Puppy parents: We’re going down the crappit hole. Time to talk dog anal glands. Time to talk poop. Two of the more glorious topics that pet parents cannot (and should not) avoid. It doesn’t take long for first time puppy parents to realize that parenthood is not all cuddles and cuteness. There is a lot of pooping and piddling, with the occasional voms and runny tummies.
Poop is one of your doggo’s most important health indicators, and anal glands are an important part of that system. It’s important to be clued up on all things dog butt so that you can know when something is wrong.
So, prepare yourself for what you’re about to read. It’s all about the anus.
Dog Anal Gland Anatomy and Function
Anal glands (also called anal sacs) are two sacs lined with oil and sweat glands. When you look at your dog’s derriere, the glands are at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock. Situated between the inner and outer anal sphincter muscles, they have ducts which secrete a rather potent, oily liquid.
Ever wondered why dogs sniff each other’s butts upon meeting? Or why they can’t help but to smell every land mine they pass when you take them for a walk? Presenting function number one! Dog anal glands are basically scent glands. The fluid produced in the anal sacs has a scent containing pheromones, unique to each individual dog. When a dog smells another dogs doody, it’s like reading that dog’s ID card. Humans have business cards, dogs have anal scent glands. Yay!
Additionally, the gland juice lubricates the chocolate eclair [your dog’s poo] as it’s excreted. Either way, for your dog to have healthy, functioning anal glands is incredibly important.
When your dog is launches their astronaut, the mass in the colon puts pressure on the glands and squeezes the liquid through the ducts. As the astronaut is launched through the widened rectum, the fluid from the ducts secrete, covering the area.
Unfortunately, the anal sacs will also sometimes empty when your dog is under a lot of stress. While that may not be any fun for you (especially if your pup is in your lap), rest assured that as long as your pupper’s sacs are being emptied, you’re okay in the dog anus / dog anal sac department.
When things in the anal area go wrong, it’s time to scoot on over to the veterinarian double time. No pun intended. Anal sac diseases are no joke!
Dog Anal Glands Problems
Anal gland problems occur in around 12% of dogs. Luckily, these problems are usually a quick fix. However, for more serious cases, dog anal glands problems can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions, requiring antibiotics or even surgery.
Dog Anal Gland Diseases
In a healthy dog with functioning anal sacs, the anal sac fluid will be secreted through the ducts every time your dog pinches a loaf. Anal gland secretion is of paramount importance when the colon sausage passes through their anal sphincter.
It’s possible, however, that the fluid’s consistency becomes less like a liquid, and more like a paste. This is called anal sac impaction. This happens when the ducts become clogged and the fluid builds up within the sacs. When your dog is unable to empty the anal sacs with their bowel movements, you have yourself a real shit-uation.
Not only is it really painful for your dog but, if left untreated, it can lead to an anal gland infection, or an anal gland abscess.
2. Infection (Anal Sacculitis)
When the anal sacs aren’t being emptied properly, it could lead to chronic anal sacculitis. This is when the anal glands become inflamed and infected. Luckily, an infection can be avoided entirely if the gland problem is picked up on in the impaction phase. However, if the pet parent isn’t on top of the situation, it can very easily turn into chronic anal sacculitis. A real pain in the anus. Pun intended.
One would hope that an anal gland problem in a dog would be noticed and treated before it became infected. However, if the infection is left untreated, abscessation takes place. By the time the gland problem has reached the abscess phase, your dog’s anus will be swollen and inflamed. This is very painful for your pup!
4. Anal Sac Adenocarcinoma
An anal sac adenocarcinoma is cancer of the anal sac. In other words, an anal gland tumor. In some cases, the tumor grows really quickly and blood supply can’t keep up. When this happens, the tissue around it will start dying and become infected. Enter the abscess. The problem with anal abscesses and anal tumors is that veterinarians often have trouble telling the difference without sending a sample to the pathology lab. If it’s an anal tumor, it won’t respond to antibiotics, whereas an anal abscess oftentimes does.
Dogs That Have a Higher Risk of Developing Anal Gland Problems
Certain dogs have a higher risk of developing anal gland problems than others. This shouldn’t discourage the owners of those dogs. What it should do, is encourage them to keep a close eye on what lies beneath the dog tail.
The following dogs have a higher risk of developing anal gland problems:
- Small dog breeds
- Toy dog breeds
- Obese dogs
- Dogs with allergies
Symptoms of Dog Anal Glands Problems
It is incredibly important to know the symptoms of anal gland problems. If your dog does have a problem, you need to be able to identify it as soon as possible. That way, you can take them to the vet to get treatment before the condition escalates.
