HEALTH & CARE

Anal Glands in Dogs: An Illness You May Not Know About but Should

Anal Glands in Dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

One of the less pleasant parts of having dogs is when they get sick and you have to worry about them for nights on end. Still, dogs have become an invaluable part of many people’s lives and if you too love your four-legged best friend, you will naturally prefer to be prepared for most illnesses that afflict canines. One of those worth knowing about is anal sacs or anal glands in dogs. This guide will thoroughly explain what it is all about, why it needs to be remedied right away, how to treat it and how to prevent it. Hopefully, this will be helpful to you in taking good care of your pooch.

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Anal glands problems in dogs are basically the impaction, infection or abscess of a dog’s anal sacs. It can be uncomfortable not only for the dog but also for the owner, considering the location of the affected part and the fact that treatment can be messy and downright gross. Left untreated however, the illness can cause complications with your pet’s defecation process and lead to more bowel movement problems.

The anal sacs – function and location

Now what exactly are anal sacs? These are those openings on each side of a canine’s anus, slightly located below the anal opening. Beneath the skin and leading to the sac openings are tiny tubes that release a pungent smelling brown liquid substance whenever the dog defecates. The anal sacs then are considered scent glands that are primarily used to release that strong smell unique to each dog and needed to mark a territory.

It also helps the dog’s body regulate hard stools and eliminate toxins. In other words, these sacs are quite an important part of your pet’s digestive and elimination function.

The anal sacs

What happens is that when a stool is passed, this puts a bit of pressure on the sacs and triggers the release of the noxious smell. That scent is then used by dogs as a way to communicate with each other and, as mentioned above, mark a territory. This is also the reason why canines sniff each other’s butts. They are simply trying to learn which smell belongs to which dog. Any irregularities must be treated right away before the condition worsens.

Symptoms

There are several ways to recognize if your dog is suffering from impacted or infected anal glands. Here are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Scooting – your dog dragging his rectal area along the floor (this may be a sign of worms or other infections too, so it is best to confirm)
  • Constant biting or licking of his anus or the base of his tail
  • Bad smell is coming off from his rear end (might be accompanied by pus-looking discharge)
  • Obvious constipation when defecating
  • Other behavior that shows your dog is experiencing discomfort in the anal region

Once you notice these symptoms, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. If left alone for long, the condition might worsen and lead to infection, which could then result to other digestive tract complications. Aside from that, if your pet continues to scoot on the floor, he might just injure his anal area. If he scoots on the carpet, his smelly discharges can ruin it or force you to pay for expensive carpet cleaning. To avoid all that hassle for your pet and yourself, it is best to act right away at the first sign of anal sacs issues.

Dog dragging his rectal area along the floor

If you are wondering if there are certain dog breeds predisposed to anal glands problems, there is no conclusive study on the matter. However, the illness is commonly noted in small dogs such Miniature and Toy Poodles, Lhasa Apsos and Chihuahuas. Beagles, Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels often suffer from this condition as well. Although bigger sized dogs can still have impacted sacs, it is not quite common among them. As for age or sex predisposition to anal sacs, there is none as both male and female dogs, young or old, can end up with the condition.

Causes

Various factors lead to impacted anal glands and knowing each of these causes will help you determine the right course of action in terms of prevention, treatment and post-illness care.

Bacteria build-up

When a dog passes stool, slight pressure is applied to the anal glands, expressing them a bit so they will produce that pungent liquid that will make defecating easier. If the sacs aren’t properly emptied or expressed, however, this can lead to a build-up of bacteria in the area and possible infection. If not treated right away, the infection can worsen into abscess, which may cause some rips on the skin and further problems.

Poor diet

A lot of dog owners resort to feeding their pet with low-quality or artificially flavored and processed foods for various reasons such as time and budget constraints. Unfortunately, these cheap dog foods often contain cereal fillers, which can lead to constant soft stool.

Balanced diet plan

Because of that, the anal glands won’t be expressed properly every time a dog defecates and so bacteria build-up might occur, which as outlined above, is not a good thing. It important then that you choose more carefully what to feed your dog, ideally something that will result to more compact stools.

Lack of exercise, obesity or overfeeding

Not only will lack of exercise and overfeeding result to a generally unhealthy dog, it can lead to obesity. This can cause a host of digestive problems and soft stools can be common as well. By pooping non-compact stools, the anal sacs won’t be emptied out properly and there is a higher chance of them getting impacted.

Build-up of body toxins or liver imbalance

Either of these may be brought on by poor diet or other medical conditions. Whatever the case, if your dog is digesting poorly and the process of passing stool is not at the optimum level, then the risk for anal glands illness becomes higher.

Lumbo-sacral spine and muscle injury in dogs

In layman’s term, this means back pain and pulled muscle in dogs. When canines suffer from either of these conditions, there might be decreased energy flow towards the rectal area, which leads to problems with expressing anal glands in dogs. And once again, impaction can happen or the amount of bacteria in that area intensifies and causes infection or abscess.

