Dog owners commonly complain about their pet’s fishy, noxious-smelling anal glands. You may witness some of the classic signs of anal gland discomfort in your pet, including scooting her hind end along your freshly cleaned carpet or incessant licking of the anal area. Or, you may simply recognize the offensive smell. Either way, anal gland problems are unpleasant for both you and your furry friend. 

Some canine anatomy

The anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are small, grape-sized pouches that sit on either side of the anus at the four o’clock and eight o’clock positions. Their ducts empty out just below the skin’s surface into the anus. The glands are composed of sebaceous and apocrine (i.e., sweat) glands that produce a characteristic, exceptionally unpleasant stench. The secretion can range from thin and watery to oily or creamy, and can be anywhere from light yellow to dark brown. Normally, these secretions are expressed during defecation, but sometimes this doesn’t happen, leading to discomfort and subsequent problems. 

Many domestic animals have anal glands, but dogs are far more prone to problems. Several theories exist about the original purpose of anal glands, including the production of an identifiable scent that gave information about the animal’s health, or that the secretions were developed to help lubricate stools as they passed. The glands may also have originated as body parts of primitive ancestors who displayed spraying behavior, such as the skunk. 

Common anal gland complications and treatment in dogs

If your pet is exhibiting the classic signs of anal gland discomfort, all she probably needs is a little help with expressing the secretions. Occasionally, however, other complications arise, including:

  • Inflammation
  • Impaction 
  • Abscessation
  • Rupture
  • Cancer 

Treatments can involve anal gland flushes under sedation, oral medications, or surgery, depending on the disease and severity. Typically, the longer anal gland problems go untreated, the more difficult the treatment and the more uncomfortable your pet becomes, so do not hesitate to contact us at the first signs of anal discomfort.

Anal gland expression for dogs

Most cases of anal gland discomfort are due to excess secretions that your veterinarian can easily express manually. Your veterinarian can teach you how to do it at home if you are prepared to deal with the smell and the clean-up. 

Here is what you can expect during an anal gland appointment:

  1. Our team will prepare materials such as gloves, lubrication, absorbent gauze or paper towels, and cleaning supplies.
  2. Your dog will be properly restrained.
  3. A veterinary professional will insert a forefinger into your pet’s anus and isolate one anal gland with this finger and the thumb on the outer surface of the skin overlying the sac. She will apply gentle pressure and guide the secretions in the gland toward the duct entrance in the anus, and release the substance onto absorbent material. 
  4. The secretion will be assessed to ensure it appears normal.
  5. The procedure will be repeated on the other side. 
  6. The perineum will be cleaned and deodorized. 

If any abnormalities are seen when the anal glands are examined, your veterinarian will decide on the best course of action. 

Prevention of anal gland problems in dogs

Despite the many pets who have anal gland problems, preventive options are scarce, possibly because the glands’ anatomical importance in domesticated species is not yet completely understood. One train of thought is that a high-fiber diet high may help to naturally express the anal glands during bowel movements. Many over-the-counter products claim to help “boot the scoot,” but no studies have proven their efficacy. Certain dog breeds are more prone to requiring frequent anal gland expressions, such as toy breed dogs, beagles, and cocker spaniels. An allergic component is also possible in some animals. 

If you are seeing signs of anal discomfort in your pet, contact us to schedule an appointment.