How To Make Your Dog Smell Good Without a Bath

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Every dog owner knows that sometimes, your dog simply stinks. Learn about why dogs might stink and what you can do without giving them a bath. 

small dog covered in mug outside

What Makes A Dog Stink?

It’s not uncommon for people to write off bad odor as simply a quirky trait of their pet. “Oh, he always smells like that.” However, the idea that dogs will simply stink no matter what you do is a misconception and a misunderstanding of dog body odor in general.

As a rule of thumb, if a dog stinks–there is a reason for it. This reason could be something as simple as a dog having an untimely run-in with a skunk or as complex as a medical issue that has gone undetected.

The following are some of the common reasons why a dog might stink:

Wet or Moist Fur

Your dog’s fur will always contain microorganisms, such as yeast and bacteria. When your dog’s fur is dry, these microorganisms typically do not create any odors. However, when they become wet, this creates a separation in the compounds of the microorganisms; in turn, this releases the unpleasant odor in strong waves. If your dog’s fur is wet for long periods of time–for instance, perhaps you let your dog outside to play in the rain–it increases the chance of a lingering odor.


Ear infections or wound infections can cause unpleasant odors. Ear infections are particularly detectable via odor because they can cause a yeast-like smell that is concentrated around the dog’s head. Infected wounds, even smaller ones, tend to have a sharper pus-like smell.

Breeds that have longer hair in and around their ears are more likely to have ear infections.

Animal Encounters

If your dog has had an encounter with an animal that sprays unpleasant odors as a form of defense, then those odors will remain until they are properly rinsed away. The most common animal that releases unpleasant chemical sprays is, of course, the skunk.

We had a friend that let her dog outside and was sprayed by a skunk. The smell was awful! Not only that, she didn’t realize what happened until she let him back in, so then the whole house smelled like skunk too!

mud tracks from dirty dog on rug

Skin Conditions

Certain skin conditions can cause and exacerbate odors in dogs. For instance, canine seborrhea is a condition that causes a smell that many pet owners compare to smelly cheese or moldy food. Other skin conditions that can cause odor include certain types of fungus, allergies and allergic reactions, or even inflammation (like canine folliculitis), which can cause odor-causing bacteria to grow on the skin.

Teeth and Organ Issues: 

If it’s your dog’s breath that is creating a noticeable bad odor, then it’s possible that your dog has teeth or organ-related issues. Bacteria in the mouth can cause bad breath, as can issues in the stomach, intestines, or even respiratory system.

Some owners report their dog smelling like fish, which is another condition in itself that may be related to bad breath but is most commonly found with their anal glands are full and need to be expressed.

Poor Grooming 

If you don’t groom your dog properly, you are increasing the chances of lingering bad odors. Dirt, debris, and other material will remain on your dog’s fur and skin for too long, which creates lingering odors that need to be washed away.

If your dog has thick or long fur which is not regularly brushed, odors can gather inside matted hair or even be caused by lesions that occur with severe matting.

If your dog has a lingering bad odor, try to narrow down the cause before you start tackling the solutions.

holding dog's arm up to brush their fur

Making a Dog Smell Good Without a Bath 

Most pet owners immediately jump to the idea of giving their dogs a bath when they don’t smell good. However, this solution is not always the most practical; nor is it always the most effective. The following are some ways that you can make your dog smell good without giving them a full-fledged bath.

Keep Their Ears Clean 

Ear infections can cause some pretty serious odor problems in dogs, especially Poodles. The odor comes from yeast and bacteria that have built up in the dog’s ear, releasing an odor that is coming straight from the ear.

To remove this odor, your dog’s ears will need to be cleaned and cared for; if they are infected, make sure to take them to the vet for the correct treatment. Then, clean their ears regularly in order to avoid future issues.

Brush Them Regularly 

Brushing your dog removes built-up dead skin cells, debris, loose fur, and allergens. All of these built-up materials can contribute to bad odor, so removing them with regular brushing is a simple way to make your dog smell better.

Clean Their Bedding

Don’t underestimate the power of clean bedding! If your dog is dirty or oily, they will leave traces of odor and debris on all their bedding. The more they lay in their bedding, the worse they will smell. Clean and change their bedding regularly as needed and you’ll find they will smell more pleasant.

Keep Their Mouth Healthy

Cavities, gum disease, and bacteria build-up in your dog’s mouth can cause some major bad breath odor. Keep their teeth healthy by regularly brushing them and giving them plaque-fighting toys, and you’ll likely find that their bad breath is busted. If you can’t find the time to brush their teeth daily, or they are difficult to manage, there are other ways to clean your dog’s teeth without brushing.

holding labrador's lip up holding a toothbrush

How Can I Deodorize My Dog Naturally?

There are ways to deodorize your dog naturally. However, you need to be careful about the ingredients in any natural deodorizer, as some of them can be harmful to dogs in certain quantities. Many of these products contain essential oils, which may be safe for dogs in very diluted quantities. We always recommend you speak to your vet, for personalized advice. 

For a safe natural deodorant that doesn’t use oils, simply sprinkle baking soda on your dog’s fur and brush it out. This is essentially a quick “dry shampoo” routine that will reduce odors fast.

Are Essential Oils Safe To Use? 

The problem with essential oils is that companies don’t disclose the concentration levels. At high levels, they can be extremely toxic to dogs. You have to remember they can smell thousands of times better than humans, which means they are extremely sensitive to oils like this. 

Once you spray them not only are they exposed to the scent, but they are also going to lick their coat. So who really knows how much is being absorbed orally and topically. While there are some known essential oils that are toxic to dogs, there is such a gap in research pertaining to this issue.

white furry dog under a blue and white towel

Can I Spray Febreze On My Dog?

No! Never spray Febreze on your dog or any pet. Febreze is not designed to be sprayed on living animals and the ingredients in Febreze can cause serious harm or death to your dog. Not to mention, this is just an air freshener and doesn’t actually eliminate the source of the odor.

Can You Get Dog Deodorant?

Yes! There are many brands that make dog-friendly deodorant and deodorant-related products. These include sprays, lotions, and dry shampoos. You should always double-check the ingredients of any dog deodorant product before you use it, in order to make sure that it does not contain any materials harmful to your dog or other pets.

Why Does My Dog Stink Even After a Bath?

After giving your dog a bath, make sure that you thoroughly dry them with towels and if possible, a blow dryer on the lowest setting. The dryer your dog, the less likely it is that microorganisms will keep releasing bad odors.

If your dog still stinks after being completely dried, it is possible that the cause for the odor is internal or medical. You may wish to seek the advice of your dog’s veterinarian in order to determine what is causing the odor.

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