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vet examines dog with breath that smells like iron

My Dog’s Breath Smells Like Iron — What’s Causing It?

When a dog’s breath smells like iron, it’s usually an indication of something wrong. We look at that possible causes of metallic smelling dog breath.

If you notice a metallic-like odor coming from your dog, it can be cause for concern. People commonly associate a metallic smell with blood, which would suggest some sort of bleeding or injury. But a metallic or iron smell can also be a sign of something internal such as kidney disease or impacted anal glands.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why dogs develop metallic smelling breath, when it’s a cause for concern, and what you can do about it.

If your smell iron or a metal odor coming from your dog, the first thing to do is try to isolate exactly where it’s coming from. Is it their breath — and if so, is it coming up from inside or is it because they’ve licked something on their body (or elsewhere) that shares this distinctive smell?

You may not immediately determine the source, but if you do, it can be very helpful in diagnosing the cause of this symptom.

Here are some of the major sources of dog’s breath that smells like iron.

Dental Problems 

Often, a dog with foul-smelling breath may have periodontal disease or gingivitis. Usually, a dog’s bad breath will smell like fish, rather than a metallic scent. However, in some more severe cases, a dog may have a coppery or iron smelling breath as their gums may be bleeding. 

If your dog has poor dental hygiene, this can cause halitosis (an oral health problem which causes bad breath). It’s important that you regularly clean your dog’s teeth, otherwise thick layers of plaque will build up on their teeth. This plaque build-up can push the teeth away from the gums. 

When this happens, bacteria will begin to grow inside the mouth and gums, which leads to bad breath, gum infections and tooth decay. If you notice a foul or metallic smell on your dog’s breath, it’s important you take them to the vet right away, as they could be in pain. 

If your dog is suffering from gum disease, your vet will be able to give them the appropriate dental work and medication they need. 

Kidney Disease

A metallic or ammonia odor on a dog’s breath is a pretty common symptom of kidney failure. The reason why the breath smells like iron is because the kidneys aren’t functioning properly. When this happens, there is a build-up of waste products and toxins in a dog’s body that would usually be filtered by the kidneys. 

Kidney diseases can also be a result of poor oral hygiene. When dental diseases become advanced, the bacteria in a dog’s mouth will begin to overproduce, and will be ingested into their system. The bacteria penetrates the bloodstream and will begin to cause liver and kidney damage. 

If you do smell a metallic or ammonia-like odor on your dog’s breath, it’s important you see your vet as soon as possible as kidney failure needs to be treated urgently. 

Internal Bleeding

Blood can have a very metallic smell, especially when it’s fresh. If your dog has a condition which causes internal bleeding in their stomach, or they have a respiratory tract, then you might catch an iron-like smell coming off their breath. Your dog will generally display other symptoms, such as depression. 

Your dog may also suffer from internal bleeding if they eat something too sharp. No matter the cause, internal bleeding is a severe condition which needs to be treated. If you think your dog may have an internal bleed, they will need emergency veterinarian care. 

Anal Glands 

Anal gland abscesses are a pretty common and painful infection in dogs, and is the most common condition which causes your dog to smell like iron. To understand an anal gland abscess, you need to know a little bit about what anal glands are. 

The anal glands are small, kidney-shaped sacs which are located on either side of your dog’s anus. The sacs are lined with cells which contain oil and sweat glands. These cells tend to produce a smelly liquid which smells like a mixture of rotten fish and iron. 

The purpose of an anal gland is to allow dogs to leave their scent to mark their territory. This is because each dog has their own unique odor in their urine. They’re also used as a form of communication between dogs.

This is because anal glands generate a personal smell, which is kind of like a dog’s finger print. When dog’s sniff each other’s backside, they will be able to tell whether the dog is a stranger, friend, enemy or associate. 

Impacted Anal Glands 

When anal glands are working normally, they will be emptied whenever your dog has a bowel movement. However, if the sacs aren’t functioning properly and don’t empty, your dog will start to produce either a fishy smell or an iron-like smell. 

When a dog has an anal gland abscess, pus will begin to build up in the sac during infection. The abscess can look red and painful, and will often swell up.

If the abscess opens up, a large amount of yellowish-green pus will be released. The infection will then begin to spread rapidly, and can cause serious damage to your dog’s rectum and anus if it’s not treated properly. 

The longer this infection is not treated, the more painful the condition will be for your dog. 

Causes of Anal Gland Abscesses

There are several factors which can damage a dog’s anal glands. Here are some of the common risks:

  • Obesity 
  • Food Allergies 
  • Diarrhea
  • Bacteria or yeast skin conditions 
  • Obstruction of the anal gland as a result of muscle inflammation or tumor
  • Physical abnormalities 
  • Infestation of skin mites
  • Senior dogs with limited mobility due to arthritis or joint inflammation 

As well as a metallic smelling breath and odor, dogs who have an anal gland implication may also: 

  • Scoot along the ground
  • Excessively lick their rears 
  • Chew the base of their tail 
  • Reluctancy to sit down 
  • Swell under the skin around their rectum 
  • Have blood in their stool

Ways to Prevent Anal Gland Impaction 

Unless your dog has a physical abnormality which prohibits their anal glands from fully emptying, there are two ways in which you can prevent the infection from occurring.

Combating Obesity 

If your dog is overweight, it leaves them much more susceptible to developing an anal gland abscess. It’s important that you help your dog lose weight. 

The easiest way to do this is to speak to your vet to develop an exercise and feeding program. Helping your dog lose weight will also reduce the risk of them developing other infections, diseases and conditions. 

Balanced Diet 

Dogs who suffer from chronic upset stomachs or loose bowel movements are far more at risk of developing anal gland abscesses. Breeds such as Goldendoodles, for example, are prone to food allergies, so it’s important that you feed your dog a balanced diet that they are able to tolerate. 

You can help firm up your dog’s stool to allow for better natural anal sac emptying by adding fiber to their diet. Canned pumpkin is an excellent source of fiber that can easily be added to a dog’s meal.

It’s always good to ask your vet for advice on recommended formulated dog food for dogs with food sensitivities and allergies. 

It’s also worth noting that smaller breeds of dogs, such as Poodles and Chihuahuas, are more prone to developing anal gland abscesses in comparison to larger dog breeds. 

What to Do if Your Dog has an Anal Gland Impaction 

If you believe your dog is suffering from an anal gland impaction, it’s important that you take them to the vet where they can get the appropriate treatment.

The vet will remove the slimy and foul-smelling pus from the impacted gland, which will relieve your dog of their discomfort, and remove the smell. If the glands are infected, your vet may also prescribe a course of antibiotics. 

Finishing Thoughts 

If you do notice a metallic smell coming from your dog’s breath, give them a quick check over their mouth and body to see if you can find the possible cause.

However, you do need to take your dog to the vet regardless, as metallic breath is often a symptom of something far more severe, and your dog will need to be treated sooner rather than later. 

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor