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My Irish Setter Smells: 6 Reasons & What To Do Next

  • Vet Approved Content

Last Updated on May 18, 2023 by The Puppy Mag

If your Irish setter smells bad, it’s likely due to one of six reasons. These include yeast infections, overbathing, anal glands, skin or coat issues, ear infections, or bad breath.

This article explains each of these in detail and what you can do to fix your setter’s bad smell.

why does my irish setter smell

6 Reasons Why Your Irish Setter Smells

It’s important to start by saying It’s okay for dogs to smell like dogs… She definitely shouldn’t be smelling like vanilla and roses, but at the same time, her smell should not be at an offensive level.

If it’s already at the stage where you can smell your setter from across the room, or your hands smell really bad are stroking her, this suggests that one of the following reasons is at play.

1. Yeast Infections

Yeast infections are really common for dogs of all breeds. A yeast infection is essentially an overgrowth of bacteria caused by either allergies, dietary problems, general hygiene issues, or underlying health issues.

The paws, ears, bum, and underbelly are the culprit areas for yeast infections and can give off an incredibly strong and pungent smell.

There will always be a natural “corny” smell to the paws, but if your setter has a yeast infection it will be at a super strong level that you’ll instinctively know is wrong.

Yeast infections can cause further irritation so you may see her frequently scratching or have visible red patches in certain areas.

2. Incorrect Bathing Frequency

Overbathing will start to remove her natural oils, dry out her skin, and will cause her body to produce more oil than necessary to compensate… What you end up with is a greasy setter that quickly becomes smelly again. Which completely defeats the point of bathing!

On the flip side, if you don’t bathe her enough, she will naturally start to smell due to bacteria and dirt build-up.

The ideal amount to bathe your Irish setter is once every two to four months. With three months being the best frequency for most. This is enough to keep her clean without running the risk of causing issues for her skin and coat.

3. Inflammed or Impacted Anal Glands

There are two anal sacs located just inside the rectum, these sacs secret a natural oil that comes out when your setter poops, and it’s used as a territorial marker.

The issue with these sacs is that they can become either inflamed or impacted due to a number of reasons. When this happens, excess oil will secret out from your setter’s bum and has an awful smell. People compare this smell to rotting fish.

The classic sign of impacted anal glands is when your setter scoots their bum across the ground in order to itch it. You may also notice your setter to start paying more attention to her bum in general.

4. Skin & Coat Issues

General skin issues aside from yeast infections can all lead to additional unpleasant odors.

Skin infections, ringworm, mites, and dry skin can all cause further irritation, which may eventually lead to an unpleasant smell. The overall health of your setter’s skin can influence her smell significantly.

The same goes her coat. From walking through muddy puddles, swimming in dirty water, to rolling in unknown substances in the dog park… Having a mucky coat is a very common cause for additional bad odor.

5. Ear Infections

Irish setters, in particular, are prone to ear infections over many other breeds. Setters usually suffer from “Allergic inhalant dermatitis” Which essentially means they are very sensitive and likely to react to allergens like dust, pollen, mold, mites, fleas and more…

This, coupled with the fact that their long furry ears typically sit down, covering the entrance to the ear canal (increasing humidity) doesn’t help keep a clean environment inside the ear.

Ear infections can secret a puss or substance that has a very strong pungent odor and will certainly cause your setter to have a seriously bad smell that you might find hard to locate.

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6. Bad Breath & Oral Hygiene Issues

Lastly, the mouth. A dog’s mouth is a common source of foul odor.

Your setter’s breath certainly won’t smell nice, but at the same time, it shouldn’t smell completely disgusting and repulsive.

Bad breath can be caused by oral health issues such as gum disease or plaque build-up. But in most cases, it’s likely due to an internal issue…

Foul-smelling breath is a normal symptom of digestive issues which would most likely be caused by their diet.

Your setter may be eating a diet that doesn’t work well for her, or she may be consuming table scraps that are doing her no favors!

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Rule Out Health Issues First

The first thing to do is to rule out any serious health issues.

