Why Does My Cat Smell Like Wet Dog? (Several Possible Reasons)

The wet dog odor most likely emanates from your cat’s scent glands, microscopic openings placed throughout its body. These glands secrete a strong-smelling waxy material to either mark territory or release pheromones that attract a mate. In certain situations, your cat may need assistance cleaning its scent glands.

Why would a cat smell like a wet dog?

Cats can acquire odor for both positive and unpleasant causes. It could be the consequence of natural scent gland musk production, a byproduct of their diet, inadequate care and habitat cleaning, or a health condition such as poor breath (halitosis) caused by an abscess or an infection.

In actuality, all cats have some degree of odor. Even the healthiest ones. Consequently, it is to be expected to some degree; that the presence of smell does not necessarily signal that something is amiss. However, when the odor gets very severe, you may need to examine deeper and even take action. Especially if it occurs suddenly or if you see additional symptoms. Let us now examine each of the arguments.

Scent Gland Odors

These are the most frequent and probable causes of a cat that smells like a wet dog. Cats spontaneously emit smells to interact with their environment and with other cats. It is a habit driven by evolution that has allowed cats to overcome their vulnerability as prey animals, effectively reproduce, and subsist off the land.

And they do it through smell glands throughout their body, notably beneath their chins and around their anuses. Now, a cat’s smell glands serve two primary functions: marking territory and attracting a partner.

Beautiful Cat
Beautiful Cat – hopefully not smelly!

Identifying Territory

Cats scent-mark frequently, primarily through the glands under the chin. They have been observed to mark both other cats and inanimate objects. This is because cats are extremely territorial and wish to define their area by leaving a distinct reference and mark in their environment. Back to evolution again; it has served them well. It has allocated spaces and guarantees that there is sufficient food for them and their closest companions.

Trying to attract a Mate

When cats reach sexual maturity between 5 and 6 months of age, a pair of pocket-like glands (inguinal and harderian glands) around the eyes will begin to emit smells. It is known that the odor emitted here (by both sexes) contains prehormones and acts as a sexual attractant for the opposite sex.

The amount a cat will mark is primarily influenced by its sexual activity and environment (if cats of the opposite sex are present, for instance). Males are known to mark more frequently than females. Additionally, neutered cats are more likely to emit a less potent odor.

Dietary Odors

Certain plants and vegetables, notably cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower), have high levels of sulfur and may be the source of the harmful gas. These veggies and other vegetables can cause an imbalance of good gut bacteria (dysbiosis), resulting in wetter, stinkier stools. Therefore, it is crucial that a cat’s food contains a significant amount of animal protein and that it constitutes the majority of the diet.

Unhygienic living spaces

There’s always a chance that your cat’s dwelling place, hutch, or overall cage requires a thorough cleaning! A cat’s enclosure used for travel should be spot-cleaned daily and thoroughly cleaned at least once a week. Otherwise, your cat may begin to smell due to rotting food, feces that is allowed to collect in their fur, etc.

Odors of Health Conditions

Extreme pungent or intense odors typically signal a health ailment or a more serious concern. For example, foul breath typically indicates that a cat has dental decay or, worse, an abscess/infection of the mouth owing to the accumulation of bacteria. If your cat has this odor, you should immediately notice it. It is typically accompanied by additional symptoms, such as a distressed or in pain cat.

Even if your cat smells like a wet dog, a mild, comfortable scent with familiar ingredients found in great perfume, you should check whether this suggests more serious health problems. If left untreated, a wet dog odor on your cat’s fur could indicate an infection and lead to serious health problems.

Should I clean my cat’s scent glands?

In cats in good health, it should not be necessary to clean their scent glands. However, overweight or elderly cats may require assistance with cleaning. However, it would help if you routinely examined your cat’s olfactory glands to ensure there is no buildup of waxy substances.

Generally, cats do a good job of keeping their scent glands clean; when they feel the need, they will intuitively groom themselves. In certain circumstances, cats are unable to groom themselves. This is typically seen in obese cats or those with movement limitations (usually older cats). As the wax accumulates and is not removed, more strong odors and illnesses may develop. And at this point, you (or a veterinarian) may need to support the cleaning process with care and gentleness.

Cute Cat
Young kittens usually don’t smell – of dogs or anything

How to Clean Your Cat’s Smell Glands

To clean your cat’s smell glands from a wet dog, use a clean cotton swab or bud and lukewarm water to carefully and gently wipe away the wax.

This is an unpleasant task, but happily, it can be completed swiftly and without causing harm to your cat. However, it can be a bit challenging, especially initially and if your cat struggles to remain calm. Consider that the procedure outlined below pertains to the anal smell glands; you should not typically need to wash your cat’s chin scent glands. However, here is the cleaning method:

  • You will need a pair of gloves, cotton swabs/balls, a bowl of lukewarm water, and some paper towels.
  • Locate a serene, reassuring, and quiet area to conduct the cleaning. A place resembling a bathtub is excellent here.
  • Maintain a firm yet gentle grip on your cat; you must place them on their back. Before attempting again, you might need to relax with your cat.
  • Once you can keep the animal on its back, carefully and slowly separate the fur around its anus, looking for an accumulation of dark brown “wax.”
  • Soak one of the cotton swabs/balls in the water basin, then slowly and carefully wipe away the wax.
  • Continue until the wax is removed; this may require multiple cotton swabs/balls.
  • Return your cat to its cage in a secure manner.

Consult a veterinarian if this proves too difficult or if you discover anything worrying when attempting to rid your cat’s scent glands of wet dog odor. They will be able to finish the cleaning and evaluate your cat for any other concerns. And before we conclude, please use only new, clean cotton balls or swabs and make sure the water is not too hot. Wet wipes and other chemical-containing goods should not be utilized!


Natural scent gland secretions most likely explain your cat’s wet dog odor. Generally speaking, this is a typical, routine occurrence when a male (or female) cat attains sexual maturity. Nevertheless, some cats create more musky odors than others, which may emerge as this unmistakable wet dog odor. It depends on the conditions – how, when, and where you keep your cat(s), their health, breed, age, whether or not they’ve been neutered, and how many cats you maintain.

Image Credits:

Leave a comment: