Our sense of smell is an important yet under used diagnostic tool to detect health problems in our pets. As a vet, I often find myself sniffing cats mouths and taking a whiff of dogs ears. The aromas are not always pleasant but I sniff to make better diagnostic and treatment decisions for your pet. More importantly, if you as a pet owner recognise a difference in the smell of your pet, you may be able to pick up some early signs of disease or infection.
The smell most owners recognise is bad breath in dogs. It is usually because your loving pooch sits adoringly in front of you and happily pants in your face. Bad breath is often hard to ignore. Most commonly bad breath will indicate dental problems but there are other reasons why your pet’s breath will smell. I’ve found pieces of stuck bone in dogs’ mouths where the only sign has been malodorous breath. Smells can also come from ulcers or tumours in the mouth.
Stinky breath may come from locations other than the mouth such as infections in the nasal cavity and sinuses or even from problems in the stomach and lungs. Changes in breath smell can also arise from internal diseases. In the later stages of renal failure you can smell ammonia on your pets breath. Some pets with diabetes that are very sick may have breath that smells like acetone.
Some other common smells owners might notice are odours from the coat or ears. Smelly skin can indicate a skin or ear infection. A trained nose may be able to recognise a musty yeast infection from a more pungent bacterial problem.
Less recognised but often highly offensive smells come from your pet’s anal glands. If you haven’t smelt it before count yourself lucky. It could be described as an off fishy stench. Sometimes you will smell the anal gland secretion just because your pet got a big scare. At other times it can indicate a full gland or anal sac abscess.
See if you can sniff out the early signs of disease with your pet. Get to learn what is normal and if something doesn’t smell quite right get your pet checked by your vet.