This will involve seeking veterinary help if any of the following apply:

  • Your has a visible yeast infection
  • Your setter is consistently scratching and you cannot locate the bad smell
  • If your setter is secreting from her anal glands (scooting bum along ground)
  • Your setter has an ear infection or suspected ear infection
  • Your setter has extremely bad breath (rule out gum disease)
  • You’ve already tried many ways to reduce smell but it’s still there
  • You cannot locate the bad smell

As smell can be caused by many health issues, some of which are internal issues, it’s important to consult your veterinarian if any of the above apply to you.

How To Stop Your Irish Setter From Smelling Bad

Assuming your Irish setter is in good health and doesn’t have any issues outlined just above, then the following tips will help to keep your setter smelling as she should.

1. Frequent Brushing

Having a frequent brushing routine isn’t just for keeping the hair off your floors, it’s for maintaining healthy skin and a clean coat.

Start brushing your setter for 10-20 minutes at least every 2 days. I recommend using an undercoat rake for the first 10 minutes, followed by a slicker brush for the remaining 10 minutes.

This little routine has served me and everyone I have spoken to well for many years. Not only will it help with shedding but it will help remove leftover debris or mucky substances as well as spread her natural oils throughout the coat.

2. Keep The Paws Clean

Regularly washing her paws is an excellent thing to do even when she doesn’t smell bad.

Her paws will tread through a range of nasty substances while out on your daily walk, and the chances are, they are never cleaned until the moment she receives a full bath.

Start washing her paws down with lukewarm water at least every two days. Avoid using shampoo all of the time as this will eventually dry out her skin, causing further issues.

Washing her paws should also prevent her from developing yeast infections. Just be sure to sufficiently dry them after each wash.

3. Brush Your Setter’s Teeth

Something that many owners forget to do, or aren’t even aware that they should do, is brushing their setter’s teeth.

Ideally, brushing should be done on a daily basis. But for many, this is an unrealistic addition to their current routine, which I can understand.

Even if you can’t brush your setter’s teeth every day, 3-5 times per week is still far better than nothing.

This will keep on top of your setter’s oral hygiene, reduce plaque build-up, and will at least give your setter better-smelling breath for the time being.

Not to mention gum disease is one of the lead causes of canine death to date, yet with a proper oral hygiene routine, can mostly be prevented.

4. Use Baby Wipes & Coconut Oil

Even though bathing should be kept to once every three months, it doesn’t mean you can’t use baby wipes or dog grooming wipes in the meantime.

If you don’t have dog grooming wipes, baby wipes work just fine. By giving your setter a complete coat wipedown you will remove excess muck and dirt, and at the same time keep her coat nice and shiny.

This will leave a lasting pleasant odor, and won’t run the risk of drying out her skin as bathing does.

To improve this routine, you can apply a few drops of raw coconut oil to the baby wipe before starting. Coconut oil not only smells good, but will provide essential hydration and beneficial vitamins and minerals to her coat and skin.

5. Ensure Her Kibble Is Appropriate

Switching kibbles might be a necessary move to make if you or your veterinarian suspect it’s her diet that’s causing the smell.

If you notice additional indications of her not getting on well with her kibble, like food refusal, diarrhea, vomiting, or flatulence it’s probably a good idea to switch.

Always opt for a premium brand that prioritizes using fresh whole ingredients. Kibble that has a higher ratio of protein and fat compared to carbohydrates is also essential for the best digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Grain-free kibbles. have some controversy surrounding them, but they are known to be far easier on the stomach and cause fewer digestive issues than non-grain-free kibbles.

For extra help on switching diets, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian first.

6. Provide Sufficient Exercise

Irish setters need their fair share of exercise, ideally 1-2 hours per day.

Exercise is one of those vital things that are necessary for all-around health.

Exercise alone may not be the fix to any existing bad smell, but it can certainly act as a preventative measure in the future.

Keep your setter active and happy, and the chances of health issues will be as low as they can be.

Thank you for reading!


Before making any decisions that could affect the health and/or safety of your dog, you should always consult a trained veterinarian in your local area. Even though this content may have been written/reviewed by a trained veterinarian, our advice to you is to always consult your own local veterinarian in person. For the FULL disclaimer Visit Here

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