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Why Dog Food Smells Bad (Stinky Pet Food Explained)

Key Takeaways

  • Bad-smelling dog food happens mainly because the quality of the ingredients themselves are poor.
  • In order to mask the bad smell, most manufacturers add chemical products into the mix to overpower the bad smell resulting to a funky mix of unappealing odor.
  • If your dog’s food smells bad more than usual, then chances are it has spoiled and needs to be replaced.

The strong smell of dog food can be off-putting for the average human, but is this scent perfectly normal? Not really. The ingredients used being of poor quality is mainly the reason why dog food smells. As a way to minimize the bad smell, some manufacturers choose to add flavors and masking agents to the food, but in reality, this only makes the scent even more powerful.

In this article, I will walk you through the factors that affect the odor of commercial dog food, how food quality affects your dog, and how to tell if a dog food is spoiled.

Dog Food Recipes

One thing I noticed is that the smell of dry kibble is stronger than wet dog food from most dog food brands. I do know that scientists and nutritionists come together to create attractive recipes for your dog—especially in the cases of the best fresh dog food brands today. Since dogs are mainly led by their nose, many manufacturers use smell as a way to make their products appealing to pets. But I often wonder—if the dog food’s scent is bad for me, does it also smell wrong for my dog?

Oddly enough, the dog food smell is specifically designed to appeal to the pooch so dogs definitely have a strong reaction to it. While the smell can help indicate appeal though, I always pay closer attention to the ingredients. The goal is to make sure that my pups are eating nutritionally balanced meals regardless of the actual smell of the food.

Sources Of Strong ODOR in Dog Food

A typical commercial dry dog food or kibble can have upwards of 30 ingredients. Many of these ingredients have scientific names most pet parents probably have not heard of before. When it comes to adding odor to pet foods, these two are the most commonly used:

  • Animal by-products
  • Palatants

The use of animal by-products and palatants is a way of increasing the smell of pet food which dogs actually enjoy but may seem gross to humans. 

Adding Animal By-Products

Animal liver. | The Pampered Pup

Dogs can easily tolerate different animal by-products that humans typically struggle to consume. This includes chicken necks, spleens, and other sources of protein which are absent in our own food. Fortunately, these ingredients are all popular for commercial pet food brands. These animal by-products are usually the main cause of strong smells in dog food. Since they’re not something I normally consume, I find the scent off-putting, but that doesn’t always mean it’s a bad thing.

What are Palatants?

The term palatants seem incredibly new to many dog owners. Palatants are basically chemicals added to a dog’s food to increase its smell. Most manufacturers believe that stronger pet food smells are more attractive to dogs, but they can repulse our sense of smell as humans. Just keep in mind though that dogs have a more powerful sense of smell than us. They could be smelling something appealing that kibble that we don’t.

Palatants are artificially manufactured using liquids or powders by nutritionists. Since dogs have less sensitive tongues, it’s likely that they don’t taste the palatants but definitely love the smell it gives off.

Is My Dog’s Food Off?

While I often think that a regular dog food smells terrible, the smell typically do not put off my dogs from eating. I even notice sometimes that smellier food is more appealing to my fur-kids! If my dog starts to turn her nose up at her favorite kibble, however, then I know that something is definitely wrong. One time this happened, I realized that the kibble has gone bad.

Spoiled pet food can happen for many reasons, like:

Dog beside food. | The Pampered Pup
  • Exposure to the air
  • Excessive moisture
  • High temperatures

I learned my lessons quickly by storing my dog’s food in an air-tight container to limit the problems caused by the surrounding environment. Dry kibble left exposed to the open air will absorb and grow harmful bacteria. It’s even worse in moist environments which lead to mold growing on the kibble leading to excessive smells. The high temperatures in the home can also lead to rancid kibble. Moreover, since a dog’s sense of smell is stronger than ours, keeping the kibble air tight also helps prevent him from tracking the food.

Tips for Avoiding Spoiled Food

Avoiding spoiled food is easy by storing your dog’s dry food in a sealed container. Making sure to empty the kibble from the container before adding more avoids expired food from stockpiling in the bottom. Checking the expiration dates on the bags of food should be routine to avoid spoiled food. Any signs of moisture, mold and bug infestations should be a reason to dispose the food. I know some pet owners who make sure their dog’s meal are aways fresh by using some of the best dog food delivery service companies today—which is a smart and convenient idea especially for busy people.

Does Your Dog Smell?

Food is the major contributor to a dog’s overall health and wellness. An unhealthy diet of low-quality food will leave a dog in poor health, and one of the most common signs of this is if a dog itself smells bad, has bad breath, as well as dry skin. Like humans, dogs also reflect the quality of the food they eat in the condition of their skin and teeth. If my dog usually smells good but suddenly has a strong odor, it usually tells me that there’s a change in the quality of his food.

A good option for keeping a dog’s odor down is to check the level of carbohydrates in the diet. Dogs do not need too much carbohydrates to survive and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. If the dog has a strong smell their diet could be too rich in carbohydrates. 

If the reason for your pup’s bad smell is the food, I find that simple bathing won’t wash it off. Switching to a different dog food provider will usually solve the stinky dog problem.


1. Should dog food smell bad?

Dog food doesn’t smell appealing to humans but a bad smell could be a sign of problems. A dog’s nose is stronger than ours and is heavily used to find food so it makes sense for the food to be heavily fragrant.

2. How can I make my dog’s food smell good?

Buying high-quality fresh dog foods will limit the strong smells. It also helps to get some canine education and make homemade pet food recipes from time to time.

3. Can dogs smell spoiled food?

Yes, my dog will most definitely not eat spoiled dog food because he knows it by smelling. However, some dogs simply do not have that self-preservation and will therefore eat anything even if the food smells bad. This is why we have to be watchful of our dogs’ behavior and overall health.

4. Can dry dog food go bad?

Yes. Moisture and exposure to air can lead to spoiled wet food and dry foods. This can be prevented if owners store dog food properly.

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