dog’s fur and generally keep his skin balanced and healthy. These microorganisms inevitably create waste products in the form of chemical compounds that aren’t really noticeable when the dog is dry. However, when these microorganisms get wet, they are lifted off the fur and release a strong smell. As the water evaporates off his fur, those stinky scents still stick around because humid air holds more molecules. Lucky us!
“These organisms excrete stinky volatile compounds,” said Kirk Zamieroski, who wrote and directed the video at the bottom of this article. “When your dog gets wet, the water displaces and liberates these organic volatile molecules from the surface of the dog’s fur, allowing them to find their way right into your nose.”
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If your dog’s skin is extra wrinkly, that means he’s probably extra smelly when wet, because of the microbes that get caught in those adorable wrinkles.
According to Rover, the severity of the smell of wet dog can also be affected by how much he drools/slobbers, how much time he spends outdoors, and what he likes to roll in. Because microbes thrive in moist environments, a drooly dog naturally just attracts more of the critters. Dogs who like to roll in puddles and other questionable spaces will likely pick up something from time to time that takes the wet fur smell to the next level.
How Can I Get Rid Of That Wet Dog Smell?
Getting rid of the stench is a fine goal, but you don’t want to get rid of the microorganisms on your dog because they keep him healthy.
“Bacteria and yeast do not thrive in dry environments, so the degree of wetness and the speed of drying are important considerations,” Dr. William Miller, a veterinarian and professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, told Pet Central. “Dogs who dry quickly or don’t get soaking wet usually don’t develop that marked body odor.”
After your dog gets wet, dry him off as thoroughly as possible. Keep trips out in the rain brief, and have some grooming wipes handy so you can wipe your pup down once he gets inside. Keeping your dog’s hair short is also helpful.
There are also dog-approved sprays, shampoos, and conditioners that can help cover up the smell. Baking soda is also a tried-and-true odor neutralizer.
Bathing your dog regularly can help keep the smell within a reasonable range, but he’ll still smelly a little as you bathe him! And be sure you don’t bathe him too much and dry out his skin, especially in the winter. After a bath, dry him off thoroughly so any remaining wet dog smell doesn’t linger.
An important note: don’t underestimate the stinky power of an unwashed collar! If you’ve never washed your dog’s collar or it’s been a while, give it a wash and see if it helps your dog’s scent.
When Is A Dog’s Smell Cause For Concern?
If your dog’s scent changes, is persistent whether she’s wet or dry, or seems worse than usual no matter what you do, there may be something else at play. This can also be the case if her breath or flatulence smells unusually rotten and won’t go away. There are some skin diseases and infections that can cause your dog to smell funky. If you notice any of these changes, always consult with your vet.
Learn more about man’s (stinky) best friend in this video.
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