I was awakened today to one of the smells of veterinary medicine. Instantly, I knew two things. 1. Smells have been at the forefront this week and 2. Ryker needs a dental.

It has been a week of smells! Smells are common in a veterinary hospital. Traditionally, there is the occasional urine accident that is missed or hard to clean entirely mixed with the smell of disinfectants. We try hard at Guardian Animal Medical Center to clean up all the accidents so that we don’t have to use harsh cleaners. Remember a dog’s or a cat’s sense of smell is the most important sense, like our eyesight is for us. The Fear Free training teaches that a dog walking into a strong chemical smell is like blindfolding us. This greatly increases their stress levels, so we try not to blind them.

Likewise, even if you think it smells good, strong perfumes or powders from the groomers or pet shops are not a good idea. Air fresheners cover up the bad smell, but blind your pet and increase overall anxiety. That is why even on Sunday morning when the 12 unhousebroken pups are a mess, we clean up the source, bath them and don’t just spray something to cover up the smell.

Cigarette smoke also lingers in fur and covers up the pet’s ability to smell and a veterinarian’s ability to use the smell to guide a diagnosis.

Not all smells are good. Snowball was a 3 year old cat that had been beautiful. There was a smell from Snowball’s mouth that would have knocked a lesser being over. It was hard to tell if the smell was from an abscess in the mouth or something else. After Snowball was euthanized, it was obvious that Snowball was uremic. Snowball’s kidneys had shut down and they could not get rid of the metabolic toxins that the body produces. These extra body-toxins were passed out through the lungs into the breath. While Snowball was breathing, the smell was so intense it was hard to differentiate. After they were not as strong, it was obvious that it was uremia (urine byproducts in the blood). This was probably a genetic problem from her breed. Other blood products can be smelled from the lungs also. Ketone and glucose are given off from the lungs. Diabetic alert dogs note the rising and falling glucose, while ketone can be smelled by humans.

Speaking of abscesses, the different type of bacteria have a different smell. Pseudomonas ear infections are described as sweet or fruity. (Not any fruit that I would eat or drink!) Antirobic bacteria have the traditional abscess or bad breath smell. Staphylococcus is supposed to be a sweet, hay-like, earthy odor, but when we find it in skin or bandages, earthy is not how I would describe it. Nor do I agree with Escherichia coli being a floral or flowery odor. It is definitely distinctive, but not in a pleasant way. Sometimes the best I can do is say it is not an antirobe, like the fetal remnants that were becoming mummified in a uterus this week. Doesn’t matter, it is not antirobic and therefore, removing it fixed the problem.

I think the most intense smell at a veterinary hospital is the smell of tom cat urine. I feel like I can taste it in the back of my mouth no matter how hard I clamp down my tongue onto the back of my throat. Tom cat urine and anal gland secretion have the same carrier as skunk scent. It is made to travel through the air and remain pungent. That pungent carrier is harvested from skunk scent glands for use in colognes.

Of course, the cat is using it to signal that he is available for the lady cats. Other phermones are not as strong, but can have powerful affects on others of their species. Dog appeasement phermone is given off by the mom to say that it is okay to nurse. Even adult dogs are calmed by the scent that humans cannot detect. Cats have their own phermones that we replicate to calm them.

Another unforgettable smell is that of parvo. The decomposing blood in the severe diarrhea is not specifically parvo, but it is an extremely specific smell that parvovirus always has. Often I will do a preparvo sniff of the feces on the fecal loop to get an idea of the probability of parvovirus. Recently, two pups with bloody diarrhea were in. Mazi had that smell (and tested positive for parvo) while Tink did not (and was negative). Tink had additional tests, medication and when home. Mazi is in the hospital resting on IV fluids and medicines.

Yesterday we did a necropsy on a puppy that had been buried overnight and all day or more. Luckily, the weather this June has been mild and it was 54 at night and 70 and rain. Our eyes did not match what we smelled. The pup was new to us and we met them only after death. We knew it was cute and someone loved it very much, but the smell was intense. As I was necropsing, Brian walked into the room. From a room over, he walked about 3 steps before he stiffened and turned away. Likewise it was too much for Kristen who turned and walked back out of treatment. Even Lindsay, who was prepared, had to take a few breaks from holding. I will admit that it was unpleasant and took it immediately to the crematorium after I was done. (The crematorium is another scent, but much more pleasant. The volatile fatty acid smell is less than a fast food chain.) Necropsies should be done soon after death as changes start immediately even when kept cool. I hope the pathologists can get some answers for the grieving parents.

As bad as some smells are, the most wonderful smell in the world happens at a veterinary hospital also. Puppy breath is caused by the lack of an enzyme in the liver. As the puppy matures, the liver produces the enzyme and puppy breath disappears for the rest of the puppy’s life. While a puppy in your home may only have it for a week or a month, I get to smell puppy breath almost every day. You do have to be careful though, a pup kiss can also contain what they last ate. Not pleasant if they are poop eaters or got into the trash.

When asked about smells, Erika thought of good smells. She said she liked the pleasant smell of cakes on birthdays around Guardian Animal as we were eating the remains of Matt’s birthday cake. Garrett said he especially liked the smell of the dead fish that Bert’s donated to our wildlife rehab turtle. Although he was kidding, it was good to know the turtle had a chance to eat something he might like.

As for me, the second best smell in the hospital is the fresh smell of coffee brewing in the morning, but Ryker will be getting his dental soon.