What Causes Wet Dog Smell, and 10 Tips for Dealing with it

If you have ever hugged your dog after a bath or a swim, you may have noticed a distinctive and unpleasant smell, that the world knows as "wet dog smell". This infamous wet dog smell is caused by bacteria and other microbes that live on your dog's skin and fur and feed off of dander, sweat, and all sorts of things. In this article, we explain what these microbes are, how they produce wet dog smell, and what you can do to prevent it.

What are odor-causing microbes?

Odor-causing microbes are microorganisms like fungi and bacteria that quietly live on your dog's skin and fur. They are part of the normal flora of your dog, and they usually don't cause any harm or noticeable odor when the dog is dry. However, these microbes produce waste in the form of various chemical compounds that smell, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur compounds, and fatty acids. These microbes can be trapped in the dog's coat and are not easily detected by anything other than our noses.

How do they produce the wet dog smell?

When your dog gets wet, either from bathing, swimming, or playing in the rain, the water molecules do two critical things. Firstly, they can displace odor causing compounds from the dog's skin and hair, distributing them into the air. Secondly, the water also creates a damp environment that allows the microbes to grow and multiply faster. In fact, the number of bacteria can double every 15 minutes in the right conditions, meaning that within 2 hours, you might could have 256x more bacteria on your dogs fur (or your carpet that a wet dog just napped on). As the water evaporates, it releases the odor causing compounds into the air, creating the wet dog smell. The smell can vary depending on several factors, such as:
  • The type and amount of microbes on your dog's skin and fur
  • The type and amount of odor causing compounds they produce
  • The pH and temperature of your dog's skin and fur
  • The diet and health of your dog
  • The type and quality of water your dog gets wet with
  • The humidity and ventilation of the environment

How can you prevent wet dog smell?

The best way to prevent wet dog smell is to keep your dog dry as much as possible. However, this is not always feasible or desirable, especially if your dog enjoys water activities or needs regular grooming. Here are some tips to reduce or eliminate wet dog smell:
  1. Dry your dog thoroughly after it gets wet. Use a towel, a hair dryer, or both to remove as much moisture as possible from your dog's coat. This will prevent the growth of microbes and the release of odor causing compounds.
  2. Use a shampoo that is designed for dogs and has antibacterial or antifungal properties. This will help reduce the population of microbes on your dog's skin and fur and remove any dirt or debris that may contribute to the odor by feeding or housing the bacteria.
  3. Rinse your dog well after shampooing. Make sure to remove any soap residue that may irritate your dog's skin or trap moisture in the coat. Some natural soaps and shampoos can also act as food for bacteria, so if the shampoo sounds tasty to you, its probably tasty to bacteria.
  4. Spray your dog's fur with natural and pet-friendly odor-killing and odor-protection products like SWIFF spray. 
  5. Brush your dog regularly. This will help distribute the natural oils on your dog's skin and fur, which can act as a barrier against microbes and odors. It will also remove any loose hair or dead skin cells that may harbor microbes.
  6. Clean your dog's ears, mouth, and skin folds. These areas tend to be moist and warm, which are ideal conditions for microbial growth and odor production. Use a gentle cleanser or wipes to remove any dirt, wax, saliva, or food particles that may accumulate in these areas.
  7. Feed your dog a balanced and high-quality diet. This will help maintain your dog's overall health and immunity, which can affect the type and amount of microbes on your dog's skin and fur. Some foods may also influence the odor of your dog's breath or body, so avoid feeding your dog anything that may cause bad smells.
  8. Wash your dog's bedding, toys, and accessories regularly. These items can also harbor microbes and odors that can transfer to your dog or your home. Use hot water and detergent to kill any germs and remove any smells.
  9. Spray your dog's beds, toys, blankets, and your upholstery with odor-neutralizing and odor-protecting sprays, such as the different SWIFF Spray products.
  10. Consult your vet if your dog has persistent or foul odors. Sometimes, bad smells can indicate an underlying health problem, such as dental disease, kidney disease, diabetes, skin infections, or allergies. Your vet can diagnose and treat any medical issues that may be causing or worsening your dog's odors.
Wet dog smell is a common phenomenon that is caused by odor causing microbes that live on your dog's skin and fur. When your dog gets wet, these microbes release their waste products into the air, creating that unpleasant smell that tends to linger around the house for ages. You can prevent or reduce wet dog smell by keeping your dog dry, clean, healthy, and well-groomed. If you notice any abnormal or persistent odors on your dog, consult your vet for advice.