Your Dog’s Anal Glands
(Editor’s note: Do NOT read this article over the breakfast table.)
If you’ve ever noticed a putrid odor coming from your dog’s hind end, you may have been smelling impacted anal glands. These small sacs, located on either side of the dog’s rectum, normally empty themselves whenever the dog empties his or her bowels, but they can become clogged or infected, requiring some manual intervention.
What are the anal glands for?
The dog uses his or her anal glands primarily to leave a scent trail so other dogs know whose territory is whose. The scent is left on the ground along with each and every pile of poo, but it may also be an important identifier when new dogs are around.
When your dog meets a new friend and stands his or her tail straight up, pressure is applied to the anal glands which can cause them to release just a wee bit of their “fragrant” scent. Scientists think this may be why dogs sniff each others hindquarters in greeting.
Normal functioning of the anal glands
The anal glands or anal sacs are located at about five and seven o’clock on either side of the anus. They are just one of many sebaceous glands animals have, meaning that they are lined with cells that produce sebum, an oily liquid that is important in lubricating the skin and hair. (These are the same type of glands that cause our two-leggers such angst over acne during their teenage years.)
In the wild, animals can empty the sacs at will, usually in response to a perceived threat, such as the way a skunk sprays. However, in domesticated dogs, voluntary emptying of the sacs is just about unheard of.
Pressure is required to empty the anal glands in domesticated dogs. In most cases, this pressure is applied by the dog’s walking around and by defecation. However, if your dog’s stool is soft, he or she may not receive enough pressure to the glands to allow them to empty fully. Even if enough pressure is applied by the stool, your dog may develop an anal gland problem if the ducts leading from the glands to the rectum become blocked, trapping fluid inside the sacs.
Why are full anal glands a bad thing?
Whenever fluid sits around inside a dog’s body without being moved, it can fester and become infected. The fluid inside the anal glands is no different. When it becomes infected, the anal glands will swell and cause your dog pain. In extreme cases, an abscess can form, rupturing through the skin around the rectum. The only way to treat an infection of this nature is with antibiotics, which of course, requires a trip to the veterinarian’s office.
Your dog will let you know when he or she is having trouble with anal glands. The first symptom you may notice is scooting. Contrary to the old wives’ tail, scooting is not symptomatic only of worms. If the dog’s anal glands are becoming uncomfortable, he or she will scoot around on the carpet, trying to create enough pressure to cause the glands to empty.
Other symptoms include biting or licking the anal region excessively and a fetid odor coming from the dog’s back end. Believe me; you’ll be able to smell it. Another clue might be if your dog’s stools are soft, as soft stools cannot produce the pressure on the glands to cause them to empty upon defecation.
What do I do if the anal sacs are full?
Although you can take the dog to the vet’s office or even to the groomer’s to have the anal sacs emptied, there’s really no reason you can’t do the simple procedure at home, as long as you have a strong stomach and a clothespin for your nose.
There are two techniques you might try. The external method involves holding a rag over the dog’s anus and squeezing the lower part of the sphincter sides together to express the fluid from both sacs at once. Although this technique is easier to do, it may not fully empty the sacs, particularly if the fluid is thick.
The internal method should be tried if your dog continues to scoot and experience pain after you have tried the external method. Put a rubber glove on one hand and lubricate your forefinger with petroleum jelly or KY. Hold a rag under the dog’s anus with your free hand. Using the gloved hand, place your forefinger inside the dog’s anus and locate one of the glands. You will feel it as a swollen bulge on the lower side of the anal ring, very close to the surface. Squeeze one of the glands between your forefinger and thumb to express the liquid. Once the gland is fully emptied, locate the gland on the other side of the anus and repeat the process.
Watch a YouTube demo of the internal technique.
What if the dog still scoots after I empty his anal glands?
When the dog’s anal glands are impacted, the irritation may cause some swelling of the duct from the glands to the surface. If the dog continues to scoot for more than a day or two after you have emptied the glands, you may have to repeat the process a few times until any swelling around the ducts goes away, allowing the glands to empty normally.
You might also try changing your dog’s diet to include more protein, which should produce firmer stools. Some cereal-based foods cause mushy stools, which can lead to problems in emptying the anal sacs naturally.
If you have emptied your dog’s anal glands repeatedly, and they do not resume normal operations, you may need to have the glands surgically removed, an operation called an anal sacculectomy.
Although this is a relatively simple procedure, you should be aware that there is a risk of fecal incontinence if your surgeon disturbs one of the nerves in the anal region. This is uncommon, but worth consideration. Ask your veterinarian how much experience he has in the procedure and what his success rate has been before you trust your dog’s continence to his surgical skills.
For more information:
From the Dog Health Handbook