written by: Dr. Haris Raza, BSc., DVM, Pets Practitioner & Consultant
Although it’s not pleasant, clogged anal glands can lead to serious infection and must be treated. One of the first signs of a blocked anal gland is seeing your dog scoot his/her bum across the floor or yard.
If your dog has an occasional anal gland problem, we’re here to help. Learn how to spot the signs of affected glands that your dog’s anal glands are expressing and how to avoid frequent blockages.
Clogged anal glands can lead to a serious infection if not treated right away.
What Are Dog Anal Glands And Why Do They Have Them?
Anal glands are scent glands – some people call them “anal sacs”. They range in size from a pea to a brown bean based on the size of your dog. They are located on either side of the anus and lie between the external anal sphincter and the smooth muscles of the rectum.
These glands are lined with secretory cells that have numerous modified sweat and sebaceous glands (oil glands). These two features in the gland lining create the awful smelling fluid that adds to the problems.
If all is well with the world, these glands will be emptied when your dog (or cat) poops. This is because the external anal sphincter is pushing the glands against the feces in the rectum.
The Purpose of Anal Glands in Dogs
The purpose of all of this is for dogs to be able to mark their territory. The scent that remains on their poop acts as a “smell signal” for other passing dogs.
It’s also been linked to social interaction – the reason dogs smell each other’s butts! Since each dog’s scent is unique to them, they sniff each other and learn things like, have they met before, are this dog a friend or foe, or do I like them?
Why Do Dog’s Anal Glands Get Clogged?
The anal glands are a pair of tiny sacs located in the anus. They contain a strong smelling liquid that is used to mark the territory. Healthy anal glands empty when a dog poops.
Clogged anal glands are a fairly common problem and, in most cases, easy to treat. Untreated blocked anal glands can lead to more serious problems such as infections / abscesses.
Any dog can develop blocked anal glands, but this is more common in obese dogs (weak muscles), dogs with narrow anal gland openings (making them difficult to empty), and dogs with persistent diarrhea / loose stools.
Symptoms of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs
Symptoms of blocked anal glands include the following:
Bum Scooting Across the Floor
Constant Licking of the area
Causes of Anal Gland Blockage
The main suspects are drugs and chemicals, malnutrition and vaccines. The body tries to get rid of these toxins through the skin, liver and even the anal glands.
Some common triggers could include:
Diet has a major role because processed foods and even some raw foods are too soft. If the diet contains the right fiber, it promotes good wide anus pressure during bowel movements.
This pressure helps the anal glands to express themselves. If not, your dog’s anal glands and channels can swell, and the secretions may become so thick that your dog cannot pass it.
Lack of Exercise
Exercise is one way to encourage your dog’s bowels to work.
If your dog requires frequent gland expression, it could be a sign of an underlying condition including tumors or cancer.
When to Express a Dog’s Anal Glands
If you suspect that your dog’s glands need to be pumped and this is not a chronic problem, it is imperative to contact your vet.
She wants to check that your dog doesn’t have an infection and talk to you about the cause.
Many dog parents whose dogs have to express their anal glands regularly always turn to their vet for the actual expression. Why? Because it is pretty dirty! And because misprinting a dog’s glands can actually lead to painful irritation.
Annual health checks are especially important for dog parents who manually squeeze their dog’s glands between visits to the vet to make sure they don’t accidentally cause damage.
5 Steps to Externally Express Your Dog’s Glands
Understand that squeezing an animal’s anal glands is a dirty, smelly job. If you’re squeamish, have a writhing dog, or are worried about execution, it’s best to leave this task to the professionals.
Have you been trained by a professional and would you like to do it yourself?
STEP 1: Holding the Dog Still
Regardless of the size of your dog, it’s a good idea to have a volunteer to hold your dog steady with all four paws on the floor.
STEP 2: Latex Gloves and Lubrication
While wearing latex gloves, generously lubricate your fingers with petroleum jelly.
Carefully insert your index finger directly into your dog’s anus.
From the inside, let your index finger “hit” your thumb on the outside of your dog’s anus. You should feel a pea-sized bag.
Gently squeeze the clear, brownish liquid from the sachet into a clean paper towel until it is empty. Repeat on the other side. Stop when your dog seems to be in pain!
If the liquid you are removing is cloudy or discolored, contact your veterinarian as these could be signs of infection.
If your dog manually requires his glands at home more than twice a year, something is wrong. Your vet can help you figure it out.
How to Keep Your Dog’s Glands Clear
In order for your dog’s anal glands to empty normally, they need large, firm stools to put pressure on during bowel movements. Some ways to do that include:
Feeding your pet a quality diet with the right ingredients and nutrients is critical to healthy stool and anal gland function. You can also try a protein-based food that your dog is not used to. New proteins such as bison can help.
A constant diet of just one or two types of proteins can trigger an allergic inflammatory response. Untreated food allergies are a common cause of chronic anal sac problems.
Changing your dog’s diet with new types of proteins can help. However, you should always consult your vet about allergy testing. In addition, all dietary changes should be made gradually – here too your vet can help.
Another way to prevent affected anal glands is to walk your dog regularly and keep him or her at a healthy weight. Dogs who are overweight and / or who do not exercise enough are at higher risk.
Watch For Signs of Underlying Health Conditions
If your dog is prone to diarrhea, make an appointment with your vet to find out the reason as it can be a symptom of many health conditions including anal gland problems.
Using an anal gland supplement can ensure your pet is getting the recommended daily amount of fiber and support the underlying causes of anal gland problems.
How Often Should a Dog’s Glands be Expressed?
Some dogs need to have their glands expressed once or twice a year. Many veterinarians prefer that the glands are expressed less often.
The real question really isn’t when your dog should express his glands, but whether he does. Overly expressing a dog’s glands can lead to injury. In addition, there could be an underlying condition causing the problem.
You may get good at expressing your dog’s glands at home, but if it needs to be done frequently, it’s important to follow-up for veterinarian advice. There could be something else going on that needs to be treated.
Each dog’s anus is flanked by two anal glands designed to give off a unique scent to their stool when they defecate. In many dogs, these fluid-filled glands empty out every time a bowel movement occurs. In other dogs, the glands cannot drain, build up and be attacked. In really serious situations, the glands can even rupture.
At the End of the Day
Some vets suggest removing your dog’s anal glands. Do not do it! That’s the worst thing you can do. It can permanently damage the anal sphincter. And it prevents the body from purifying itself. Toxins, which normally leak through the anal glands, penetrate deeper into your dog’s body and cause more health problems.
At the end of the day, it’s best to leave this to a veterinarian.