Why Does My Dog Smell Like Vinegar?

why dogs smell like vinegar

Dog smells range from powder puff to plain old pong. A measure of odour is tolerated by most dog owners but some smells are beyond the pale. A dog that persistently smells of vinegar is distressing.

The smell of vinegar on a dog is also sometimes described as a smell like ammonia. There could be several reasons for this. On the surface, these range from mischief, in the form of rolling in urine or something equally vile, to a loss of bladder control.

Internally, dehydration or your dog’s diet might be the reason for them smelling like vinegar. If the vinegar smell can be detected on your dog’s breath, this might point to a more serious cause, requiring veterinary attention.

Where does your dog smell like vinegar?

Most often, when a dog smells like vinegar, the source of the problem is related to its urine. Urine comprises water, sugars, salts, urea and ammonia. When the urine has dried or has less than the optimum amount of water in it, it will smell like the latter ammonia, often confused with vinegar.

If the smell permeates one or more rooms in the house, your dog may be choosing to ‘ablute’ indoors, rather than outdoors. For example, our French Bulldog needs more than gentle persuasion to go outside when it is raining.

dog ears smell like vinegar
He might be smelly, but you can’t help but love him.

When the dog’s bedding smells, the dog may be having ‘accidents’ at night. Or an insecure dog may be marking its territory.

If the dog’s fur is the culprit, this may be due to:

  • The dog having rolled in something.
  • Poor bladder control.
  • Urinary tract infection.
  • A build-up of urine on long fur.
  • A skin infection.

When your dog’s breath smells like vinegar or ammonia, the problem could point to a poorly digested diet, kidney problems or diabetes.

Why dogs smell like vinegar

Here’s a list of reasons why your dog could smell like vinegar, whether it’s the body, urine, or even their ears smelling like vinegar.

1. Rolling in something

Dogs do not have the same delicate sense of smell that we humans have. They will look for opportunities to cover themselves in alternative odours. They are adept at finding the smallest trace of a foul fragrance and rolling in it.

Watch them closely on your walks. When you see that characteristic ‘head down to one side, getting ready to roll’ stance, yell at them to stop. This will save you time, effort and copious amounts of pet shampoo.

It is not enough to wash the dog only. Chances are a good roll has resulted in its collar, harness and any other outfit it was wearing at the time, being impregnated with an unwholesome and smelly substance.

2. Urinating

There are a number of reasons that a dog may consistently smell of vinegar from its own urine. If a dog’s fur is long, especially around its hindquarters, urine will inevitably amass there and have a stronger smell of vinegar or ammonia when it dries.

Trim this area frequently, to prevent this problem.

Older female dogs may not have the strength in their back legs to squat, meaning that they get soaked each time they pee.

A few wipes with a wet wipe will help to freshen them up. Similarly, wet wipes would come in handy for dogs who urinate a little when they are excited, submissive or frightened.

A change in hormones , for example, at puberty or when a female is in oestrus, could cause a change in the general smell of the dog. Extreme stress also produces hormones that will change the way a dog smells, whether that’s vinegar or more ammonia-like.

If an aged dog has become incontinent, you might consider using a doggy diaper, especially at night when the dog is not conscious of its bladder functions. Older dogs also have decreased kidney function which may exacerbate the problem.

A diaper could also be used on a dog that has a leaky bladder, resulting in constant urination. This may be caused by a urinary tract infection and necessitates a visit to the vet.

3. Diet and hydration

A variety of substances in the diet have a direct impact on the vinegar smell a dog generates. Many dogs have cleared a room after they’ve eaten too many treats, given by the family, or scavenged on their own.

Vitamins, medicines and herbal supplements to their diet will generate distinctive odours. A high protein diet could cause the dog to eliminate ketones which contain acetone, the substance that removes nail varnish!

If your dog is not drinking enough water, this would cause its urine to contain concentrations of urea and a smell like vinegar. Assuming your dog has no health problems, here are a few ways to encourage it to drink more water.

  • Always have water available for the dog.
  • Place the bowl where it is accessible day and night.
  • Change the water frequently. Keep it fresh and clean.
  • Be alert to any reaction the dog has to the bowl or its position.
  • In warm weather, add ice. Do not let the water heat up, e.g. in a metal bowl, in the sun.
  • Reward puppies when they drink, in order to establish good hydration habits.
  • Always make sure the dog has access to water during and after strenuous exercise.

If your dog stops drinking water for any other reasons, consult your vet.

4. Internal problems

Dogs do not perspire. Their primary means of eliminating liquid waste are through panting and urinating.  If your pet’s urine and breath smell persistently of vinegar, this could have a more serious underlying cause.

Kidney disease and bladder infections will cause a build-up of acidic concentrates in the urine and saliva. Both of these conditions require a visit to the vet if the dog displays other symptoms, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, a change in its drinking habits, vomiting or diarrhoea.

Older dogs, much like humans, are prone to the more serious ailments such as kidney disease. This would affect larger dogs at an earlier age than the small breeds.

If a dog’s breath smells sweet, this could be the result of diabetes or insulin resistance. Either way, the body is breaking down fat for energy and not utilising the glucose which is more readily available. This is then retained in fluid in the body or eliminated as saliva or urine.

Once again, a call to the vet is needed.

5. Skin infections

Dark, warm, humid conditions are ideal for the growth of fungi and bacteria. Dogs with folds in their skin or long fur might fall foul of an infestation.

Long-haired dogs need to be groomed regularly to prevent their fur from matting. All manner of lurgy can be found in the fur of a dog, especially if there is ample place for microorganisms to colonise.

Pugs, bulldogs, mastiffs and Shar-peis are bred to have wrinkles in their skin. This much-prized feature creates the kind of environment that mites, bacteria and even fungi thrive in at all times of the year.

These breeds of dogs need to be bathed and have their folds checked regularly so that these parasites do not get a foothold. This will cause skin irritation which will be extremely uncomfortable for the dog, and could cause a smell akin to ammonia.

Several of the pure-bred hound dogs, such as Bassets and bloodhounds have excess skin around their mouths. Saliva adds to the concentration of humidity and results in similar conditions to those described above.


Throughout their lives, dogs will smell of all sorts of weird and wonderful things. That can range from smelling like iron, to even worse… rotten eggs.

If you are at all concerned about how your dog smells, whether it’s like vinegar or anything else unusual, please do ask a vet for professional advice.

You might also like…

Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

Recent Posts