Smelly Shih Tzu?

My Shih Tzu has a very bad odor. We can give her a bath and with in less than 24 hours the smell is back. We groom her ourselves and right now I cannot afford a vet. Can you please give us some advice on what to do for the smell? She is starting to make the whole house smell badly. What can we do to help, please? Tracie

Dear Tracie,
First, open her mouth and check her teeth, way in the very back of her mouth. Are they stained brown and black, maybe even gray? If so, she has tartar buildup and probably gingivitis. This will require a trip to the vet to have her anesthetized, so she can have her teeth cleaned and scraped up under the gum line. Brushing your dog’s teeth at home in between cleanings will help somewhat, but it will not eliminate the need for yearly dentals. This usually starts happening at about three to four years of age. You might also notice that above her molars the gums are bright red or bleed easily when touched. This is also a sign of gum disease. Many Shih Tzu lose their teeth very early due to shallow root systems. These are usually the front teeth and they will be loose and wiggle and may rot out if not removed. Regular dental care is extremely important.

Next, check her ears. Lift ear one and note her reaction, does she flinch? Is the inside of the ear a soft, light pink? Or, it is red and swollen? If you see any debris, black, yellow, or brown, those are signs of an ear infection. You can buy ear cleaners over the counter at the pet store, but if she has an infection, cleaning is only the first step. Antibiotic ointments or drops that go directly into the ear are what is needed and are obtainable only from a vet. Sometimes an ear smear on a slide is required to indentify the type of yeast or bacteria that is living in the ear, so that it can be effectively treated.

If you are grooming her at home, part her hair and check her skin. Is it pale pink and not scabby, scaly, or red? Do you bathe her every other week and blow her dry? If she has mats, she will never properly dry underneath and is likely to get “hot spots” or moist dermatitis. If that is the case, shave her all over and bathe her with a good antibacterial shampoo, let sit at least 10 minutes, and rinse and repeat. Many skin infections need medical treatment from a vet. Also, if you do not keep the hair under the eyes trimmed short and shampooed twice on each bath, her face can become very stinky. Some owners use a wet wash cloth to wipe the area under the eyes every single day to keep it fresh. Use your nose to go over her and isolate the smell area. It might give you a clue as to where it is coming from.

Lastly, part of a groomer’s job it to express the anal glands. I will not go into detail here, there are many web sites and books that cover how to do that, but I will say doing it in the bathtub and immediately before the bath and then shampooing her behind will help a lot. Rinse thoroughly.

I know things are very lean for all of us right now, but in owning a pet, especially a high maintenance one such as a Shih Tzu, you have made that dog a promise to care for her for life. That includes taking care of medical costs. Sometimes, if you shop around, you can find vets in rural areas, or less affluent areas who charge less. Call around and ask how much an office call is and base your choice on that. In my area our vet charges $55 to walk in the door, but that is still far less than our human doctor charges at $175 a visit. Many of the things discussed above would automatically be checked by a good groomer for a $45 grooming. They cannot treat them of course, but they can tell you what might be the problem and save you some money. Groomers do express anal glands on every visit, clean ears, and cut nails, so unless you are doing all of that at home you truly are missing out on some of the services provided for that $45.

I am sure whatever is producing the smell is causing your dog a great deal of discomfort, so be sure to follow up on this quickly. I wish you the best of luck!

Tammarie Larson

CREDIT: Reprinted from the First Quarter 2011 Shih Tzu Bulletin