If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, you may want to take them to the vet:
- Scooting – A dog scooting can also be a sign that they have worms or allergies
- Obsessively licking and biting their anus
- Chasing tail
- An icky fluid accompanied by an incredibly yucky smell – The scratching and scooting can cause the glands to empty if the glands are impacted. Let’s just hope this doesn’t happen on your carpet during dinner with the in-laws…
- Showing pain or discomfort when sitting or pooping
- Red, inflamed, irritated skin around the anus
- Swelling around the anal sphincter area
Causes of Anal Gland Problems
There are many possible causes of anal gland disease. Some of the causes, such as a dog diet lacking in fiber, are in our control. Other factors are in mother nature’s hands.
- An unbalanced dog diet lacking in fiber
- Narrow excretory ducts
- Glands producing too much fluid
- Distended anal glands
- Poor sphincter muscle function
- Chemicals, drugs or vaccines – The body might try to use the anal glands to expel the toxins
Anal Gland Disease Treatment Methods
Vets have to deal with pet anal problems a lot more often than you might think. Dealing with dog stool is definitely a part of the job description, so never be embarrassed about asking your vet to help fix your dog’s bum!
To ascertain whether your dog has an anal gland problem, your vet will first perform a digital exam. Literally. They will stick their finger up your dog’s bum and feel around. They might express the anal glands and assess the liquid. The treatment will depend on the diagnosis.
If you are merely dealing with an anal gland impaction, expressing the glands may be sufficient treatment for the problem. If it becomes a recurring problem, you may need to discuss options and methods for finding the cause of the issue with your vet.
Your vet may suggest adjusting your dog’s diet, exercise regime, or allergy management plan.
In the case of infection, the vet might recommend irrigating the rectum daily with an antibacterial or antiseptic solution. Using antiseptic/anti-inflammatory/antibacterial ointment is also a good way to treat a superficial infection.
In more serious cases of severe infection or abscesses, your vet will advocate for antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and/or pain killers. Using poultices and warm compresses are also quite effective in fighting the infection.
Surgery should only be necessary in the worst-case scenario. Depending on how advanced the spread of the abscess is, your vet may have to surgically drain it and remove the surrounding, damaged tissue.
An Anal Sacculectomy is the surgical removal of the anal glands. This should only ever be considered as a last resort. If your vet thinks it’s the way to go for your dog, make sure you know all of the risks involved in the surgery. In some cases, dogs might really have an improved quality of life if they have their troublesome anal glands removed. But this is only true for dogs who truly suffer from chronic issues and their owners have exhausted all other options.
The problem with an anal Sacculectomy, is that it’s high risk. There are some real horror stories online about dogs whose sphincters were severely damaged during the surgery. A faulty sphincter makes for a very messy, poopy life. It’s called “fecal incontinence”, and, as you can imagine, it is as unappealing as it sounds.
Expressing Dog Anal Glands
Expressing dog anal glands is quite easy. Simply use your index finger and thumb to put pressure on the glands. If done correctly, the liquid should squeeze out through the ducts.
Routine Anal Gland Expression
There is a big debate as to whether dog anal glands should be expressed routinely, even if they are not impacted. Those for regular expression argue that this prevents impaction of the anal glands to begin with. Those who argue against routine expression are of the opinion that not allowing the glands to function naturally will cause impaction.
Your vet will be able to tell you whether your dog would or would not benefit from routine expression. Some dogs are far more prone to anal gland impaction so routine expression might be the best for them. If your dog’s anus seems A-OK, then it’s probably best to just leave it be.
Chat With Your Groomer
The are many groomers who express their fur clients’ anal glands as part of their service. You need to confirm with your groomer whether they will express your dog’s anal glands. If you do not know that they are doing it, and are doing it yourself as well, the chances of impaction skyrocket. The same goes for a low-risk dog with healthy anal glands. Don’t fix what isn’t broken! Be sure to tell that groomer to leave their finger out of your dog’s bum!
You don’t have to be a board-certified veterinary surgeon to be able to do this. Just ask your vet to show you the ropes! It can be useful to know how to express the glands yourself to prevent impaction and infection. However, you should know how to do it safely. If you get it wrong, you could rupture the glands, causing impaction or even an infection.
Step 1 – Glove up. You know why.
Step 2 – Find some cotton wool or paper towels. You’ll need something that is super absorbent to soak up the bum gland juice that you intend to squeeze out.
Step 3 – Place the wool or towel at the base of your dog’s tail, right by the poop hole.
