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Why Does My Dog Smell Like Iron Or Metal?

When your dog cozies up to you—really cozies up to you—you probably brace yourself in preparation for “doggy breath,” which can be unpleasant to say the least.

Apart from their breath, dogs can also carry around some unwelcome smells on their body, courtesy of whatever they may have gotten into during the course of playing.

However, while doggy breath and the occasional pet hair odors are usually not cause for concern, you should be on the lookout for one particular smell:  metal or iron.

A metallic-like smell emanating from your dog, whether that smell is coming from his breath or body, may be a sign of a health condition that demands your attention as the owner of the pooch.

This scent is far from common, and it may indicate that steps are needed on your part to address it.

To help you make sense of a pet that suddenly gives off a metallic smell, in this article we will highlight and explain some of the most common reasons for an iron-like smell in dogs.

We will also outline some appropriate steps you can take to help diagnosis and treat each of these causes with the expert assistance of your veterinarian.

My Dog Smells Like Iron:  Why and What Should I Do?

If you notice that your trusted four-legged companion is suddenly smelling like old railroad tracks, it may be a sign of a mild to severe health condition—a condition that, in some cases, will only get worse unless you meet it head on.

Unfortunately, our pets cannot verbalize what may be ailing them, so it falls to us to be their voice in these situations.

Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to identify the exact cause of a metallic odor, but you can certainly narrow down the potential culprits.

To help make that task a little easier, below we have identified four potential causes for an iron-like smell in dogs:  kidney problems, dental issues, internal bleeding, and anal gland impaction, the latter being the most common reason for this very disagreeable smell.

Kidney Problems

A dog’s kidneys are essential to its health.

These are the organs that are tasked with eliminating waste and toxins from the body, preventing those harmful elements from circulating in the bloodstream, where they can cause significant damage to the body’s cells and organs.

So what happens when the kidneys become diseased and fail to function properly?

This can cause a myriad of serious and sometimes fatal symptoms, one of which is an iron-rich smell on your dog’s breath.

When the kidneys are not able to function properly, toxins, including heavy metals like iron, can build up.

And when they build up, this can be very apparent in a dog’s breath.

Of course, if kidney disease is the reason for this odor, there will often be other symptoms as well, especially as the disease progresses.  Other symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Excessive thirst or drinking.  As the kidneys struggle to remove toxins from the body, more water is directed to them to help with the fight.  As a result, your dog can become dehydrated and start to drink far more water than usual.
  • Frequent urination.  As more and more water is directed into the kidneys, the urge to urinate will grow, causing frequent trips outside to urinate.
  • Lethargy.  As kidney disease progresses in a dog, he may become more lethargic and depressed, lacking his normal energy and playfulness.
  • Breathing problems.  In latter stages of kidney disease, breathing can become more difficult due to the buildup of toxins.

If your dog has iron-breath in conjunction with one or more of the above symptoms, it is absolutely crucial that you get him to the vet as soon as possible.

Kidney or renal failure can be deadly if not treated, usually through dialysis and medication.

Dental Issues

Dental issues can also cause metallic-smelling breath in severe cases.

In the introduction, we spoke a bit about “doggy breath.”

This unique and unpleasant smell is typically caused by Canine Periodontal Disease or the gum disease known as gingivitis.

Both are caused by the buildup of plaque—plaque that contains bacteria.

Over time, bacteria can cause damage to a dog’s gums and teeth, resulting in sore, painful gums and a sometimes fishy smell that we commonly refer to as “doggy breath.”

In severe cases of periodontal disease and gingivitis, the gums can become so irritated by the bacterial buildup that they begin to bleed.

When this happens, an iron-like or metallic smell upon your dog’s breath is likely.

Blood is infamous for its coppery, metallic aroma, and when bleeding occurs anywhere in the mouth it can easily be transferred to your pooch’s breath.

Regular dental care, including the frequent brushing of your pet’s teeth, dental chews and even tooth health-promoting droplets in your dog’s water, can help prevent gingivitis and dental disease.

Proper dental care is also recommended for the overall health of your dog, as teeth and gum infections can get into the bloodstream and cause a lot of damage to the body as a whole.

Internal Bleeding

Just like the metallic smell of bleeding gums can be transferred to your dog’s breath, so too can unresolved bleeding elsewhere in the body.

Internal bleeding is usually the result of accidental trauma, but it can also be a symptom of some medical conditions and diseases.

If your dog recently experienced trauma, perhaps from a fall, an accident in the car, or through a fight with another animal, and you begin smelling a metallic aroma on his breath, it is crucial that you get him to the vet immediately.

Internal bleeding can lead to severe health problems and even death if not caught and treated early.

Anal Gland Impaction

Last but certainly not least is the problem of anal gland impaction, the most common reason for a metallic-smelling dog.

All dogs have two kidney-shaped anal glands, also known as anal sacs.

These are located on either side of the anus.

These scent glands are activated every time a dog defecates, typically as a way for that dog to mark his or her territory.

In normal circumstances, these anal glands do not cause any unpleasant odors in our dogs, because they are emptied of their fluid every time that dog goes to the bathroom.

In rare cases, however, these glands can become impacted, causing them to noticeably protrude because of the fluid buildup, and emit a smell that only be described as a gross mixture of metal and fish.

Smaller dog breeds, including chihuahuas and Pomeranians, are more prone to anal gland impaction than are larger dogs.

Moreover, smaller dogs that are overweight for their size are even more prone to this occurrence.

Anal gland impaction will also present with some other uncomfortable symptoms to watch for, including a tendency to lick the rear end, a reluctance to sit down, and the presence of blood in your pet’s poop.

Anal gland impaction can be very painful for your dog.

The good news is the condition is very treatable, and one trip to the vet can help relieve your pet’s discomfort.

Your vet will typically resolve the impaction manually, and may prescribe some antibiotics if any infection has occurred.

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National Canine Research Association of America