Our dogs are adorable in so many ways. But not everything about them is cute. If your dog has chronic problems with their anal glands, you know what I mean.
Anal glands (also called anal sacs) are on each side of and slightly below the anal opening, at about 4 and 8 o’clock.
Photo courtesy of petmd.com
As you can see from the photo, a tiny duct leads from the gland under the skin, to an opening right next to the anus.
What’s truly unpleasant about your dog’s anal glands is what’s produced in them… a smelly, oily, brown fluid your dog uses to mark its territory. When they poop, this fluid is excreted with the poop through those little ducts near the anus, leaving a distinct scent.
This scent also helps dogs identify each other. When your dog meets a new dog, he may raise his tail and let the other dog get his nose right in there. It’s this fluid in the anal sac that emits a scent.
Humans don’t have anal glands. But guess who does? A skunk. And they can empty them voluntarily when they feel threatened. You know that if one has ever sprayed you.
Dogs can’t voluntarily empty their anal glands. And the glands can become impacted or clogged if the dog doesn’t completely empty them when they poop and the fluid is left to thicken.
Why some dogs aren’t able to completely empty their anal glands isn’t known for sure. It could be the dog’s anatomy, the consistency of its poop, or the thickness of the anal sac fluid.
There isn’t a breed predisposition, but it’s said that anal gland disorders often occur in smaller breeds.
Hmmm, I’ve had three Labs and two of them have had chronic anal gland problems. So know what this condition looks like no matter the size of your dog.
Here are 4 signs:
1) The butt scoot – your dog drags its tushy along your nice carpet
Your dog is trying to empty the glands by rubbing them along the ground because they’re not emptying fully when they poop.
2) A foul smell – and sometimes super stinky breath too
The fluid is fishy smelling… a smell you may have also noticed when your dog is anxious. They’ll excrete anal gland fluid in times of stress.
3) Excessive licking and/or biting the tushy – resulting in that horrible breath
If the fluid has thickened and clogged the anal ducts, they’ll try to relieve the pressure and discomfort of the impaction.
4) Pain when your dog sits or poops
Once an impaction progresses to an infection or abscess, it’s really painful.
Is this serious?
Full anal glands can be uncomfortable but rarely affect your dog’s general health. If your dog is showing any signs of an anal gland problem, see your vet.
If the glands aren’t emptied and they become impacted, bacteria can get into the fluid and result in an infection or abscess.
That’s very painful. And abscesses can leave scar tissue that affects the nerves and muscles in the area. Sometimes, this can cause fecal incontinence and that’s a big problem. No one wants their dog leaking poop around their home, so be sure not to let full anal glands get to this point.
How are anal gland disorders treated?
If your dog’s anal glands are full and/or impacted, your vet can express the fluid with their fingers. If this becomes a chronic problem, your vet can show you how to do it.
… Or just have the vet do it.
Our Lab goes to the vet every 6 weeks to have her anal glands emptied. And I can usually tell when it’s time. She’ll do the butt scoot, and the smell of her crate is reminiscent of low tide.
If the anal glands become infected, you may see bloody pus oozing from the glands. Your vet can tell when they drain the sacs if there’s an infection.
An infection is treated with antibiotics. But it can progress to a swollen mass of pus (an abscess) that is very tender if you wait too long to start treatment.
Unfortunately, once an abscess has formed it has to be lanced and then treated with antibiotics and sometimes an anti-inflammatory. Warm compresses can relieve the discomfort too.
Is there any way to prevent anal gland problems?
Some say a high-fiber diet, which makes the dog’s poop bulkier can help empty the glands fully. The poop puts more pressure on the glands as it passes. But some vets say a high-fiber diet does little to fix the problem.
If your dog’s anal glands are an ongoing issue, talk to your vet. They may recommend an anal sacculectomy—surgical removal of the glands.
This is a simple procedure but it can cause fecal incontinence. Weigh the pros and cons.
Having the glands drained regularly before full glands turn into an impaction, then an infection and ultimately an abscess may be a better solution.
Most dogs will go through life never having a problem with their anal glands. If that’s your dog, leave the glands alone.
Your groomer may offer gland expression as part of their grooming service. But if the glands don’t need emptying, most vets will say don’t touch them.
Has your dog had this uncomfortable and stinky problem? Do you express the glands yourself? Tell us in the comment section at the top.