Lumbo-sacral spine

Now that you are aware of the various factors that can cause anal sacs problems in your dog, the next step is to figure out what to do. Fortunately, if the problem is recognized early, treatment is just a matter of expressing the glands, which can be done by the vet, the groomer or by you. Yet there is always a chance of underlying causes which may be serious. Plus, this might be your first time coming across this matter. So whatever the case, it is best to consult with your veterinarian right away.

Diagnosis

Once you’ve scheduled an appointment with your vet, prepare necessary details such as the health history of your dog and his diet conditions as well. As mentioned above, poor diet may be the cause so do not be surprised if the pet doctor asks for the types and brands of food you have been feeding your dog. Aside from this, it is best to speak to your groomer beforehand because it is routine for a lot of groomers to express the anal glands.

However, there are some master groomers who advise against doing this. So knowing if indeed the groomer you always go to practice expressing regularly might prove helpful during the vet visit.

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One of the common mistakes made during the diagnosis is concluding that the condition is perianal gland tumors. This relates to the other small glands around a dog’s anus, which are not the actual anal glands however. When such diagnosis is passed, the vet might order your pet to go through surgery. Before you agree to do this though, request for a proper histology examination, which will give a more conclusive analysis of the problem.

Diagnosis

Other things to expect are for your vet to prescribe liver and spine-related tests just in case the issue is lumbo-sacral spine and muscle injury. More exams related to your dog’s digestive tract may also be requested.

Treatment

Treatments for anal sacs in dogs vary depending on the stage of the condition and whether there are any underlying causes or not. Here is a rundown of the various treatments available:

Expressing your dog’s anal glands

For the most part, this is the best direction to take. It is simply a matter of emptying out the glands as thoroughly as possible. This can be done by your vet or your groomer. But as you know, visits to either professional can get expensive. So you might want to take on the task by yourself. Find below a step-by-step guide.

  1. Get a washcloth and moisten it with warm water.
  2. Find your dog’s anal glands. Raise his tail and feel the areas around his anus. The glands are those lumps approximately on the 5 and 7 o’clock positions from the anal opening.
  3. Once you found the sacs, apply the warm and moist washcloth on these areas.
  4. Gently squeeze the sacs so that the fluid inside them is expelled. Be careful of any squirts. Position the washcloth in such a way that you won’t get any smelly liquid on you.
  5. Once you are done, wipe your dog’s rectal area clean.

Here’s a video that you might find useful. It shows one of the methods vets use to express dogs’ anal glands.

Note: Yes, expressing the glands can be messy, stinky and downright unpleasant. So just keep in mind that you are doing this for the sake of your dog’s health. If your pet finds the whole process strange and would try to get away from you, it would help if you can get someone else to hold him and keep him in place while you are expressing the anal sacs.

Important: If you notice any pus or blood coming out from the sacs while expressing them, this is a sign of infection or a more serious problem. Best to contact your veterinarian for help right away.

Medication

If the vet decides expressing is not enough, usually when the problem is more severe, then he might prescribe certain medication. These are usually antibiotics, might be oral or topical. An infusion of the sacs with antibiotics might also be required. In the case of abscess, the vet will usually lance the injured part before applying any medication. Antibiotics are usually taken or applied for a period of 7 to 14 days.

Abscess treatment

If the abscess is more severe, the vet might advise the use of anesthesia before lancing. Then undiluted medicine may be used to flush the fluids trapped in the sacs. If the abscess hasn’t ruptured, the usual approach is to use a catheter for flushing. This would be inserted into the anal gland duct for a few times until the abscess is reduced.

Surgery

In some cases, surgery is the only means to treat the condition. Vets especially prescribe anal sacculectomy, surgical removal of the anal glands, if the condition is chronic. However, since the glands are a necessary part of your pet’s bowel movements, there are naturally pros and cons to surgery. So it is best to discuss with your doctor first before signing off on this. And as mentioned above, there might be a misdiagnosis for perianal gland tumors, so do request that histology exam when surgery is brought up.

Dog at surgery

One of the main complications associated with surgical removal of the sacs is fecal incontinence, otherwise known as the uncontrollable leaking of poop, which for sure no pet owner would want to deal with. So make sure that your vet explains what will happen to your pet post-operation. If surgery is non-negotiable, ask what you can do to prevent the incontinence or what you need to do when it happens. Statistics show that the complication rarely happens, but it pays to be fully aware before you make the decision.

Other considerations

Your dog might have to wear a doggie diaper for a few days while any treatment is ongoing. Doggie pants would also do the trick. A lot of people often add padding soaked in any recommended healing solution to the diaper or pants. The padding would need changing several times a day.

Doggie diaper

If your dog continues to lick the affected area, this might slow down the healing process. In this case, make use of collars that will prevent him from constantly licking the rectal area. A buster collar (also known as Elizabethan collar, e-collar or a pet cone) is advised. You can even make your own dog cone by following the steps in our article on DIY and inexpensive dog cones.

Prevention

At this point, it is quite clear how unpleasant anal sacs problems can be. Not only will this be painful for your dog, it can be a repulsive task for you to go through the expressing process as well. Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid the issue.

