You notice your dog scooting across the floor and paying more attention to his rear end. While this could be a comical sight, there are actually more serious underlying issues – or at least ones that can become severe if left untreated. The most some pet owners know about a dog’s anal glands is it gives off a foul odor. The anal gland, while smelly, is a necessary and helpful part of your dog’s anatomy. Unfortunately, the anal sacs can lead to anal gland problems if they are not taken care of.
Anal gland issues can become serious, especially if your dog forms an anal gland abscess and it gets infected. Let’s look more closely at what these stinky sacs are for and how to take care of them.
What are Anal Glands?
The anal glands are located in the anal sacs, which are situated on either side of your dog’s anus. It’s a really smelly deal, so why do they even exist?
Why Do Dogs Have Anal Glands?
Some experts believe they possess a lubrication purpose, which makes defecating easier on your dog. Others also say the anal glands have a scent unique to each dog, which is used to mark their territory and to recognize other dogs.
How Do They Work?
The anal sacs are located on the interior of your dog’s rectum, on either side of the anus. They are not specifically at the 3 and 9 o’clock locations, as most of them are around the 5 to 7. Your dog’s anal glands are supposed to express naturally during pooping. The pressure of the stool being pushed out should be enough to empty a small amount of the accumulated liquid. You may notice a fishy smell accompanying the poop, which is the scent from the anal glands.
A dog’s anal glands may also empty when they have a sudden surge of emotion, most commonly, fear. What can happen is that some breeds, specifically toy to small dogs, have trouble expelling the liquid on their own. Dogs that have this disability will need their anal glands expressed manually by the groomer or by the dog owners. If not, then it could lead to infected and impacted anal glands, and in some cases, anal gland abscesses.
Everything You Need to Know about Anal Gland Problems
Ridding your dog of anal gland problems requires a basic understanding of the core causes and how they begin.
Where Do Anal Gland Problems Start?
Anal gland issues start within the anal sacs. It usually arises because your dog is unable to empty its own anal glands. Over time, the fluid builds until the anal sacs are swollen and blocked. As time passes, the impacted anal glands could get infected. Infected anal glands can also lead to an anal gland abscess, which will often require surgery to rectify.
If anal gland problems are a common occurrence with your dog, the vet may even suggest removing them altogether. While anal gland surgery and removal are more effective methods to treat anal gland issues, the recovery period is a lot more difficult and even though it’s a specialized process, it has a high right of infection due to the nature of the bacteria nesting around the area.
What Causes Anal Gland Problems?
Many things can contribute to a problem with your dog’s anal gland.
Diarrhea or Soft Stools
If your dog has chronic soft stools or loose stools, the poops won’t be firm enough to push on your dog’s anal glands as they exit, which means your dog will have a difficult time pushing on the anal sacs to expel the liquid.
On the other side of the coin, impacted anal glands can happen due to your dog’s inability to poop. As you can imagine, no poop equals no anal gland expression.
Obese dogs will also have problems expressing anal gland fluid. Slightly overweight dogs may not be impacted as much as those who are very overweight.
Chronic Dermatitis and Other Skin Conditions
If your dog is already susceptible to skin problems, the issue could extend to the anal area.
Allergies and Food Intolerances
If your dog is irritated by environmental factors or ingredients in his food, it could also lead to anal gland expression issues.
An underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, is another cause of anal gland problems in a dog.
Breed and Genetics
As mentioned, it could just come down to the breed and genetics. You could do everything right, and your dog just has issues in this department. If this is the case, then your pooch will just need extra monitoring and care.
Signs of Anal Gland Issues
How do you know when something is amiss? After all, sometimes dogs just pay more attention to their bums even when nothing is wrong. There are certain signs to look for to make sure your dog’s anal glands are bothering him.
The symptoms start with the more mild ones, especially scooting. You may see your dog scooting his rear end along the floor and pulling it along with his front paws. It may seem strange and even funny, but it is one of the first signs that indicate your dog’s anus needs attention.
Excessive Licking of the Area
Your dog’s anal sacs are not accessible to him, so he may settle for licking around the anal area nonstop to alleviate the discomfort. If you see this, then it’s time to express your dog’s anal gland.
If your dog is having issues pooping or even straining and crying during poops, then you know it’s definitely time for anal gland expression. When it gets to this point, your dog’s anal sacs will have started to swell.
Irritation Around Your Dog’s Anus
If you notice any redness, flaky skin, or swelling around your dog’s anus, then that is also a sign that you need to express your dog’s anal glands.
Blood and Pus Around the Anus
Hopefully, dog parents will catch anal gland issues early on and it won’t progress to this stage, where you see blood and pus around the anus, or in even more severe cases, blood and pus are left around the house from your dog’s anal gland. If this is the case, then issues with your dog’s anal sacs have progressed to the most severe stage and you should seek medical treatment immediately.
If you spot any or all of the above symptoms, then there is no denying your dog’s anal gland problems. We would highly suggest monitoring and if you witness scooting and licking, address the problem right away so that it does not reach critical circumstances.
How are Anal Gland Issues Treated?
So your dog’s anal sacs need treatment, but how is it done? The answer depends on the severity of each case.
Anal Gland Expression
If the problem is caught early on, the most you will need to do is express your dog’s anal glands. Once the liquid has been emptied, your dog’s anal glands should return to normal.
Increase Your Dog’s Fiber Intake
To prevent having the fishy smell all over the house, you can also supplement your dog’s diet with more fiber. Fiber helps to firm up your dog’s stool so it’s hard enough to exert enough pressure when it’s being pushed out to relieve the anal glands. Some excellent and healthy sources of fiber include pumpkin puree, beet, flaxseed, apples, carrots, and lettuce to name a few.
Fiber has other benefits that extend past your dog’s anal glands such as regulating bowel and cut health as well. You can either switch out your dog’s kibble to high-fiber dog food or add bits of the examples we described above to your dog’s food as toppers. You may also consider giving your dog high-fiber supplements as a healthy snack.
We Think You’ll Like: 7 Best High-Fiber Dog Food For Anal Gland Problems in 2022
We mentioned obesity as a cause of problems in the anal sacs and anal glands, which makes sense why daily exercise can help to minimize the effects. Not only will exercise keep your dog at a healthier weight, but it may also help to express your dog’s anal glands through physical activity.
Make sure your dog gets enough water. Dehydration will lead to constipation, and we have established above that no poop equals no anal gland expression, which is why keeping your dog hydrated is so important.
As we also said, sometimes you can do everything right but your dog’s anal glands are just more susceptible to trouble. The best thing you can do if this is the case is to keep a constant eye on your dog. Whenever he starts to exhibit rear end discomfort that manifests as the symptoms we mentioned previously, then express your dog’s anal glands as soon as possible.
How to Express Dog Anal Glands
With so much talk about how what anal glands are, the problems they can cause, and what you can do to treat them, we finally get to the part that outlines how to do it. You can skip this step altogether and leave the messy and stinky job to the groomer, but sometimes your dog will need in between maintenance.
Before you get started, you have to make sure you have all the tools ready. Start by laying out a pair of latex gloves, and find a bottle of lubricant (A vaseline is a great option), and have plenty of paper towels at your disposal. Then, have some mild doggy soap or shampoo, a clean rag soaked in warm water, a helpful family member or friend, and high-value treats to give to your dog for a job well done.
Additional and alternative accessories include a dog muzzle, just in case your dog gets a little snappy, and maybe even some pet-safe deodorant spray just to disperse the lingering smell from the anal liquids.
- Once you have everything ready, have your friend or family member restrain your dog in a secure yet comfortable grip with your dog standing on all fours. You will be positioned behind your dog with paper towels laid down on the ground around your immediate area.
- Your dog may struggle, so it’s important to get him or her to somewhat calm down before you start the procedure. You can try to use calming tones and soothing scents to get your dog to relax. Tell your dog it is a good dog and pet it and let it know that everything will be ok.
- When your dog is stable, put the latex gloves on, lubricate your index finger, and insert it into your dog’s rectum up until the second knuckle or around an inch deep. Rotate your finger to one side of your dog’s rectum to try and locate the anal sac. The anal sac is a little round bulb that you can identify quite easily.
- Once you have located the gland, bring your thumb to your forefinger with your thumb still on the outside and apply just a little bit of pressure to express your dog’s anal glands. The liquid will usually excrete outwards, so make sure you followed our instructions and laid down the paper towels beforehand.
- You will know the gland is empty because it will slowly diminish in size as you squeeze. When you can barely feel the gland anymore, then it’s time to stop.
- You can then move onto the gland on the other side and follow steps 3 to 5 to do the same.
- Once both glands have been relieved, you can remove the paper towels and wipe down the area with a cleaning cloth and maybe some disinfectant wipes. This is also the time to reward your dog for a job well done with a high-value treat and plenty of praise.
- For your dog’s rear end, use the warm cloth to give him a quick wipe to remove lingering fluid and to rid the area of the smell.
- You can then use the pet-safe deodorizing spray to spritz the area to mask any leftover smells.
It’s not a very difficult process but it is quite an invasive one for your dog. Some dogs won’t put up much of a struggle, but others may get squirmy. Similar to nail trimming, this is a procedure your dog will need to get used to over time. You may not be successful the very first time you attempt the expression. Some pooches may need a slow and gradual introduction over time.
Do not scold or punish your dog for his resistance. After all, one can only imagine the discomfort he was already feeling plus the intrusion of having his glands emptied isn’t pleasant at all. Positive reinforcement is key, so reward your dog whenever he is accepting of something new.
How Often Should I Express My Dog’s Anal Glands?
There are some people who express their dog’s anal glands routinely, but it only needs to be done on an as-needed basis. There are plenty of dogs that go through their entire lives doing fine with natural expression with defecation, but there are also some that require manual help.
We understand the mindset of wanting to get ahead of the situation, but gland expression that’s too frequent could damage your dog’s rectal tissues that cause the formation of scar tissues, which can then block the anal ducts.
The best thing to do is to inquire with your vet about the best course of action. If your pooch is a small breed dog that has already needed its anal glands manually expressed multiple times, then your vet will most likely recommend routine expression. If your dog has never had issues, then expression through natural means could be enough.
Then you have very unfortunate pups that often suffer from anal gland infection, impacted glands, or anal gland abscess. These poor dogs are the ones that may require anal gland removal. We would highly recommend against voluntarily removing the anal glands if your dog doesn’t face frequent problems because the process is not cheap, and if it isn’t directly recommended by a vet, pet insurance may not cover it.
As we stated before, this surgery requires an experienced surgeon to perform, and even then the chances of infection are high due to bacteria from your dog’s poop.
Frequently Asked Question
Is it painful to express a dog’s anal glands?
Anal gland expression for your dog is not often painful, but it can be uncomfortable. We will say that emptying your dog’s anal sacs can get painful if the situation is left to fester for too long. If the glands are infected or swollen, then relieving the gland can be painful for your pooch. For this reason, we suggest monitoring your dog for symptoms to know when to empty the glands to avoid aggravating the condition.
The step-by-step to relieving your dog’s anal sacs is quite straightforward and can be done without heavy equipment. The struggle isn’t emptying the sacs as much as it is identifying whether or not it needs to be done. Patience and positive reinforcement are the keys to success, as it is with any new process or training you introduce to your dog.