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Why Does My Dog Smell Like Fritos? Vet Explains This Strange Scent

It's a surprisingly common occurrence


If your dog has ever put their paws right by your face, you may have noticed a strange phenomenon: Frito feet. That’s right — many dog owners claim that their pups’ paws smell suspiciously like the classic corn chips. The phenomenon is strange, especially when you consider that a lot of dog smells aren’t particularly pleasant, and the Fritos smell is — dare we say — pretty good! It turns out the Fritos smell is more than just an anecdotal oddity. There’s actually real science behind it. If you’ve been wondering “Why does my dog smell like Fritos?” look no further as we got a vet to explain.

Why does my dog smell like Fritos?

“I often get this question,” says Shannon Barrett, DVM, a house call veterinarian and owner of the pet care blog Product Doctor. “‘Frito feet’ in dogs is a common observation.” Dr. Barrett explains that the distinctive aroma comes not from a secret stash of corn chips but rather from the bacteria and yeast that naturally occurs on dog paws.

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“Like human skin, dogs’ paws are home to a diverse community of microorganisms, including bacteria and yeast,” says Dr. Barrett. The most common bacteria are Pseudomonas and Proteus, which “metabolize the proteins and fats in the moisture and dead skin cells on the paws, producing waste products,” Dr. Barrett says. “Some of these byproducts include volatile compounds with a distinct odor, which many people liken to the smell of corn chips or popcorn.”

Fritos corn chips

So why does this scent primarily emanate from the paws? “Dogs’ paws often provide a moist and warm environment, especially between the paw pads and around the nail beds, where sweat glands are present,” says Dr. Barrett. “This environment is ideal for the growth and proliferation of these microorganisms,” she explains, which gives rise to Frito feet.

Is the Frito scent common?

“Frito Feet is a widespread occurrence,” Dr. Barrett notes, adding that her patients usually ask “Why does my dog smell like Fritos?” at least once a month. She says that while the scent can be found in a variety of dogs, it can vary based on four factors, which she outlines below:

  1. Skin folds: Bulldogs, Shar-Peis and Pugs may be more prone to developing Frito feet due to their skin folds. “The folds trap moisture and debris more efficiently, creating an ideal environment for bacterial and yeast overgrowth,” Dr. Barrett says.
  2. Allergies and skin conditions: Dr. Barrett says that allergies and skin conditions are fairly common in dogs, particularly Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and French Bulldogs. “They might experience more significant microbial growth on their paws due to inflammation, increased skin oils and moisture from licking,” she says. “This can enhance the conditions that favor the development of the Frito odor.”
  3. Hairiness of paws: Fuzzy-pawed breeds like Cocker Spaniels or Old English Sheepdogs may also be more likely to smell like Fritos. “Dogs with longer hair on their feet might retain more moisture and debris between their toes, potentially leading to a more pronounced odor due to microbial activity,” says Dr. Barrett.
  4. Environmental factors and diet: “While not breed-specific, environmental factors such as humidity and diet can also influence the smell,” Dr. Barrett notes. “Dogs exposed to more humid environments or those on diets that affect their skin oil production might have more noticeable paw odors.”

Dr. Barrett also observes that the Frito smell isn’t quite as weird as you might think. “Just as humans have unique body odors, each dog has a distinctive scent based on its individual microbiome,” she says. “This means that the Frito smell can vary in intensity from one dog to another.”

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Dog's paw on a human hand
Anita Kot/Getty

Should I be concerned about the Frito scent?

The Frito scent is common and nothing to be concerned about. As Dr. Barrett says, the bacteria that cause it “are part of your dog’s normal skin flora and are usually harmless to your dog.” However, she notes that it’s important to be aware of any changes in your dog’s scent, as well as behaviors like constant paw licking, as these may be signs of an infection or other health issue, in which case a trip to the vet is a good idea.

Close-up of dog paw
Jim Craigmyle/Getty

While many dog owners enjoy the Frito smell (hey, those chips are pretty tasty!), if you happen to be bothered by it, you can gently wipe your dog’s paws with hypoallergenic baby wipes. Dr. Barrett recommends doing this two to three times a day after walks.

Next time you get a waft of Frito scent, you can rest assured knowing it’s just one of the many quirks that make dogs so special.

Read on for more about dogs!

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