Improved diet

One of the main things you can do is to ensure that your four-legged best friend is eating healthy foods. If you stick him on a diet of cheap treats, supplements and dog food – eventually your dog’s liver will suffer from all the harmful chemicals found in these processed foods. Mercury, lead and arsenic are just some of the noxious stuff used as flavoring for cheap processed dog foods. Since the anal glands are an important part of a dog’s body detoxification, if liver toxicity is high, the sacs will often become inflamed and then problems arise.

Diet for dog

Vets advise owners to put their dogs on a high-fiber diet, which makes stools more compact and bulky. During the defecation process, bulkier stools are better at expressing the glands naturally and thus helping your pet avoid issues. For further precaution, you might include bran and other fiber supplements in your dog’s diet as these help bulk up the stool as well. The good thing is there are now various commercial dog foods and supplements in the market that are high quality and reliable. One of the best ones today is the Peacebone Peace Pack, details and information can be seen in our article on the topic.

Regular expressing

Experts’ opinions are divided on this approach but a lot of groomers do make this part of their routine. Since smaller dogs are more predisposed to contracting anal glands problems, various vets advise that their glands be expressed regularly. For bigger dog breeds, they don’t need their sacs expressed as much.

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In any case, it is still recommended to speak to your vet about your pet so that a more specific prevention approach can be discussed.

Enough exercise

Obesity can be an underlying cause of anal glands issues, so making sure your dog gets enough exercise daily can combat that. Take the time to walk him or if you have a yard big enough, feel free to let your pet play outside to his heart’s content. You can even build him his own play area, see our article on DIY dog pens that will amaze you.

Doggie exercise benefits

Now, if the underlying cause is injuries to the lumbar spine or muscle-related difficulties, exercise needs to be approached moderately. Minimize the Frisbee plays and don’t let your pet sprint so much. It is not advisable to completely take out exercise from your dog’s day, however. To resolve the spinal or muscular problems, it is advisable to consult with a vet specializing in physio or chiro routines for dogs. Our article on how dogs are affected by hip pain is a must-read for every pet parents.

In conclusion

Anal glands problems in dogs can be a hard thing to deal with. Hopefully this guide has shed more light on the condition. Overall, consult with your vet when your pet does suffer from the problem and be prepared for some unpleasant moments during the treatment process. With the prevention advice outlined above, however, you will increase your pet’s chances of avoiding this illness.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Amber Hart

    I honestly don’t think that anyone should express their own dogs UNLESS their vet or groomer taught them the proper way to do it, live. And internally expressing your dog should be reserved for the vet, obviously. Please don’t try it at home. Your dog won’t appreciate it.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      In my humble opinion, no one should express their own dogs whether they’ve done it before or not. Only trained professionals and veterinarians should do it because you’ll never know if you’ll cause injury to some internal structures.

  • Lorrie Simmons

    Our dog is house trained and pees outside the house when she has to go. However, lately she seemed to pee in bed. Is this just an accident or is this an anal gland issue? Do I have to go to the vet to have her anal glands expressed?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      It can be an anal gland or urinary tract issue. I agree with your idea of having a visit to the vet, not just for anal gland expression, but for general checkup as well.

  • Cerys Merriman

    First off I’m 13 just had to say that. But I have a golden doodle and he is one of my favorite things in the world. He is about 1 1/2. We adopted him from one of my moms best friends. So for Halloween we dyed our dogs hair green. Well with the dye and the haircut he got it came with an expressing. My mom asked if we could skip that and they agreed. I don’t really know why the lady did it or if she forgot or something but she did it anyway. Ever sense he has had problems, he will bite,lick, rub on the floor etc. My mom had decided to get them expressed again because a vet said it may be best but as it would seem it would only last a day tell he would be licking or biting for scooting on the carpet etc. again. I don’t really know what we should do about it. me and my mom and her husband are contemplating whether or not getting them removed first expenses. We just recently moved. My mom finally decided to ask her friend if he had done this anytime before and she said no. so do you have any advice of what we should do. My mom is worried that if the vet said it’s a good idea for the dog to get the anal sacs removed that if we did it it could make things worse.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Welcome to Dogsaholic, Cerys. I think the better option to the routine expressing because undergoing surgery might be a traumatic experience not only for the dog, but to you as well. It is a very odd but understandable behaviour, but he will eventually outgrow it.

  • Iris Cohen

    I feed my dogs fiber filled meals and their stools are firm and overall they are healthy, but I noticed that my bulldog’s anal sac always fills up way too quickly and I have to always take him to the vet for an expression, however these days I have learnt to express a dog by myself, saves me all that trouble! But after reading about complications that can arise from expressing by yourself, I am beginning to reconsider this, anyway this article was spot on!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Glad I am able to provide an insight on this. It is great too that you were able to learn how to do it on your own. However, it is best to have a vet do it to ensure that no complications happens.

  • Kelly Yates

    Wyatt is there a repercussion of giving a dog too much fiber? Wouldn’t it like make their stools hard to release? My dog has been having problems passing out stools easily, and I am worried that maybe I am over doing the diet thing?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      It is quite possible Kelly. You can gradually change your dog’s diet and see if the stool has changed or the way he ease out is better. If it did, continue with the new diet.

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