Why Does Dog Food Smell So Bad? The Truth Revealed

  • By: Andrew
  • Time to read: 6 min.

An age-old question that has riddled the minds of thousands of dog owners is what exactly is in dog food. This question stems from the fact that dog food smells incredibly bad. What exactly contributes to the horrible smell of dog food?

Dog food smells bad because it contains animal by-products and palatants. Animal by-products contribute to the genuine smell of raw or cooked meat, while palatants are chemically created to smell appetizing to the dogs, contributing to the potent smell.

If you are a dog owner, then the health of your dog is important to you. For this reason, the bad smell of dog food may be alarming. This article will explain why dog food smells bad, if the products the bad smell is coming from is safe for your dogs, and how to tell if your dog food has gone bad.

Why Your Dog Kibble Smells Bad

You know the smell if you’ve ever opened a newly bought bag of kibble or have opened a can of wet dog food. The odor is hard to forget – it’s a very potent, off-putting smell. So what exactly contributes to the smell?

Dog Food Contains Animal By-Products

One reason dog food smells so bad is that it contains animal by-products. This can include various things when you’re looking at different brands, but most brands include things like raw beef, bone meal, and poultry necks and backs.

Other popular by-products are livers, spleens, lungs, and kidneys.

You don’t leave raw meat on your counter for a reason – it will stink to high heaven. The raw meat and animal by-products are a major contributor to the smell of dog food. You can especially smell the animal by-products in wet dog food since the moisture keeps certain things fresher, and therefore contributes to the more potent smell.

Dog Food Contains Palatants

The biggest reason dog food has such a potent smell is that dog manufacturers add palatants to the food.

Dogs have more cells in their nose than they do taste buds. They have approximately 125 million sensory cells in their nose, which are substantially more than humans, and they have fewer taste buds than us. Ultimately, the smell of food is the most important factor for dogs. They will eat just about anything if it smells good enough. This is where palatants come in.

Palatants are artificial chemicals that are created to smell good. These chemicals are added to the dog food either as a dry powder or liquid form. Since dogs rely so heavily on their sense of smell, the palatants trick the dogs into thinking that the kibble or wet food you are serving is the most delicious thing near them.

Why You Don’t Have to Worry About Animal By-Products

A major topic that can constantly be misleading is animal by-products – what they are and if they are safe for consumption for your animals.

According to the Clinical Nutrition Team at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, animal by-products are safe for your dogs and add great nutritional value. The fact that there are laws about what can be considered animal by-products can bring comfort to dog owners. According to the law, anything that is not edible and safe to eat like trash or horsehair can not be considered as animal by-product.

Are Palatants Safe for Your Dogs?

Since palatants are artificially made, you may be wondering if they are safe for consumption. Palatants are either plant-based or meat-based. They are usually grain-free, hypoallergenic, non-GMO, low fat, and natural.

Overall, palatants are designed to be safe for consumption for your dogs. Although, it is worth noting that this isn’t necessarily the case for all dog food brands. It is important to research your brand of interest before buying if you want to guarantee safe ingredients.

How to Tell if Your Dog Food Has Gone Bad

Dog food can smell bad for several reasons, as listed above. Of course, there is another reason why your dog food may smell bad. When the food is designed to smell strong (and unappetizing for humans), it may be hard to tell when the kibble has gone bad. Bad kibble can also be a source of a rancid smell.

Make Sure it Has Not Been Exposed to High Amounts of Oxygen

Not only can too much exposure to the air make dog food more dangerous, but it can also lessen its shelf life. Every time you open the bag of kibble, the oxidation process begins. This process can start to break down the fats in the food and eventually make the fat rancid, which breaks down important vitamins that dogs need to survive.

Furthermore, when your bag is not sealed properly, the kibble will dry out and lose its moisture. So if you know the bag has been left open for a while, it’s probably a good idea to throw the bag out. Remember to try and keep your kibble in the bag it comes in. These bags are made to prolong the process of oxidation, which is something most plastic containers are not made for.

A great way to keep your dog food fresh is to use oxygen absorbers. These are very easy to use, all you have to do is throw it in the bag of kibble, and it will do the rest for you. Check out these 1000cc Oxygen Absorbers if you want to invest in some oxidation prevention methods.

Check for Signs of Food Decay

Food decay is a big contributor to bad dog food, especially in the summer months. Firstly, it is good to remember to keep your dog food in a dry, cool location. Heat and moisture will just quicken the process of decay. To check if your dog kibble has gone bad, look for signs of mold and insects.

You can also smell the food to see if it smells worse than usual or like chemicals. If you find any of these signs, your dog food has likely gone bad.

Another way to check for food decay is to watch how your dog reacts to the food. If your dog only eats a small amount when the food is usually their favorite, that can be a sign that the food has gone bad. If this happens, use some of the other strategies mentioned above to confirm your suspicions.

If you are a dog owner, reading about the different ingredients and potential dangers of dog food can be anxiety-inducing. Taking the time to research healthy brands can take a lot of time, so check out this video by Dr. Becker if you want an easy way to learn about healthy food options for your pet.


There are a few reasons why dog food can smell bad. First of all, most dog food contains animal by-products, which can add to the smell. In wet dog food, especially, the smell of animal by-products will be more potent since the moisture keeps certain elements fresh. Secondly, chemicals (palatants) are added to the food to make the food smell more appealing to the dogs.

When it comes to animal by-products and palatants, the products are safe for dogs and are designed and manufactured to improve your dog’s health.

The last reason that your dog food smells bad is that it may have gone bad. A few ways to prevent this are to keep the food in a dry, cool place, make sure the bag is sealed properly, and not buy food in bulk.