Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Dogs > What Causes Wet Dog Smell? Science, Tips, & FAQ

What Causes Wet Dog Smell? Science, Tips, & FAQ

corgi dog getting a bath outdoor

We’ve all been there: our beloved dog, fresh from a romp in the rain or a much-needed bath, trots back into the house, and suddenly, that unmistakable scent permeates the air – the wet dog smell. This distinctive odor is a common experience for dog owners worldwide, yet its causes remain a mystery to many. In short, the microorganisms that lay on your dog’s skin and fur react to water and release an odor, commonly known as “wet dog smell”. In this article, we’ll delve into the science behind the wet dog smell, explore factors that can heighten it, share strategies to minimize it, and address frequently asked questions about this peculiar scent.

divider-dog paw

The Science Behind Wet Dog Smell

At the heart of the wet dog smell are microscopic organisms, including yeast and bacteria, that reside on a dog’s skin and fur. These microorganisms are not harmful invaders but part of the natural flora of a dog’s body. As they go about their metabolic processes, they produce volatile compounds and gasses, which contribute significantly to the distinctive wet dog smell.

In addition to these microorganisms, dogs secrete oils from their skin, which serve essential functions like maintaining skin health and giving their coat a glossy sheen. However, when your dog gets wet, these oils react with water molecules, releasing an odor that adds to the overall ‘wet dog’ smell.

Lastly, volatile compounds produced by the aforementioned bacteria and yeasts are often trapped in a dog’s fur when it’s dry. Once the dog gets wet, these compounds are released into the air, contributing to the strong, unique smell we associate with wet dogs.

chihuahua dog getting a bath in the bathtub
Image By: Studio217, Shutterstock

Factors That Amplify the Wet Dog Smell

Certain factors can intensify the wet dog smell. Firstly, the breed of the dog plays a role. Some breeds, such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, are known for having oilier coats, leading to a stronger smell when they get wet.

Secondly, a dog’s diet can significantly influence the smell of their skin and coat. Diets high in processed foods or grains often lead to increased oil production on the skin, thereby intensifying the wet dog smell.

Lastly, certain health conditions, like hormonal imbalances or skin infections, can exacerbate the smell. If you notice a sudden change or intensification in your dog’s smell, it may be worth consulting your vet to rule out any underlying health issues.

Breeds Known for Their Wet Dog Smell

While all dogs tend to have a distinctive smell when wet, some breeds are known for their particularly strong odors. These can include:

That doesn’t mean these dogs are perpetually stinky. It just means you’ll need to keep on top of their hygiene.

Basset hound dog standing in the water
Image Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova, Shutterstock

Strategies to Minimize the Wet Dog Smell

Fortunately, there are several ways to keep the wet dog smell under control. Regular grooming, including brushing and bathing, can help manage the population of microorganisms on your dog’s skin and reduce the amount of oil on their coat.

Feeding your dog a balanced diet that includes high-quality proteins and fats can improve the health of their skin and coat, thus reducing the intensity of the wet dog smell.

You’ll also find there are numerous pet-friendly deodorizing products available on the market. These products, which include sprays, wipes, and shampoos, can effectively neutralize the wet dog smell, keeping your dog smelling fresh.

Tips for Keeping Your Home Smelling Fresh

To keep your home smelling fresh despite your wet dog, it’s important to take proactive steps. First and foremost, regularly vacuum and sweep floors to pick up any pet fur that may contain odors. Additionally, you can use an air purifier or deodorizing spray specifically designed for pet owners. Finally, consider incorporating natural odor absorbers like baking soda or charcoal into your home to help keep smells at bay.

dog is watching the cleaning in the house with a vacuum cleaner
Image Credit: O_Lypa, Shutterstock

Scents and Products to Avoid When You Have a Dog

When it comes to products, it’s best to avoid heavily scented air fresheners or candles. These may contain potentially harmful chemicals that can irritate your pet’s sensitive nose and lungs. Additionally, try to steer clear of essential oils. Many essential oils are toxic to dogs when ingested, so even if they appear to be effective in masking the wet dog smell, they may be hazardous to your pet’s health. Especially dangerous culprits include tea tree, eucalyptus, citrus oils, and pennyroyal. When dogs come into contact with these essential oils, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and even comas.

Is Anything I’m Doing Making the Wet Dog Smell Worse?

There are several common habits that may make your dog’s wet smell worse. Swimming in a pool, lake, or ocean can contribute to the smell since chlorine and other minerals in the water can interact with the oils on your dog’s skin and fur. Toweling off after a swim is essential for keeping unpleasant odors at bay.

In addition, it’s important to avoid just washing your dog with plain water or shampooing them too frequently. Alternating between a quality shampoo and conditioner can help control the smell in addition to keeping your pup’s coat healthy and glossy.


Other Frequently Asked Questions About Wet Dog Smell 

Can frequent bathing help in reducing the wet dog smell?

Yes, regular bathing with a mild, pet-friendly shampoo can help reduce the smell. However, too frequent baths can strip the coat of its natural oils, which can lead to skin problems.

Does the environment a dog lives in affect the wet dog smell?

Yes, dogs living in humid or damp environments may have a stronger wet dog smell due to the increased moisture facilitating bacterial growth.

cute little yorkiepoo dog on a meadow in summer outdoors
Image Credit: Annabell Gsoedl, Shutterstock

Can neutering or spaying affect the wet dog smell?

Hormonal changes after neutering or spaying may alter a dog’s body odors, but it’s unlikely to significantly impact the wet dog smell.



The wet dog smell is a ubiquitous part of dog ownership. It’s caused by a combination of microorganisms, oils, and volatile compounds present on your dog’s skin and fur. Although it may not always be pleasant, it’s usually harmless. By understanding what causes it and how to manage it, you can ensure a more enjoyable experience for both you and your furry friend. So, the next time your dog comes in from the rain, you will understand the complex biological processes behind that distinctive scent.

Featured Image Credit: Nan Liu, Shutterstock

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets