By Rachele Baker, DVM – Question: Tom writes: My two-year-old French Mastiff loves to ride in our car so he goes for a ride at least once a day. My question is: Why does he smell so bad when he gets home? I’m sorry – he doesn’t smell bad – he stinks! It’s not anything in the car because he also rides with me in my truck. It lasts about fifteen minutes or so. Is it because he gets so excited and, if so, how does that happen? Thank you for your time.
Answer: Hi Tom. Since I am not able to perform a physical examination on your dog, I do not have the ability to diagnose exactly what is occurring in this case. However I can suggest some things that may be occurring and give you some ideas about things that you can pursue to try to alleviate this problem.
I am assuming from what you wrote that your dog only smells bad after a ride in the car and not after a ride in your truck. It sounds like he gets more excited when he rides in the car than when he rides in the truck. I will discuss some things that could be causing him to smell bad after he rides in your car. First of all, however, let’s try to figure out the differences between riding in your car and riding in your truck and why he could be more excited when he rides in your car than when he rides in your truck.
Does your dog sit in a different location in your car than in your truck? If so, try finding a comparable place for him to sit in your car. Where do you take him when he goes in your car as opposed to where you take him in your truck? Do you use your car to take your dog to your veterinarian or somewhere else that really excites him such as a dog park? If so, try using your car to take your dog places that you usually take him in your truck so that he can associate car rides with destinations that do not cause him as much excitement or anxiety. Does your dog have a special blanket or bed in your truck but not in your car? If so, try moving those items to the car when he goes for a ride in the car. Do you travel with him alone in your truck but with others when you take him in the car? If this is the case, try taking him for rides in the car with no one in the car except you.
Think about the differences between riding in your truck compared to riding in your car. You may discover things that could be making your dog feel more excited or anxious when he is riding in your car than when he is when riding in your truck. Then you may be able to make some changes to help him feel more calm and comfortable in your car.
I suspect that what could be making your dog smell really bad after he gets excited during car rides is that he may be expressing fluid from his anal glands. The anal glands are scent glands located beneath the skin adjacent to the anus with small ducts opening at the four o’clock and eight o’clock positions. The fluid in these glands is expressed when the dog defecates as stools press against the anal glands as they pass. The anal gland fluid expressed during defecation deposits each dog’s unique scent on their stool which serves both to mark their territory and as a form of identification. That is why dogs smell each other’s hind end - so they can become familiar with each other’s unique scent. Extreme nervousness or anxiety can also cause dogs to involuntarily express their anal glands and this produces a terrible odor. If your dog is expressing his anal glands due to the excitement of a car ride, you can get rid of the odor by cleaning his hind end with baby wipes.
Another possibility for your dog’s bad odor after car rides is that your dog may have bad breath. Excessive panting due to nervousness during car rides could release a lot of bad breath in a short period of time. Since he is only two years old, I do not suspect that he has heavy tartar on his teeth at this time. However, he could have enough tartar accumulation on his teeth to cause him to have bad breath. Lift up one of his lips and check all of his teeth including his molars. If his teeth have significant tartar (brown or tan deposits on the teeth), then this could be causing him to have bad breath. If he has a lot of tartar, I would recommend that you take him to your veterinarian for a professional dental cleaning. The photo on the left below shows clean, healthy dog teeth while the photo on the right below shows dog teeth with heavy tartar accumulation and dental disease.
There are some natural products (that are not drugs) that you can try to see if they help your dog feel less excited and anxious during car rides. None of these products work in all cases but many people report good results using one or more of these products. You may find that one of these products works really well for your dog so I will recommend several products that you can try.
One product is called Adaptil (made by Ceva). It contains Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) which is a synthetic version of the pheromones produced by mother dogs to calm and reassure their puppies. Pheromones are naturally produced chemical substances released by animals that affect other members of the same species. Dog Appeasing Pheromones help to calm and relax both puppies and adult dogs. Adaptil comes in collar, spray, and plug-in diffuser forms. You could spray the car prior to travel and/or use the collar on your dog. The collar lasts for thirty days.
Another product that you could try is called Anxitane (made by Virbac Animal Health). It is a naturally occurring amino acid (L-Theanine) which helps to calm and relax both dogs and cats.
Composure (made by Vetri-Science Laboratories) also contains the amino acid L-Theanine as well as colostrum calming complex and thiamine. Veterinarians discussing this product on the Veterinary Information Network online forum reported that this product worked for about fifty percent of their clients. It worked very well in some dogs and not in others.
I hope that you are able to use the information that I have presented here to determine the cause of the bad odor in your dog after he rides in the car and I hope that one or more of my suggestions will help to alleviate this problem.