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Anal Glands In Dogs: Everything You Need To Know

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As dog lovers we sometimes have to deal with unpleasant odors coming from our beloved companions. Arguably the stinkiest odor that dogs produce comes from their anal glands. 

If you’ve ever seen your dog scooting across your living room carpet or going to town on his rear end, odds are his anal glands are irritated. Anal gland issues are quite common with studies reporting about 12 percent of dogs experiencing an issue during their lifetimes [1]. 

You may be wondering what anal glands in dogs even are or what they do. You’re not alone. Anal glands are mysterious even to many veterinarians. This article will give pet parents an in depth insight into anal glands, common issues with them, symptoms of issues, and treatment options. 

Anal Glands In Dogs: What Are They And How Do They Work? 

The anal glands are fluid-filled pouches that sit just inside the anus of all dogs at about the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. The term anal gland is actually incorrect and the correct term is anal sacs. Dogs do have true anal glands, which are small microscopic secretory glands that sit on the surface of the anus. For this article’s purpose, however, the anal sacs will be referred to as the anal glands, as this is the term pet parents are more familiar with. 

The anal glands are lined by apocrine and sebaceous glands, that, together with bacteria, produce the stinky anal gland contents. The anal glands have little ducts (openings) on either side of the anus. Normally, when a dog poops, their poop will put pressure on the anal glands and their contents will be expelled out of the ducts along with stool. 

Most species of carnivores have anal glands but their purpose is poorly understood. Some theorize that anal glands serve the purpose to communicate or to mark territory. 

Common Anal Gland Problems In Dogs

Dog looking out at water

Anal gland problems are common in dogs. In fact, a study from the UK showed that anal gland impactions were the third most diagnosed problem by primary care veterinarians [2]. 

Some anal gland problems in dogs include:

  • Impaction
  • Infection
  • Abscess
  • Rupture
  • Cancerous tumor (less common)

Anal gland impactions occur when the glands do not express normally during defecation and become enlarged and clogged. 

Infections of the anal glands, called anal sacculitis, may occur as a result of impaction of the anal glands. If anal sacculitis isn’t treated rapidly or appropriately, this can lead to an anal gland abscess. 

When an abscess develops, there will be significant swelling of the anal gland, redness of the skin over the area and significant discomfort to the pet. When the abscess becomes large enough, it will rupture causing an open wound to develop in the skin over the anal gland that will drain blood and pus. 

Less commonly, the anal glands may develop a cancerous tumor, known as an apocrine gland anal sac adenocarcinoma. While this type of tumor is rare, it is aggressive and spreads elsewhere in the body. This is why it is super important for your dog to receive regular wellness check ups that include rectal exams. 

Symptoms Of Anal Gland Problems In Dogs

Signs that may indicate an anal gland issue in dogs include: 

  • Scooting or dragging the rear end on the floor 
  • Licking or chewing on the anus 
  • Redness of the anus
  • Swellings on one or both sides of the anus 
  • Metallic or fishy smelling fluid leaking from the anus 
  • Bloody fluid or pus coming from the anus 

Other things that can cause signs of rear end irritation include environmental and food allergies, diarrhea, and fleas or flea allergies. 

Anal gland issues are known to affect small breed dogs more commonly. Chihuahuas, Toy and Miniature Poodles as well as Lhasa Apsos are thought to be at increased risk for anal gland disease [3]. 

Anal Gland Expression In Dogs 

Corgi on white background

Expression of the anal glands occurs naturally when your dog poops. Dogs may also express their anal glands if they become startled or frightened. When your dog begins to show signs of anal gland discomfort like scooting or licking, you should take her to your veterinarian to have them check her glands. 

Your veterinarian will perform a rectal exam with a gloved and lubricated finger and, if the anal glands feel enlarged or the walls feel thickened, an anal gland expression should be performed. This occurs by gently squeezing each gland from the base to the top with the thumb and forefinger and milking out the anal gland contents until they are completely empty. If the anal gland contents are too thick, your veterinarian may instill saline into the glands to aid in expression. 

Many groomers will offer anal gland expression or perform it routinely as part of your pet’s groom. Most veterinarians recommend against having groomers or pet parents perform anal gland expression. This is because most will perform an external expression in which pressure is applied only to the outside skin over the anal glands. This will result in an incomplete expression of the anal glands which can lead to a build up of thick contents, which can lead to impaction. 

How Do You Know If Your Dog Needs Their Glands Expressed? 

Many veterinary dermatologists now believe that routine expression of the anal glands when performed without any signs of anal gland disease, will lead to excessive fluid building up in the anal glands causing them to enlarge more rapidly and requiring even more frequent expression. 

It is also thought that over-expression of the anal glands can lead to inflammation and trauma of the anal sacs, making it more likely for impactions, infections, and abscessation to occur. 

For this reason, it is recommended only to have your dog’s anal glands expressed by a veterinarian when there are signs of anal sac irritation such as scooting, anal licking, anal redness or swelling, leakage of contents, or anal bleeding. 

What To Do If Your Dog Has Anal Gland Problems

Puppy scooting on carpet

Besides having your dog’s anal glands expressed by your veterinarian, there are some things that may help treat and prevent problems with her anal glands. Your veterinarian may recommend flushing out the anal glands with an antiseptic solution and then instill an ointment into the anal glands that contains a steroid and an antibiotic. This will help to reduce inflammation and treat infection.

Things pet parents can do at home to help reduce anal gland issues include adding a fiber supplement to their dog’s diet. Fiber will help to add bulk to the stool and help the anal glands express naturally. Ask your veterinarian if they would recommend this and how much to give your dog. Prescription high fiber diets are also available. 

Unfortunately, research into anal gland disease is severely lacking so it is unknown how well fiber supplementation, or any other supplements or medications for that matter, will improve anal gland problems. 

If your dog suffers from chronic diarrhea and, as a result, is not normally expressing her anal glands, it will be important to work with your veterinarian to determine the cause of diarrhea so that it can be treated. For example, dogs with a suspected food allergy should be put on a prescription hydrolyzed or novel protein diet to see if this helps their symptoms. 

It is suspected that dogs that are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of developing anal gland diseases. If your dog needs to shed a few pounds, work with your veterinarian to develop a diet and exercise program to help your dog lose weight. 

In some cases, dogs that have frequent anal gland infections or abscesses that are not responsive to medical management, surgery to remove the anal glands is recommended. This should be performed by a veterinarian experienced in surgery, as complications from this surgery are common.

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