Why Do Camels Smell So Bad? [Answers]

If you’ve ever spent time around camels, whether in their natural habitat or in captivity, then you’re probably familiar with their highly unpleasant odor!

Camels smell so bad that horses can’t stand to be around them, as evidenced by both ancient texts and modern anecdotes. Humans don’t particularly enjoy taking in their smell, either.

Camels smell bad because: 

  • They live in the hot, arid desert
  • They don’t bathe or groom themselves
  • They urinate on themselves during mating season and for thermoregulation
  • They have terrible breath from regurgitating their food as they digest and when they’re agitated 
  • Males’ dullas and poll glands also contribute to their stench during mating season

Read on to learn more about why camels have such an awful scent.

Camels Live In An Extremely Hot Environment

One of the reasons why camels smell so bad is that they primarily live in the desert, which tends to be extremely hot. The Gobi Desert, for instance, can reach almost 110°F in the summer months.

Dromedaries (one-humped camels) live in the hot, arid deserts of the Middle East, Africa, and India. There is also a large population of dromedaries, which are sometimes called Arabian camels, in Australia.

Wild Bactrian (two-humped) camels live in the Taklamakan Desert in China, as well as the areas of Gashun Gobi and various nature reserves. They also live in the Trans Altai Gobi Desert of Mongolia.

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As you can imagine, living in an environment with high temperatures lends itself to camel body odor. But there are several other reasons why camels smell so bad.

Camels Don’t Bathe Or Groom Themselves

Not only do camels live in habitats with elevated temperatures, but they don’t bathe or groom themselves.

In the desert, there’s very little water available, so it’s simply not possible for camels to enter a water source and bathe.

Camels also don’t have grooming habits like other animals do. Cats, for instance, tend to lick themselves and others, but grooming just isn’t part of a camel’s everyday life.

However, camels that live in captivity are often groomed. This is especially true for camels that take part in camel beauty contests.

Camel grooming typically consists of skin cleansing, shampooing, and brushing.

Camels Urinate On Their Legs To Cool Down

Considering that camels live in such a hot environment, it’s not too surprising that they have various tricks to thermoregulate and lower their body temperature.

Urinating on their legs is one of these tricks. Camels have very thick, syrupy urine with very little water content; this is an adaptation to prevent water loss and help them stay hydrated.

Not only do camels urinate on their legs, but males also urinate on their tails during mating season.

Camel urine contains pheromones that are known to attract female camels, so males urinate on their tails and spread the urine over their backs. 

Camels’ urine does not have a pleasant smell. It contains various chemicals and elements that are very concentrated due to the urine’s low water content.

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Because of this, camel urine smells strongly of ammonia.

Camels Have Terrible Breath

Another contributor to camels’ odor is their terrible breath.

Camels are considered pseudoruminants, which means that they chew and swallow their food, regurgitate it, chew it again, and then fully digest it.

They have three stomachs that work together to fully process the plants they eat. 

When camels regurgitate the food up from their stomachs, gases with strong odors also make their way up and out of their mouths, leading to some pretty severe halitosis.

Camels Regurgitate When Agitated

Not only do camels regurgitate as part of their usual digestion process, but they can also purposely regurgitate when they’re agitated.

Many people think camels spit when irritated for this reason, when, in reality, they are regurgitating their last meal.

An agitated camel will regurgitate partly digested food to distract or disgust whatever is annoying it.

The intense odor that comes with this regurgitation is usually enough to scare away their source of irritation.

Camels’ Poll Glands Release A Nasty Stench

We’ve mentioned that male camels urinate on their tails and spread the urine across their backs during the mating season. Another smelly mating ritual has to do with the camels’ poll glands.

These are glands located on the back of the neck and between the ears. When males are ready to mate, the poll glands secrete a smelly, tar-colored liquid.

Camels’ Dullas Smell Disgusting

As if the mating season wasn’t already stinky enough, dullas are another way that male camels attract female mates while also creating quite a stench.

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The dulla is an extension of the soft palate that is triggered to develop when a male’s testosterone levels rise.

At this point, males blow through their dullas so that they protrude from their mouths, looking somewhat like a pink balloon.

Female camels also have dullas, but they stay inside of their mouths. 

Males’ dullas, while quite attractive to females as they demonstrate virility, don’t smell the best.

Considering they are a part of a camel’s mouth as an extension of the soft palate, they are often in contact with camels’ regurgitated food.


There are many contributing factors to camels’ unpleasant smell.

First, they typically live in an extremely hot environment and don’t bathe or groom themselves. 

During the mating season, male camels urinate on their tails and spread the pheromone-filled urine over their backs to attract females. They also release a smelly liquid from their poll glands and inflate their dullas when ready to mate, adding to their odor.

Camels urinate on their legs to cool themselves down, and their highly-concentrated urine adds the smell of ammonia to the mix.

As pseudoruminants, camels chew and swallow their food and then regurgitate it before fully digesting it. As they regurgitate, smelly gases come up from their stomachs. 

Camels also regurgitate when agitated, scaring away the source of their irritation with the smell that comes with their partially-digested food.

While camels that live in their natural habitat tend to have a nasty odor, those that live in captivity are often shampooed and brushed by their keepers and, therefore, don’t smell as bad.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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