If you notice a strange metallic odor coming from your dog, that’s a potential cause for concern.
But why does your pup smell like iron? How can you solve the problem? And what can you do to prevent that from happening again in the future?
Read this guide to find out!
Metallic smelling breath
There are several potential causes of metallic smelling breath in dogs:
“Doggy breath” is usually caused by Canine Periodontal Disease or gingivitis.
Generally, the smell of doggy breath is fishy rather than metallic. However, in severe cases where the gums are bleeding, you might notice a coppery, metallic smell on your dog’s breath.
In either case, you must seek veterinary advice right away, as your pet could be in pain, and remedial dental work is necessary to prevent serious health complications.
A metallic smell or ammonia odor on a dog’s breath is a common kidney failure symptom. The iron smell is caused by a build-up of waste products and toxins that the dog’s kidneys are not removing from his body.
Again, you should seek veterinary advice right away, as kidney failure is fatal if not treated urgently.
Blood can smell very metallic, especially if it’s fresh.
If your dog has a condition that’s causing him to bleed into his stomach or respiratory tract, you might detect an iron-like aroma on his breath. Generally, your dog will display other symptoms, too, such as lethargy and depression.
Internal bleeding is severe, and you should take your pet to the vet in an emergency.
By far, the most common reason for a dog to smell like iron is that he has impacted anal glands.
What are anal glands?
The canine anal glands are sometimes referred to as anal sacs. These small, kidney-shaped structures are scent glands situated on either side of the dog’s anus between the smooth rectal muscle and the external anal sphincter.
The anal sacs are lined with cells containing numerous sebaceous (oil) and sweat glands, and it’s those cells that produce a stinky liquid that smells like a mixture of iron and rotten fish!
What’s the purpose of anal sacs?
Dogs mark their territory by leaving their own unique scent in their urine or poop.
Also, when dogs sniff each others’ backsides, that’s a form of canine communication. For instance, by sniffing another dog, your pooch can tell whether the stranger is a known associate, a friend, or an enemy, even if they two will get along.
The anal glands are responsible for generating each dog’s personal smell, like a canine fingerprint.
A smelly problem
Under normal circumstances, the anal sacs are naturally emptied whenever your dog poops. Problems arise when the anal sacs don’t get emptied, and that’s when you can detect that iron-like whiff whenever your dog is in the room.
Over time, the secretions inside the anal glands begin to thicken. That’s not only smelly, but it’s also highly uncomfortable for your poor dog. The longer the impaction is left untreated, the more painful the condition becomes. The worst-case scenario is that your dog’s anal sacs could rupture, leaving your unfortunate pet literally in a world of pain.
Why do anal glands become impacted?
Several risk factors can predispose dogs to suffer from impacted anal glands, including:
- Food allergies
- Atopic dermatitis
- Chronic skin infections involving yeast or bacteria
- Physical abnormalities
- Obstruction of the anal gland duct caused by muscle inflammation or tumor
- Infestation by Demodex, Sarcoptes, or other species of skin mites
Senior dogs whose mobility is compromised by arthritis or joint inflammation can also develop impacted anal sacs.
Basically, when the dog strains to poop, that action simultaneously expressed the anal sacs. If that mechanism is compromised for any reason, the anal sacs don’t empty fully or at all. The matter trapped inside the anal sacs gradually thickens, causing the glands to swell.
How to prevent anal gland impaction
Unless your dog has a physical abnormality that prevents him from emptying his anal sacs properly when he poops, there are two main ways of preventing the problem from occurring.
If your dog is overweight, you need to discuss devising a suitable exercise and feeding program for your pet with the staff at your vet clinic.
Obesity presents many risks to dogs, as well as impacted anal glands. A fat dog is more likely to develop diabetes, heart problems, and joint conditions, including arthritis. Also, obese flat-faced or brachycephalic breeds tend to develop serious breathing problems, especially during hot weather.
Feed your dog a balanced diet
Certain dog breeds, including Goldendoodles, can be prone to food sensitivity and diarrhea that usually accompanies it.
Dogs that regularly suffer from upset tummies and loose stools are much more prone to developing impacted anal sacs than dogs that poop normally. So, make sure that you feed your dog a properly balanced diet that contains plenty of fiber and doesn’t upset his stomach.
It’s a good idea to ask your vet to recommend a food that’s specially formulated for dogs with a sensitive digestive system to prevent tummy upsets and the associated problems they cause.
What are breeds most prone to anal gland impaction?
Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to anal gland impactions than others.
Often, small breeds such as Poodles and Chihuahuas tend to suffer from anal gland impaction more than larger breeds. That could be for several reasons, including:
- Smaller dogs are often nervous and high-strung, which changes the stool’s firmness, and the anal sacs are not expressed as they should be.
- Small breeds can be less active, meaning that the hindquarters’ muscles lack strength and pushing power.
- A small dog’s weight distribution is different from that of a larger animal. For example, if a Chihuahua is one pound overweight, that equates to you gaining 33 pounds. An overweight dog has more difficulty in expressing his anal sacs, which then become impacted.
- Small breeds often suffer from congenital limb conformation problems such as luxating patellas. That prevents the dog from squatting properly, impacting the muscle contraction required to express the anal sacs when the dog poops.
Signs of anal gland impaction
So, if you notice that your dog smells like iron, that’s a good indication that all’s not well with his anal glands.
Scooting is the next most common sign of anal gland impaction and is the term used to describe when your dog drags his butt along the ground.
Other telltale indicators of anal gland impaction include:
- Excessive licking of the rear end
- Reluctance to sit down
- Chewing the base of the tail
- Blood in the dog’s poop
- Swelling under the skin around the dog’s rectum
- Bloodstains in the dog’s bed or on the ground where he has been resting
If you think your dog has impacted anal glands, take him to see your veterinarian right away.
How is anal gland impaction treated?
Although some dog groomers offer to express a dog’s anal glands, we recommend that you ask your vet to do the job. The anal sacs are sensitive, delicate structures, and it’s possible to damage them if you don’t use the correct technique.
The vet will gently squeeze each impacted gland to remove the slimy, foul-smelling obstruction inside. That will immediately relieve your dog’s discomfort, get rid of that nasty, fishy irony smell, and any other symptoms should also disappear pretty much instantly. If the glands are infected, the vet may prescribe your dog a course of antibiotics.
The simple procedure only takes a few minutes and is something that vets routinely carry out for their patients.
If you notice a strange, iron, or metallic smell surrounding your beloved furry friend, the prime culprit is your dog’s anal glands, especially if the odor is accompanied by scooting and licking.
Impacted anal sacs are uncomfortable for your dog and can be potentially very serious if they rupture or become infected. Thankfully, the condition is easily treated if you catch it straight away and pay a visit to your vet.