April16 , 2024

    Scent and Sensibility: Understanding a Dog’s Sense of Smell


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    Dogs are universally celebrated for their powerful sense of smell. Their olfactory prowess is a fundamental part of their lives, often guiding their actions, choices, and even emotions. But what happens when this crucial sense gets compromised? In this exploration, we will discuss some questions like “what kills a dog’s sense of smell” or “can a dog be born without a sense of smell?” that many pet owners may find themselves asking.

    Understanding the Canine Nose 

    Indeed, a dog’s sense of smell is remarkably potent – exponentially more potent than ours. But this also prompts an important question: “Does my dog have a bad sense of smell?” The answer can be intricate. Dogs have a unique olfactory constitution, designed to process and detect a wide range of scents. However, a dog’s sense of smell can vary depending on its breed, age, health status, and environment. In other words, if your dog isn’t showing the usual interest in scents or isn’t responding to familiar smells, it might be worth investigating further.

    What Can Impair a Dog’s Sense of Smell? 

    Several factors can impair a dog’s sense of smell. Here are some examples:

    1. Respiratory infections: Infections such as sinusitis, rhinitis, upper respiratory tract infections and other diseases that affect the dog’s respiratory system can interfere with the ability to smell. Clinical signs may include frequent sneezing, runny nose, difficulty breathing through the nose, and listlessness. To prevent it, it is important to keep the environment clean, free of irritating substances and infectious agents, in addition to ensuring adequate vaccination of the animal against respiratory diseases.
    2. Trauma:  to the muzzle or head can affect the organs responsible for the smell. Clinical signs may include nosebleeds, swelling in the muzzle, pain when touching or manipulating the affected area, and behavioral changes. Preventing trauma involves avoiding risky situations, such as falls, being run over or fighting with other animals, and providing a safe environment for the dog.
    3. Aging: With aging, there is a natural decrease in dogs’ sensory abilities, including smell. Clinical signs may include difficulty tracking odors, less interest in food or aromatic objects, and a tendency to move closer to odors to detect them. Unfortunately, it is not possible to prevent aging per se, but a balanced diet, regular exercise and mental stimulation can help maintain your dog’s overall health.
    4. Systemic diseases: Some diseases that affect the dog’s body can impair the sense of smell. Clinical signs vary according to the underlying disease, but may include loss of appetite, lethargy, behavioral changes and symptoms specific to the disease in question. Preventing systemic illnesses involves providing a healthy diet, routine checkups with a veterinarian, and treating any medical conditions identified early.
    5. Exposure to toxic substances: Contact with toxic substances can damage the airways and olfactory cells of dogs. Clinical signs may include nasal irritation, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures, depending on the substance involved. To prevent this, it’s important to keep household chemicals, pesticides and toxic plants out of the reach of dogs, as well as supervise their access to potentially dangerous outdoor areas.

    These are all factors that can answer the nagging question, “What kills a dog’s sense of smell?” Keeping an eye on your dog’s behavior and health can help you spot any sudden changes in his olfactory responses. It is important to remember that if there is a sudden or drastic decrease in your dog’s olfactory capacity, it is essential to take him to the veterinarian for a proper evaluation. The veterinarian will be able to perform tests and identify the cause of the problem, in addition to indicating the appropriate treatment, if necessary.

    Testing Your Dog’s Sense of Smell 

    You may wonder, “How to test a dog’s sense of smell?” It’s simpler than you might think. You can start by hiding a favorite toy or treat and observe how your dog uses its sense of smell to find it. If your dog struggles to locate the object or appears disinterested, it might suggest a decrease in its olfactory capacity.

    The Covid-19 Factor 

    The ongoing global pandemic has raised a new question for dog owners: “Can dogs lose their sense of smell because of Covid?” No, dogs don’t lose their sense of smell because they don’t contract the disease! Dogs can be affected by coronaviruses, but the variety that affects them is known as canine coronavirus (CCoV). CCoV primarily affects the gastrointestinal system in dogs and can cause mild to moderate diarrhea. It is important to note that CCoV is not the same virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

    So far, there is no evidence that dogs can be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and develop COVID-19 disease in the same way as humans.

    Born Without a Sense of Smell 

    Lastly, could a dog come into this world without that famed canine sense of smell? The answer to the question “Can a dog be born without a sense of smell?” is yes, albeit it’s an extremely rare occurrence. In these cases, the condition is often linked to a particular genetic disorder or congenital defect.

    Just like our understanding of a dog’s sense of taste (you can learn more about it here) and dog’s taste buds, understanding their sense of smell requires patience, observation, and knowledge.


    Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, one that plays a key role in their interactions with the world. However, it’s vital to remember that this sense can be affected by various factors. By staying vigilant to changes in your dog’s behavior and responses to scents, you can ensure they maintain a happy, healthy, and sniff-friendly life.