Press "Enter" to skip to content

The science of dog smells

You know, I could happily have gone the rest of my life without knowing the words “putrescine” and “cadaverine” even existed — let alone that they are among my dogs’ smell preferences.

This article focuses on why wet dogs stink. But if that doesn’t turn your stomach sufficiently you can use it to read up on cadaverine food preferences. Still holding down your breakfast? You can go on to the part about why they enjoy butt sniffing. I haven’t nerved myself up for that bit yet. (UPDATE: The butt video is actually pretty amusing and informative.)

And still … we love them. And we live with them in our homes, cars, and even our beds and manage not to die of gross dog-borne illnesses.

(H/T jed)


  1. Joel
    Joel August 18, 2015 10:36 am

    I read somewhere that dog saliva contains the antibiotic from hell – and really needs to.

    Heh – “bacon is to people as butts are to dogs” – well, maybe. But I never met a dog that didn’t think bacon was pretty neat, too.

  2. KiA
    KiA August 18, 2015 2:48 pm

    i like how skunks smell. i’m not saying that just to be hip. i think they smell like coffee.

    i don’t like these bits where they proceed to explain some gross generalization that they assume with *facts*.
    all dog foods smell bad because chemists add rotting corpse molecules (paraphrased) because all dogs prefer putrid smell over a freshly cooked chicken? nonsense.

    i’ve wondered about the existence of “putrescine” and “cadaverine”. there was once a diseased animal on the path where i walk the dogs. they ignored it the first day or two. sniff; no interest. after a few days, ooh what is this pungent heaven! roll! roll! but simply saying they are attracted to the smell of death does not explain anything. i’m more interested in why they do it. predatory scent masking? war paint? trophy? social accessory? hmm.

  3. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal August 18, 2015 3:10 pm

    I like the smell of skunks, too. I like the smell of most animals. When I had a pet chicken, I loved to bury my face in the feathers on her back and smell the warm bird smell. I’m not as pleased with dog smell, wet or dry. But maybe because I haven’t ever really bonded with a dog. Also, the cow smell we get from the feedlots in this area is not an animal smell I enjoy. Too concentrated.

  4. Claire
    Claire August 18, 2015 6:12 pm

    How up-close-and-personal have you guys ever been with skunks, anyhow? I’m thinking of the aroma of a dog who got a blast in the face from bothering a skunk. That close. That personal.

  5. Joel
    Joel August 18, 2015 8:28 pm

    Um…I’ve been “strip naked and scrub in the yard or you’re never allowed indoors” up-close with a skunk. That was when I was 14, and to this day a whiff of skunk makes me want to move rapidly in the opposite direction.

    I do rather enjoy the scent of dog, though…

  6. LarryA
    LarryA August 18, 2015 10:30 pm

    Also, the cow smell we get from the feedlots in this area is not an animal smell I enjoy. Too concentrated.

    I used to get that one when I lived in Nebraska, and the wind was right. Locals said, “That’s the smell of money.”

    How up-close-and-personal have you guys ever been with skunks, anyhow?

    Back when I worked at a Boy Scout summer camp we had a pet skunk, Flower, who we thought was fixed. She fell off a chair one day, and it turned out her sprayers had opened back up. Office duty was unpleasant for the rest of the session.

  7. FishOrMan
    FishOrMan August 19, 2015 3:58 am

    As Daisy brought me a long dead salmon while on the river bank last night, I thought of this post. She snacked on it, carrying it around for most of the time we were there. I kicked part of it into the river hoping it would float away fast enough. Being a golden retriever, she retrieved it. She road in the back of the truck on the way home. I still couldn’t drive fast enough to stay ahead of that smell.

  8. Bill St. Clair
    Bill St. Clair August 19, 2015 4:41 am

    I like dilute skunk smell, too. Sweet-smelling. Haven’t ever experienced it up close, though. Probably overpowering.

    Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. And they use it to sniff poop. Proof that God has one hell of sense of humor.

  9. david
    david August 19, 2015 6:24 am

    I’ve been 4′ from skunks several times without being sprayed. I believe it’s because I talk to them softly. They’re nearsighted as all get-out – total Mr. Magoo nearsighted – and so they can be frightened easily. And that is a bad idea.

  10. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal August 19, 2015 1:35 pm

    I’ve never been right at ground zero of a skunk spray, although I have been fairly close. And I raised an orphaned skunk once- he never sprayed me. When really close, the odor stings my sinuses, but I still like the smell. Somehow the smell and sting are unrelated in my nose.

    As far as feedlot smell, the wind is always out of the right direction to smell either them or the giant dairies that smell almost the same. I am surrounded.

  11. Claire
    Claire August 19, 2015 3:01 pm

    Well, that’s pretty impressive.

    I’ve always liked the smell of gasoline and assorted industrial chemicals. I don’t mind wet dog in general. The odor of a horse’s stable, okay. But skunk? That’s braver than I.

Leave a Reply