Do dogs or cats smell worse?

If you are a dog owner, you’ve certainly encountered the pungent odor of “wet dog” at some point. Some dogs smell nice, only occasionally putting off a noxious odor. Others seem doomed to smell like they need a bath constantly. 

How about cats? Do cats smell bad? Is it possible for a cat to stink like dogs can? If you’ve ever watched the TV show Friends, you may remember Phoebe’s epic ode to smelly cat. 

Dogs certainly have a reputation for being the stinkier animal, but this isn’t always true. 

Do dogs or cats smell worse?

The short and sweet answer is that dogs typically smell worse than cats. However, this isn’t always the case. Just like humans, some pets will naturally smell worse than others. 

It’s certainly possible, although rare, to have a fresh smelling dog and a stinky cat. 

Body Odor 

When it comes to body odor, the average dog takes the win. Dogs have several causes of odor that cats don’t have to cope with, so they typically smell worse. 

However, if you’ve ever met a smelly cat, their stink can be particularly pungent. 

Pee 

Cats certainly get the win here. Cat pee is notorious for smelling like, you guessed it, cat pee. Cat pee can provide a nasal assault that dog urine can’t compare to. 

Have you ever wondered what makes cat urine so stinky? That’s because it’s more concentrated than dog pee.

You may have noticed this yourself. Human pee shouldn’t have a strong odor. However, if you become dehydrated, you’ll notice your pee takes on a strong odor. This is because there’s less water in your system to dilute the stinky components of your urine. 

Cats have concentrated pee because they evolved as desert animals with limited access to water. Both cats and humans have a section of kidney known as the Henlee. This is what filters and concentrates urine. 

A cat’s is much longer than ours, which allows it to remove excess water from the urine. This water is then absorbed back into the body. It may sound gross, but this means a cat doesn’t need as much water to remain healthy. 

In addition to drinking less, cats also pee less. When you consider the input and output of your dog vs. your cat, this makes perfect sense. Can you imagine scooping a litter box after your dog peed in it? 

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There’s one more culprit that adds to the foul odor, however. If you have an intact male cat, they also pee testosterone. This makes their urine 10 times smellier than it would be otherwise. 

Anal Glands 

Anal gland expression is important for both dogs and cats. They use it to communicate many things, including sexual status and health. This is why both pets sniff butts and even poop. 

However, if they have recently expressed their anal glands, they can be very raunchy. The smell ranges from rotten eggs in dogs to a foul fishy odor in cats. 

It’s difficult to say who won this round. Given the pungent odor, this one might be a tie.  

When Stink is a Problem 

Dogs and cats have natural smells, and they aren’t always pleasant. However, a foul odor can also be a sign of a problem. There are many health conditions that can cause your cat and dog to stink. 

For now, let’s focus on when the smell might indicate a health problem, instead of just an inconvenience to your nasal passages. 

The first thing to look for is a significant change in smell. If your cat or dog normally smells fine, and suddenly becomes offensively odorous, there’s likely an underlying cause. Assuming they haven’t rolled in something dead recently, a checkup is a good idea.

You should also look out for changes in the smell of your pet’s urine and breath. A fruity smell can indicate diabetes, and a stronger than normal urine odor can be a sign of kidney disease. 

If your dog’s ears are stinky, they probably have an ear infection. Ear infections are common in dogs. They are relatively rare in cats. However, if your cat’s ears smell foul, you should get it checked out quickly. 

Lastly, be on the lookout for new smells coming from their  butt or genitals. A chronically stinky butt can indicate impacted anal glands. A smell coming from your furry friend’s sexual organs can indicate an infection in the area. 

Why do dogs smell worse than cats?

Most dogs do smell worse than cats, but why? What makes a dog smell like a dog, while a cat has little smell at all? 

Packs Rely on Scents 

Both dogs and cats can live in social groups, but cats don’t form close packs in the same way that dogs do. Dogs also have a much stronger sense of smell than cats. Dogs have evolved to put off certain odors as a way of communicating with other dogs. 

