Dog’s Anal Glands: Common Problems & Treatment

Rhiannon Rowlands 12 July 2022

pug showing off their butt

 

Most non dog owners will never have heard of an anal gland but, for us pet parents, they can be quite important. For some individual pets, anal glands can become problematic and it is important that owners are aware of what they are and what can go wrong with them.

What are anal glands in dogs?

 

As humans do not have anal glands, many of us are unfamiliar with what they are. They are small sacs; about the size of a cherry, that sit inside the anus. If we were to say the anus was a clock face, the glands are found at about 4 and 8 o’clock.

 

The sacs are lined with sebaceous glands and they produce a strong, foul-smelling liquid that dogs use to mark territory and communicate with other dogs in the vicinity.

 

Anal glands cannot be seen externally and can only be felt by inserting fingers into the anus.  This is done with a gloved hand, using lubricant to minimise discomfort.

 

What are the most common problems with anal glands in dogs?

 

  •   Impacted anal glands in dogs

    Sometimes, the fluid inside the gland is not expressed and it builds up, causing a blockage.

 

  • Dog anal gland infections

    The gland can become infected, leading to discomfort, an elevated temperature and swelling of the gland.

 

  •  Dog anal gland ruptured abscesses

      An advanced infection can cause the gland to swell with pus and to then ulcerate onto the skin. The owner will see a small hole in the skin that is oozing blood and pus.

 

  • Anal gland cancer in dogs

    . An adenocarcinoma is the most common type of tumour to affect the anal sac. These tumours frequently cause elevated calcium levels and signs such as excess thirst and weakness.

 

Symptoms of anal gland issues in dogs

 

One of the quintessential signs of anal gland issues is ‘the scoot’. Scooting or bum dragging is a dog’s way of trying to relieve the irritation they are feeling. Many owners mistakenly assume that this is a sign of worms, but it is simply an indication that the anal area is very irritated.

 

You might notice your dog sitting down abruptly and/or quickly looking behind them with an alert or concerned expression on their face.

 

A swelling may be visible around the anus and we might also detect a fishy smelling, brown discharge being leaked from the anus.

 

Some dogs will stretch to lick and chew at their back end. While some can reach, others may lick and chew their rump and legs instead. This can lead to fur loss and red skin.

 

Are any breeds at increased risk?

 

We see anal gland issues much more commonly in small breeds, due to their conformation. They seem to be more prone to narrow openings of the anal glands. Obese dogs are also at higher risk. This is thought to be due to them having weaker muscles.

 

It is relatively uncommon for larger breeds to suffer with chronic anal gland issues, but it certainly happens.

 

Pedigree dogs are at highest risk. This is likely due to the fact that atopic dermatitis (allergies) is more common in these dogs and anal gland issues go hand in hand with atopy.

 

How to treat a dog’s anal gland problems 

 

Anal glands will need to be squeezed and emptied if they are impacted. This is something owners can be taught to safely do at home. We should only empty glands that require emptying; if the dog has no anal gland issues, there is no need to empty them.

 

  • When emptying glands at home, prepare yourself before getting your dog. Make sure you have disposable gloves, paper towel and some lubricant such as KY jelly or vaseline. 
  • The easiest place to empty glands is in the bath! Ideally you would have one person holding the dogs shoulders forward and praising them. They can also reward them with high value treats las they stay calm.
  • If you imagine the anus is a clock face, each gland is located at 4 and 8 o'clock. Gently insert your thumb into the anus, steadying the anal gland with your pointer finger, which will be on the outside of the anus. 
  • Squeeze with firm pressure, releasing all of the contents onto a tissue. You will feel the gland shrinking from the size of a grape to a small 'empty balloon'.
  • As this can be a strange sensation, your dog may try to run or jump, so ensure they are being held firmly.
  • Reward your doggy. You are done!

 

Many owners are (understandably) not confident to empty the glands at home and this is always something a vet will be happy to do. Some dogs require their glands to be emptied very regularly (every 4 to 6 weeks), while others may only need it a few times in their life.

 

If there is an infection, the dog will need a course of antibiotics and anti inflammatories.

 

A dog who is licking at their back end due to the discomfort should be given a buster collar to protect the surrounding skin and tissue.

 

Uncommonly, surgery is needed to treat ongoing anal gland issues, particularly if they cannot be managed medically and are significantly affecting a dog’s quality of life.

 

How can you prevent dog anal gland issues?

 

Thankfully, there are lots of things we can do to help prevent anal gland issues. This includes:

 

  • Feeding a high quality diet with ample fibre and supplementing the diet with fibre if needed. This helps keep the stool solid, ensuring the glands are naturally expressed when the dog passes stool.
  • Providing ample exercise. Not only will this prevent a dog becoming over-weight, exercise aids in gut health and helps promote healthy bowel movements.
  • Preventing obesity. Consider a slimming diet such as Pooch & Mutt’s Slim & Slender if your dog is over weight. This high fibre weight loss diet helps stave off hunger and can speed up weight loss.
  • Schedule regular check ups. You can ask your vet to check your dog’s glands during their routine checks and you may also need to book them in for regular ‘anal gland checks’.

 

Dog anal glands FAQs

 

How do you know if your dog needs his anal glands expressed?

 

Your dog will usually let you know something is amiss by scooting their bum along the ground and stopping abruptly to look quickly at their back end. They may also lick or chew obsessively at their back end.

 

What happens when a dog’s anal glands are full?

 

Full anal glands cause discomfort and can quickly become infected, leading to an abscess forming. If not treated on time, the abscess can burst out onto the skin.

 

How often should you express dogs’ anal glands?

 

Most dogs never need their glands expressed. The fluid is released naturally when they pass stool. However, some dogs will need their glands emptied for them. This can be an infrequent occurrence (once or twice a year) or something that is done every 4-6 weeks. It all depends on the individual.

2 comments

Hi Nicola, Yes, this would likely be a good choice. However, it does depend on several factors including the dog’s weight, activity levels, body shape etc. The aim is for dogs to pass a firm poo daily. Soft poos do not empty the glands as they should.

Team Pooch @ 2022-08-19 10:25:43 +0100

My 2yr old female dog has had her glands emptied twice in the last month. Is Health & Digestion the best food to give her as she is not overweight. Is there h fibre in it to help. Thanks, Nicola

Nicola @ 2022-08-19 10:22:00 +0100