Why My Dogs Smell Like Chicken: Don’t Try this at Home

My dogs smell like chicken. I noticed this the other night when I bent down to give Friedrich a kiss on the top of his head. Instead of his usual dog smell, he was emitting a scent that strongly resembled roasted chicken, and I think I figured out why.

Friedrich and Maya like to form different shapes in their spare time.

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend, Albie, and I noticed that our two dogs, Maya, a white lab mix, and Friedrich, the Belgian Shepherd, were scratching themselves more than usual. Then, Friedrich assumed his signature napping pose – belly up, paws in the air – and as I rubbed his tummy, I saw a little black bug running for cover.

“OH MY GOD. FRED HAS FLEAS!” I exclaimed to Albie. “In 10 years he has never had fleas. How could this happen? Do you think Maya gave them to Fred?” We immediately began searching Maya and found another tiny black insect burrowing for cover in Maya’s thick white fur.

“I have no idea,” Albie replied. “Maya has never had fleas either.” Then, in his calm, let’s-not-point-fingers-let’s-just-solve-the-problem voice, he said, “It really doesn’t matter which dog had them first, Karla. We just need to get rid of the fleas.”

Instead of spending the day an outdoor festival with music and food and fun like we had planned, we spent that Sunday afternoon de-fleaing our dogs and the house. We washed their beds; we vacuumed every floor; we sprinkled anti-flea powder on carpets and upholstery; and we gave the dogs a bath. Well, a shower actually. In Dawn dish detergent as the guy at the pet store instructed.

We have been faithfully applying a harmful, chemically based, monthly anti-flea treatment to the dogs’ backs. We are against treating our dogs with harmful chemicals, but we are against fleas even more. It didn’t work. I explained this to the guy at the pet store. “We have been putting that expensive flea repellant on their backs every month.” I told him. “How could they possibly have gotten fleas?”

“Yeah, that stuff doesn’t work,” said the guy, matter-of-factly. “Try this natural remedy. It’s much more effective.” He sold us natural oil in a tube that we had to rub into the dogs’ backs, and anti-flea carpet powder. Ninety-something dollars later, as we were walking out of the store, the guy called to us, “Oh, by the way. Give ‘em a bath in Dawn dish liquid. You’ll see the fleas drop right off ‘em.”

So, there we were, on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday afternoon cleaning the house and washing everything the dogs may or may not have come in contact with in the last six weeks. I was shuddering to think my home had become a breeding ground for fleas. It was bad enough that I had to kill a spider every once in a while, but now I had to consider the very real possibility that there were hundreds – maybe thousands – of flea eggs embedded in my carpet. I vacuumed with a fervor I usually reserve for scrubbing a temporary tattoo of my daughter’s face.

We bathed the dogs in Dawn, and sure enough, fleas dropped out of their fur like little paratroopers jumping to safety after enemy bullets had pummeled their airplane. We applied the natural oil down the dogs’ backs and that night, when we assembled their freshly washed beds, felt confident we had obliterated any living insect in the house.

We soon learned that feeling of confidence was false. As the days passed, the dogs continued to scratch and itch. We continued to see fleas scurrying deeper into their fur.

Friedrich's signature napping pose.

Friedrich’s signature napping pose.

“I’m going to tell that pet store guy I want my money back!” I told Albie. “The chemical treatment didn’t work and the natural treatment didn’t work either. Now what?” I implored. My whole body felt itchy. “I feel like fleas are crawling all over me! Look! Is this a bite?” I yanked at my shirt and pointed to my neck.

“Fleas are not crawling all over you,” Albie reassured me, inspecting the back of my neck.

“Are you sure?” I asked desperately. “Did you see anything trying to hide in my hair?”

“No,” Albie laughed. “Nothing is trying to hide in your hair, Karla. I’m sure they prefer the dogs’ fur over your head.” I wasn’t convinced.

“I have an idea,” I told him. “Let’s invite the neighbor’s dog over for a day and have him hang out with our dogs and then when all the fleas have jumped off of our dogs and onto him, we’ll send him back to his own house and our house will be free of fleas.”

“Are you serious?” Albie asked, looking at me like I had lost my mind. Which I did. Briefly. Fleas will do that to a person.

“Yes,” I told him. “Is that wrong?”

I liked our neighbors and their sweet, white retriever, so instead I typed, “what can you put on a dog with fleas” online and found an article called, “Six ways to naturally prevent and get rid of fleas on dogs,” which instructed me to spray them with a water-vinegar mixture and put apple cider vinegar in their drinking water, which I proceeded to do every single day since reading the article.

“Is it OK to let them drink so much vinegar?” I wondered out loud. Then, as I scrolled down the blog post, I read: Not only does it deter fleas, it improves a pup’s skin and coat condition from the inside out. Outstanding.

So, Maya and Friedrich have been drinking vinegar water and licking the solution off their coats each time we spray them. The fleas are still having a field day on their furry playgrounds, and the dogs now smell like chicken. Apparently, that’s a pleasant side effect of drinking vinegar.

***

*Update: Since writing this story, we ultimately had to bring the dogs to the vet where they were promptly bathed, treated for fleas and prescribed with a new and improved, even more expensive anti-flea medication. I am happy to report, several hundred dollars later, the fleas are obliterated and the dogs no longer smell like chicken.

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