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Each dog has its own signature smell. Another dog will recognize the smell instantly. This includes the dog itself, its pee, and its poop piles. Yes, when your dog is smelling a poop package, it can tell them their friend recently passed through the area. 

It goes beyond just identifying each other through smell. A dog can learn another dog’s age, sexual status, health, and even what their last meal was, through smell alone. 

Because smell is so important to them, it doesn’t make sense for them to be odor free. Your dog will naturally want and even need to smell like a dog, particularly when near other dogs. 

Scent is a Liability for Cats 

Cats also rely on scent to an extent. They use their urine for marking their territory and signaling sexual status. However, the odor of the cat itself doesn’t have the importance it does for dogs. 

In fact, cats smelling strongly can actually put them in danger. Both dogs and cats are predators. However, cats are also prey. Dogs have few natural predators. Cats are constantly on the lookout for danger, because they do have plenty of natural predators. 

Predators, including dogs, rely heavily on their sense of smell to find prey. If a cat smells strongly, it can attract predators.

This is one reason why cats are so fastidious about grooming. It’s also why they will often bury their poop. They want to smell invisible, as far as predators are concerned. 

Body Odor 

Neither dogs nor cats have sweat glands in their coat. They both have glands in their paws and noses which help keep them cool. This means your dog won’t have the same type of body odor that humans do. 

They do presprite slightly from their hair follicles. This perspiration is what’s responsible for their smell, which helps other dogs identify them. It contributes to the dog smell that can offend our noses. 

Both dogs and cats have sebum glands at their hair follicles. This coats their skin, and helps keep their skin and coat moisturized. We also have these glands in our skin. That’s why your hair and body can become oily. 

Cats produce small amounts of sebum. Dogs, on the other hand produce more sebum. However, the main issue as that the chemical make up of dog and cat sebum is very different. Unfortunately, our noses are much better at detecting dog sebum than that of cats,  which makes them stinkier to us. 

Are cats cleaner than dogs?

Yes, cats are cleaner than dogs. This is another reason cats smell better than dogs. They are more fastidious groomers, which helps keep them from smelling. 

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The Role of Scent

As mentioned earlier, scent is a liability for cats and a necessity for dogs. It wouldn’t make sense for a dog to groom in the same way cats do. It would remove their natural scent, which they need to communicate with other dogs. 

Cats, on the other hand, keep themselves as scent free as possible to avoid attracting predators. Regular grooming is the best way to keep themselves from being a smelly predator beacon. 

Tongues Tell the Tale

Both dogs and cats use their tongues for grooming. However, they are designed differently. A dog’s tongue is relatively smooth, while a cat’s tongue feels like sandpaper. 

A cat’s tongue acts similar to a brush. It removes dead hair, dirt, and oil from their coat. A dog’s tongue also performs these tasks, but it’s not as effective. 

Imagine doing your dishes with a standard dish rag. It’s soft and has little texture. When you need to remove stuck on food, you grab a scrub pad instead. It does a much better job at removing the food than a simple dish rag. 

Dog and cat tongues function in the same way. A dog’s tongue will remove some dirt and oil, and can reduce their odor. A cat’s tongue, however, scours the fur removing nearly everything. This is why dogs require bathing much more frequently than cats. 

Cooling Off

Cats don’t only lick themselves as part of grooming. They also do it to keep cool. A dog’s tongue helps keep them cool. When they get hot, panting evaporates water in their mouth and throat. Panting also circulates air, which helps to cool them down. 

In simple terms, a dog uses their tongue to cool down the same way we sweat to cool down. 

Cats don’t produce significant sweat, and they don’t pant the same way a dog does. How do they cool down? They lick their fur. This moistens their coat, which serves the same purpose as sweat moistening our skin. As the water evaporates, we cool down. 

Because cats cool themselves this way, they spend more time licking themselves than dogs, particularly in hot weather. This helps keep them clean and stink free.