Why Does My Dog Smell Like Pee?

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I went to a friend of a friend’s house the other day and met his Bassett Hound for the first and I was….immediately turned off. He was a sweet boy but man, he REEKED of urine.

My buddy told me something like “oh don’t worry, I gave him a bath earlier today, he just has a kidney problem that’s making him stink.”

Skeptical and worried I actually had pee all over my hands, I took to the internet for answers!

Why does my dog smell like pee? They probably have pee on them, either their own or someone else’s. However, if the smell persists after a bath and you’re sure your dog isn’t accidentally coming into contact with urine, it could be a sign of a more serious health issue.

Let’s take a look at five reasons your dog may smell like pee. Some may be obvious but others may surprise you.

Reason #1 – They Have Pee On Them

This is, obviously, the most common reason why your dog may smell like pee. Pee has a strong ammonia smell that will linger long after it’s dried up, so even if your dog isn’t soaking wet, they may still have pee on them.

Let’s face it: we live in a dirty world and there are probably more scenarios in a day when your dog could encounter urine than you’d care to think about. 

Below are some common scenarios in which your dog may have wound up with pee on them.

They Peed On Themselves

If your dog has pee on them, hopefully, it’s their pee.

A small amount of splashing is likely to occur when all dogs pee, especially around their back legs. 

Healthy female dogs are typically less likely to end up peeing on themselves than healthy male dogs

Male dogs, with external urethras that run nearly parallel to their abdomens, are far more likely to end up urinating on their front legs and chests when they pee.

Dogs with longer fur or hair are also more likely to end up with their own urine on them since it sticks out more into the splash zone.

Excitement peeing, submission peeing, and marking are all common canine behaviors that may result in them getting more pee on themselves than usual.

As I said, a small amount of pee is likely to end up on your dog when they relieve themselves. However, if they have suddenly begun to have urine on themselves, it may be that they are incontinent. 

Incontinence can be a side effect of many different illnesses in dogs but occurs most commonly in senior dogs (dogs who are around 8-10+ years old, depending on the breed).

Incontinence can take many forms but it’s most simply defined as a loss of bladder control.

A dog experiencing incontinence may not realize that they are about to pee and may not posture, move, or even wake up before they go. It’s very different from a situation where a dog urinates inside because they couldn’t hold their pee any longer

If your dog is damp or if you’re noticing irregularly shaped puddles around the house, your dog may be peeing on themselves due to incontinence. 

They Encountered Pee In The Environment

Gross though it may be, if your dog smells like urine, you’re going to need to take stock of your dog’s environment, searching for possible pee sources.

What a fun afternoon project! 

If your dog hasn’t accidentally peed on themselves, then they have likely somehow encountered urine, theirs, or someone else’s.

It may be that your dog stepped in their own puddle when they were done with their business. This often happens if a dog goes on a sidewalk or another nonabsorbent surface where the fluid can puddle.

Or it could be that one of your other animals has peed in that dog’s bed and, after a night’s sleep in it, they now smell like pee. Both cats and dogs may be guilty of this behavior.

But that may be giving your pee-soaked buddy too much credit. It’s entirely possible that they deliberately rolled in their or another animal’s pee.

Dogs communicate a lot through scent. What we may just smell as “dog pee” contains all sorts of olfactory clues that a dog can pick up on. 

So, your dog may be rolling in their own pee in order to coat themselves in their own scent, probably so that every other dog or person will be able to smell them coming (kind of like your date wearing a really strong signature perfume or cologne).

If you don’t think they rolled in their own pee, it may be that they encountered another dog’s puddle out in the wild and, yep, rolled in it.

A dog may do this in order to mark their territory. By rubbing their backs and necks over the scent of the other dog’s urine, they cover up the smell of that dog’s urine with their own scent.

Remember, dogs have tremendous olfactory capabilities which can lead to all kinds of behaviors that may seem weird to us. Other dogs will be able to smell that your dog put their scent on top of that other dog’s puddle, thereby letting everyone know that your dog was there most frequently. 

