Why does a wet dog have a typical “dog smell”? The answer is surprising

Buzgó Csilla

2023. October 21 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

While your pet smells almost neutral when dry, a little shower or a swim in the lake is enough to sense the typical wet dog smell. Come with us for a quick biology lesson and we will explain what is behind this phenomenon.


First of all, calm down! The wet dog smell does not mean a pathological condition, quite simply the physical characteristics of dogs allow it to develop.

What exactly causes the wet dog smell?

As you might have guessed, the skin of a dog is not a sterile surface – just like that of humans – it is inhabited by a lot of microorganisms, and that’s okay. These fungi and bacteria produce metabolic products that, when exposed to moisture, begin to emit a stronger odor. British chemistry teacher and blogger Andy Brunning devoted an entire post to this topic, sharing the results of a related experiment.

According to this, the following chemical substances are released from the wet body of the animal: benzaldehyde, phenylacetaldehyde, acetaldehyde, phenol, 2-methylbutane, para-cresol, dimethyltrisulfide, 1-octen-3-ol, 2-nonanone, and 2,3- diethyl-5-methylpyrazine. All of them contribute to the development of dog odor with different interesting notes. This is according to Brunning can best be characterized by the almond-fruity-honey-mushroom-sulfur-excrement combination.

Not all wet dog smell is the same. How is it?

Since each of them has a different way of life, one of them may have less, while another may have more odor. The intensity depends on the dog’s diet, on the places it walks, where it lies down, what other animals it lives with in a household, and surprisingly, also on its breed.

Some dog breeds, such as basset hounds, are characterized by increased sebum production, and this provides a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can thus multiply better on the animal’s skin. Dogs with wrinkled skin or shortened head are particularly affected. It is because microscopic creatures find an excellent hiding place in their skin folds. Dogs that drool a lot can also smell more when wet, as the saliva itself carries many bacteria.

When should you suspect a medical condition?

Unfortunately, it happens that the dog’s immune system cannot prevent the excessive proliferation of pathogens. Skin infections caused by allergies, wound infections, and general lack of care all contribute to the development of unpleasant odor.

Most of the time, these symptoms are noticed relatively late, since the lesions are easily hidden under the dog’s fur. That’s why you should regularly check your pet during daily grooming. Urgent medical help is needed if the dog is scratching, and the fur has already worn out in places. It is also possible that these complaints are not caused by fleas or scabies, but by a complex health problem.

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