Step 4 – The anal glands are at 4 0’clock and at 8 o’clock. Insert your index finger into the bum. Together with the thumb, feel for the anal sac and give it a gentle squeeze. If the sacs feel full but aren’t emptying, stop. Don’t force it. Instead, let the professional give it a go.
Step 5 – Give your dog’s bum a good wash. Make sure you get rid of all the yucky, stinky fluid.
Step 6 – Promise yourself to never underestimate the importance of canine anus maintenance!
Step 7 – Give yourself a pat (with a washed and thoroughly sanitized hand) on the shoulder for a job well done.
Good news! You don’t necessarily have to rely on medication or surgery for dog anal glands problems. In fact, many dog anal glands problems can be treated with natural remedies in the comfort of your own home. Before trying the following remedies, be sure to check with your vet so that they can confirm that the problem isn’t serious. They can also tell you whether your intended home remedy is safe to use on your dog as all dogs are different!
The following are some of the more popular natural home remedies for people wanting to treat their dogs naturally:
Many pet owners give their dogs probiotics. A healthy digestive system is an important part of the gland squeezing machine.
Warm Poultices or Compresses
Vets will often recommend warm compresses or poultices to treat anal gland problems. The wonderful thing is that you can add essential oils or other medicinal ingredients with healing properties. There are so many essential oils safe for dogs that have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties.
This can be especially useful to pup parents whose dogs have allergies which affect their nether regions. You can use the poultice to reduce inflammation and swelling brought on by allergies.
Silica, (also called Silicea) 6C is the homeopath’s holy grail. It can just about cure any ailment under the sun, even your dog’s derriere.
Luckily there are many ways of preventing anal gland problems for your dog. It may be a process of trial and error, but why not try some of these methods to see what works best for your dog’s backside.
1. High- Fiber Diet
Your dog needs sufficient fiber in their dog food. Be sure that it is well balanced and that they are laying big, solid eggs. If their poops are too soft, there is little to no pressure being exerted onto the anal glands. No pressure means not enough of the liquid is squeezed out of the glands.
2. Managing Allergies
Allergies can often lead to anal gland problems. If your dog is prone to allergies, do what you can to manage and treat them before they affect his anal glands. Think inflammation and scooting. Ouch.
Exercise does wonder for overall health in humans and in canines. Not only a great way to keep all systems up and running (no pun intended), exercise is also a very good way of preventing your dog from becoming obese. Obese dogs are far more prone to anal gland problems than healthy dogs.
There is a myriad of supplements on the market which can help your dog lead a healthier life. You can opt for a general cure all or a supplement which will help enhance the health of a specific bodily system. Look for supplements with anti-inflammatory properties, that promote gut health and boost the immune system.
Dog owners tend to take a very firm and strong stance when it comes to pet food. There are those who swear by a raw food diet. There are those who cook homemade dog food. Not to mention. there are those who feed their dogs a vegan dog food diet, or a diet supplemented with vegetables. There are limitless options!
In all honesty, tt really doesn’t matter what diet you advocate for. What matters is that your dog’s diet is nutritionally balanced and contains sufficient fiber. A high-quality kibble can contain more fiber than a raw or wet diet. In the same way that a vegan diet, or diet supplemented with vegetables can exceed even the best raw foods, with bones and all.
Whatever you feed them, make sure they are pooping bricks and not soft serve. The more their anus stretches, the easier it is for them to empty the glands.
Fiber Broth Recipe
If you think that your dog’s diet is lacking in the fiber department, fear not! There is a rather simple solution to this problem: Fiber broth.
Fiber broth is not only a great way of bulking up your dog’s poops, it is also a wonderful colon cleanser. It will really get your dog’s intestines working, lest they become lazy!
- 1 cup bone broth or coconut water
- 2 tablespoons of psyllium husks
1. Heat broth (coconut water should be room temperature)
2. Mix husks and the broth (or coconut water) until it becomes a thick jelly, porridge like paste
Note: It is very important to know how much of this mixture to feed your dog. The last thing you want is to cause constipation or blockages.
Feed the following amount of the total mixture to your dog for a day or two:
- Miniature Breeds – 1/5
- Small Breeds – 1/4
- Medium Breeds – 1/2
- Large Breeds – 3/4
- Giant Breeds – All
The fiber broth should replace every second meal. Also, don’t forget to be on strict poop watch!
Being responsible for a dog’s health can be daunting, but as long as they are eating and pooping, you’re doing a good job. Pooping is after all 1 of only 7 signs of life. Remember, a healthy dog butt = happy dog!
Illustrations inspired by our furry friend Kiva!