Keep in mind also that not all urine out in the wild comes from dogs. Cats, wild animals, and people may be leaving pee behind for your dog to encounter. Depending on where you are (a deep forest vs. an urban area), your dog may be encountering deer pee or hobo urine.

Finally, if you’re thinking “my dog hasn’t encountered any animal pee, they’ve hardly been outside!” – consider your own household situation. 

Is your bathroom clean? Have boys in the house with maybe not the best aim around the commode?

Why exactly your dog finds all of these smells so enticing is difficult to say with any scientific backing. But it’s entirely possible and downright likely that they smell like pee because they have encountered pee in their environment, either accidentally or deliberately, and that’s what you’re smelling.

Something Else Peed On Them

What an exciting world dogs live in! Yes, your dog may smell like pee because they caught themselves in the crosshairs of someone else’s yellow stream.

A dog, usually males, may pee on other dogs in order to establish their dominance. It covers up that dog’s scent with the scent of the other dog’s urine so that everyone will know who is in charge. 

It’s a pretty serious powerplay. If you’ve encountered other dogs at the dog park or if there seems to be some tumult in your home pack, it may be that your dog is getting peed on by another dog.

Another common scenario is that your dog may be getting sprayed on by cats.

If you have a cat or neighborhood cats that your dog could encounter, the cat may get stressed out or otherwise attempt to display their dominance in the situation by spraying them directly with their urine.

This smell typically has a stronger, mustier urine smell than your dog’s normal pee.

Reason #2 – Their Pee Is Pungent

All of the above scenarios assume that your dog has new or more pee on them than normal. However, it may be that there has been a change in the odor of your dog’s pee and you’re simply smelling it more than you normally can.

It’s common for your dog to have a small amount of urine on them. A healthy, hydrated dog’s urine will be nearly odorless and colorless, so you may not even notice that it’s on them.

Much like with people, a dehydrated dog’s urine will be smellier, yellower, and thicker than a hydrated one. This urine is more concentrated than usual.

It’s also been reported that high-protein diets cause acidic, ammonia-smelling urine. This may occur if your dog is on a grain-free diet.

If this more pungent urine ends up on your dog’s paws or legs, you’ll be more likely to notice the odor. 

If your dog is hydrated but their pee is still abnormally smelly, it may be a sign that they have a more serious illness.

Reason #3 – Urinary Tract Infection

If your dog smells like pee but they don’t have pee on them, a urinary tract infection (UTI) is the next most probable culprit. 

A UTI most commonly occurs in female dogs when bacteria are able to enter the bladder through their urethra. 

These bacteria reproduce in their bladder and have a strong odor. When your dog pees, what you’re smelling is the odorific bacteria inside of their pee.

What’s more, a UTI will also make your poor pup have to pee more frequently, compounding the effects of the smell.

Signs that your dog has a UTI include:

  • Smelly urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Straining or signs of pain when they pee
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequently licking their genitals

UTI’s can quickly become serious, life-threatening diseases if the bacteria causing the infection moves upwards into the dog’s bladder or kidneys.

Reason #4 – Kidney Problems

Kidneys filter blood by removing excess water and waste in the form of urine which they then divert to the bladder. Because they play such an integral role in the creation and composition of your dog’s urine, a foul urine smell is often related to issues with their kidneys.

If the kidneys fail to properly filter your dog’s urine, the urea (blood waste that smells like ammonia) will build up in your dog’s blood.

Their bodies will then attempt to expel the urea from other orifices, most often through the oil secretions on their skin and through their salivary glands.

This can cause your dog’s breath and fur to smell like urine even if they do not have pee on them.

Other kidney malfunctions can make your dog’s urine particularly smelly, with higher concentrations of ammonia and other waste than usual.

They are incredibly complicated and important organs, but a change in the composition or odor of your dog’s urine can often result from issues with their kidneys.

Reason #5 – Diabetes

Diabetes is actually fairly common in dogs, affecting about 1 in every 300 of them

Basically, diabetes is a condition that occurs when your dog’s body is unable to process or absorb sugar into their cells. Insulin is a naturally occurring chemical that is used to transfer the sugar that your dog absorbs to their cells, which use the sugar for energy.

