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Why does my dog smell like iron? Could it be anal glands?

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Why does my dog smell like iron? Could it be anal glands?
Why does my dog smell like iron? Could it be anal glands?

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Veterinarian expresses chihuahua
If you notice a strange, iron, or metallic smell surrounding your beloved furry friend, the prime culprit is your dog’s anal glands.

If you notice a strange metallic odor coming from your dog, that’s a potential cause for concern.

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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:

Dental problems

“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.

Kidney disease

A metallic smell or ammonia odor on a dog’s breath is a common kidney failure symptom. The iron smell or dog metallic 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.

Internal bleeding

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, if your dog is experiencing a dog metallic smell, your dog also 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.

Anal glands

Overweight golden retriever with scale. Several risk factors like obesity can predispose dogs to suffer from impacted anal glands.
Several risk factors like obesity can predispose dogs to suffer from impacted anal glands.

By far, the most common reason for a dog to smell like iron is that it has impacted anal glands.

What are the anal glands?

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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 scent mark their territory by leaving their own unique odor 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 empty or become impacted, 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 thicken, and the dog metallic smell gets stronger. 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:

  • Obesity
  • Diarrhea
  • 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 doesn’t happen, the anal sacs fail to empty. 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.

Slim down!

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.

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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?

White poodle lays on the floor. Small breeds often suffer from congenital limb conformation problems such as luxating patellas, which prevents the dog from squatting properly and impacts the muscle contraction required to express the anal sacs when the dog poops.
Small breeds often suffer from congenital limb conformation problems such as luxating patellas, which prevents the dog from squatting properly and impacts the muscle contraction required to express the anal sacs when the dog poops.

Certain dog breeds are prone to anal gland impaction.

Small breeds such as Poodles and Chihuahuas often suffer from anal gland impaction more than larger breeds. That could be for several reasons, including:

  • Smaller dogs that are nervous and high-strung experience changes in the stool’s firmness, and the anal sacs don’t express properly.
  • 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, which happens when your dog drags his butt on the floor, is a common sign of anal gland impaction.

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 to treat anal gland impaction

Although some dog groomers offer to express the 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.

Expressing anal glands relieves your dog’s discomfort and eliminates the nasty, fishy, iron smell. If the glands are infected, vets prescribe antibiotics.

The simple procedure takes a few minutes, and vets routinely provide this service for their patients.

Final thoughts

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.

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