Most of the time, you’ll never have to worry about whether your dog needs its glands expressed — when a dog poops, it will normally express the anal gland naturally, which releases anal gland fluid from the dog’s anal sacs. Dogs can also express their anal glands by accident when they get stressed or scared. But what is this process exactly and why is it so important?
In this comprehensive guide, we share everything you need to know about your dog’s anal glands and how you can help it express when needed.
What are a Dog’s Anal Glands?
All dogs come with small glands on either side of the anus which are called anal glands. These produce a strong odor that allows dogs to communicate with one another. However, there are times when they develop chronic issues as a result of an impacted anal gland — as such, they will need manual expression. When it functions normally, a dog’s anal glands will usually release (express) fluid as pressure is applied whenever stool passes through the dog’s anus.
Apart from male and female dogs, many other animals such as cats have these scent glands. They’re not necessary for a dog’s health and can be surgically removed if needed for medical reasons.
Why Do Dogs Need Their Glands Expressed?
A healthy and normal dog will usually express its own anal glands to leave behind its scent to claim territory around their home or involuntarily whenever it has a normal bowel movement. Whenever dogs meet, they will sniff the other’s anal glands and rear end to get information on their hormonal status. But sometimes, dogs can experience impacted, infected, or full anal glands, all of which can be painful.
Because of this, it’s important to learn about the signs of anal gland problems and how we can help our dogs the next time it happens.
Kinds of Anal Gland Issues in Dogs
The term “anal sac disease” is a general term that includes different conditions which are discussed below.
Anal Gland Impact
An impacted anal gland can cause much pain in dogs. This occurs when the fluid inside the anal gland thickens, making a brown, pasty material that clogs the gland and becomes a hard mass. Usually, the anal gland can be expressed by using significant pressure but should still be applied with care.
Anal Gland Infection
When a dog experiences anal gland infections, it may feel moderate to severe pain. Should the gland be infected, the bacteria causing the infection will cause pus to be released into the gland. It can then lead to an abscess that has a pus-filled sac that obstructs the gland and anal opening.
Ruptured Anal Gland Abscess
When an abscess doesn’t get the treatment it needs, it may rupture leading to extreme pain in dogs. The ruptures will then escape the anal gland through the dog’s skin, so you might see bloody or greenish-yellow pus coming out of the ruptured abscess.
Anal Gland Cancer
In severe cases, the anal gland may also become host to cancerous tumors; the most kind of anal gland cancer is apocrine anal gland adenocarcinoma. It’s a common condition among senior female dogs and may not cause any pain. Certain breeds, such as Dachshunds and German Shepherds have a higher chance of developing this disease.
Symptoms of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs
If your dog’s diet consists of high-quality dog food, maintains a healthy weight, and gets lots of exercise, it shouldn’t need help with anal gland expression. However, because they’re so small (about the size of a small grape) and fragile, anal glands can be easily impacted as a result of obesity, food allergies, changes to your dog’s diet, and some medical conditions. As a result, the glands around the anal area can become swollen with a foul odor and when left untreated, they can become infected.
The most common signs of an impacted gland include the following:
- Swollen anal glands
- Dog scooting
- Biting and licking their hind end
- Excessive licking
- Straining to produce loose stool
- Anal discharge
- Fecal incontinence
- Reluctance to sit
If you see any of the following signs, be sure to take your pup to the vet immediately. When left without medical attention, anal gland impactions can lead to extreme cases that may need the removal of their anal sacs. Typically, a rectal exam and the sampling of your dog’s stools can be performed at a veterinary clinic.
How Anal Gland Expression is Done
The expression of anal glands is a quick and easy procedure that’s performed by a veterinary technician or dog groomers — they will simply squeeze the glands to release fluids from the glands. Typically, the whole process will only take a few minutes and isn’t painful for dogs. But if the dog has infected glands, it may feel some discomfort while the procedure takes place.
Expressing Your Dog’s Anal Glands
If your dog requires anal gland expression on a regular basis, your vet may agree to instruct you how to do the process from the comfort of your home. However, if you see pus or blood around your dog’s butt, or if it’s not comfortable with it, it’s best to seek help from a professional. To get started, you’ll need to prepare the following tools:
- Water and oil-based lubricant
- Latex gloves
- Someone to help keep your dog in place
If you have small dogs, place them on a counter or table, but if you’re working with a larger dog, you can simply sit behind them. Have your helper hold your pooch by placing their arms around the dog’s body. With your latex gloves on, lubricate your index finger and lift your dog’s tail so you can gently insert it inside the dog’s bottom no more than 1 inch deep.
Look for a pea-sized growth around the 5 to 7 o’clock positions — when you locate the gland, use a paper towel to collect the fluids while you gently milk the gland by applying just enough pressure. You should be able to feel once the gland is empty, then wipe the dog’s anus clean using wet wipes. Simply repeat the process for the other side.
Preventing Anal Gland Impactions in Dogs
The best way to prevent the occurrence of anal gland impactions is to keep your pet at a healthy weight. Unfortunately, obesity may place more pressure on their glands, which can lead to impacted glands. It’s also a good idea to give your pet a balanced diet that has enough fiber that encourage regular bowel movements.
Your dog may also benefit from fiber supplements and anal gland supplements that can help to reduce the chance of developing problems within the anal glands. Apart from overweight dogs, small breeds are also more prone to getting recurrent anal gland disease. As such, you must monitor your dog’s health condition and watch out for signs of discomfort.
Are Some Dog Breeds More Susceptible to Anal Gland Problems?
While problems in the anal gland are predominantly found in smaller dogs, they can also develop in bigger dogs too. Below is a list of breeds that are most likely to encounter anal gland issues:
- Basset Hounds
- Cocker Spaniels
- Toy and Miniature Poodles
- Lhasa Apsos
However, there are other factors that may increase a dog’s risk for developing anal gland problems, such as:
- Chronic skin issues like skin infections, seborrhea, and itchy skin
- Overweight or obese dogs
- Low fiber intake
- Changes in the consistency of your dog’s stool: soft stools, firm stools, constipation, or diarrhea
- External and internal parasites
- Environmental or food allergies
While it may seem difficult at first, dog parents should familiarize themselves with expressing their pup’s anal glands to help them maintain their anal gland health. This relatively painless and simple procedure is a necessary step toward keeping your pooch happy and healthy. By becoming familiar with the common causes behind this condition, you’ll be able to understand your dog’s bowel movements and eliminate the fishy smell coming from your beloved pet.