Because a diabetic dog cannot absorb this sugar from their blood into their cells, the sugar remains in their blood. This condition is called hypoglycemia.

When the blood sugar reaches a high enough level, the glucose is expelled by the kidneys into the urine (a condition called glucosuria).To process all of this sugar, the kidneys will divert large amounts of water through themselves and into the urine to dilute all of the built-up sugar.

This causes diabetic dogs to drink and pee way more frequently than non-diabetic dogs. It also produces very distinct smelling urine that some folks say has a sweet smell as a result of all of the sugar. Their bodies will also attempt to expel their sugar through their oil and salivary glands, causing this strong, sweet, diabetic-urine smell on their bodies as well.

All of these can result in a dog that may end up with a very pungent, urine smell. 

What To Do If Your Dog Smells Like Pee

Bath

Obviously, this is the first thing to do if your dog smells like urine. A bath with an enzyme shampoo like this one will help remove the urine from their bodies and kill the bacteria on them that’s giving them an unpleasant odor. 

Don’t use any shampoo that is overly scented. You want the dog to be clean but you do not want to mask their natural smells. This will help you determine if your problems are over or if the smell of pee continues even after a bath.

Sanitary Haircut

It may be that your dog smells like pee because their fur is trapping it on them when they relieve themselves. This is especially true if you have a long hair dog or a dog with hair that continuously grows.

You’ll want to ensure that their genitals are free of hair that may snare urine droplets. For females, this just means keeping the whole area cut short but not shaved down to the skin.

For males, you’ll want to leave a small amount more hair around the tip of the penis. While this may seem counterintuitive, doing so will help divert their urine flow downwards and away from their body. Left completely bare, their stream is more likely to shoot forward and spray on the backs of their legs.

It’s probably best to bring your dog to a groomer to have this professionally done. You definitely don’t want to risk anything going wrong down there.

If you’re feeling ambitious or know what you’re doing and want to take this on yourself, here’s a helpful guide on how to do a sanitary cut on a male:

Treat The Smell

Ensuring that your dog is properly hydrated is the best first way to treat pungent pee-pee. 

Your dog should be drinking about an ounce of water for every pound of body weight each day. If they have particularly smelly pee, you should closely monitor their water intake to make sure they are getting at least that amount.

You can entice them to drink more water by adding a small amount of low sodium chicken broth to their water. 

You can also switch them to wet food. It both has more water and tastes better than dry food, which will encourage them to have more. Dry food also requires more water for your dog to process, so it uses up more water during digestion than wet food.

Just make sure you get high-quality, well-balanced food that doesn’t sell itself as “high protein” or “grain-free,” since that may make the smell worse.

Observe

Making sure that your dog stays hydrated and bathed won’t do much if you let them out into the backyard only to get sprayed in the face by the neighbor’s cat.

You need to pay very close attention to your dog to ensure that there are no external factors causing them to have pee on them.

Watch them pee to make sure they aren’t going on themselves. Ask your family to do the same (and maybe sneak in a question about their own bathroom habits to rule them out). 

If your dog is clean, hydrated, and you know that they have not encountered pee in their environment, but they still smell like pee, you need to take them to the vet.

Vet

If your dog is incontinent and unable to control their peeing or if they have a chronic smell of urine when there is no urine present, you need to bring them to your veterinarian ASAP.

Even a simple UTI can quickly become a dangerous situation. While it’s true that many owners have had luck treating minor UTIs at home with treatments like these cranberry supplements, owners shouldn’t attempt to self-diagnose their pets.

Frankly, all of the issues that would make your dog smell like urine are potentially life-threatening if left untreated or if treated incorrectly (i.e., giving cranberry treats to treat a UTI that, turns out, your diabetic dog didn’t have).

And only your vet will be able to help with the more serious potential issues like diabetes and kidney failure.

Your Dog Smells Like Pee…

If your dog smells like pee, most of the time it’s because they have pee on them. You may not exactly know how it’s happening, but careful observation should reveal the source of the pee.

However, some very serious health conditions may cause your dog to smell like urine even if there’s no pee on them.

Give them a bath and closely monitor them, and know that it’s more than just gross; it’s potentially dangerous.