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Do Puppies and Young Dogs Have ‘New Baby Smell’?

They certainly have sweet-smelling puppy breath, and I’m addicted to it

Babies smell surprisingly nice considering how much poop — and puke, and pee and snot — they produce. Their unique aroma is commonly known as “new baby smell,” and it can be difficult to describe: It kind of resembles sweetened cream combined with a sort of clean, freshly-spawned, celestially innocent quality, if that makes any sense.

Scientists have yet to determine the source of “new baby smell,” but some speculate that it secretes from their sweat glands. Others believe that it may be the lingering scent of vernix caseosa, the cheese-like substance (gross) that coats infants when they enter into existence.

Whatever the cause, science proposes that “new baby smell” serves a biological purpose, providing a pleasant aroma to level out how much awful-smelling poop babies otherwise produce. Put simply, it may help parents bond with their newborns.

Interestingly, “new baby smell” extends beyond just human babies: Puppies are also known to have an unmistakably charming scent. I asked several employees at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, and they confirmed that puppies have a uniquely clean smell, similar to “new baby smell,” but none could explain why. In fact, nobody really knows what causes “new puppy smell,” but veterinarians say their breath is the likely source.

“People talk about puppy breath and kitten breath all the time,” says Tony Johnson, emergency and critical care veterinarian and Minister of Happiness for the Veterinary Information Network. “I’ve seen technicians and even doctors swoon when taking a whiff of pure puppy breath. You know that thing people do when sniffing babies, and they look all googly-eyed? The same deal happens with puppies and kittens. I personally think it smells better than ‘new car smell.’ It’s a thing.”

While the exact cause behind the sweet aroma of “puppy breath” remains unclear, some suggest that it may be the combination of them drinking sweet mother’s milk and simply being too new to have developed bacteria or plaque in their mouths. Puppies that lick themselves clean may then spread their sweet-smelling breath all over.

The milk theory seems unlikely, since puppies in homes rarely drink mother’s milk, but the untainted mouth theory may be closer to the real source — a dog mouth that has yet to be corrupted by sidewalk mystery snacks is sure to smell different from and better than the rest.

There are other theories, too. “Puppies absolutely smell very different from dogs,” says Adam Beatty, co-founder of Playology dog toys and all-around dog enthusiast. “Their surroundings are different. They’re not yet out in the world rolling around in whatever. They’re in a little bit more of a protected environment.” But lifestyle differences aside, puppies may also naturally smell different from grown canines. “Adult dogs have completely different hormones than puppies,” Beatty points out.

Though, again, all of these are only guesses. “That’s one of the enduring mysteries of the universe,” Johnson says while speculating on the source of good-smelling puppy breath. “It’s probably best if we keep it that way.”