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Dog Anal Glands
A Guide to Anal Gland Conditions, Health, & Treatment for Dogs
Do all dogs have anal glands? The answer is yes–in fact, both dogs and cats have two small glands inside the anus. They sit low on either side of the anal cavity at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions, and can range from pea to grape size (depending on the size of the animal). Anal glands are aren’t visible from the outside, but can be carefully accessed by your veterinarian or someone trained in anal gland expression.
Location of the Anal Glands
The anal glands–also called anal sacs–are actually considered scent glands. Ever seen two dogs sniff each other’s behinds as a way of greeting? This peculiar sniffing helps dogs gather a brief bio on their pup pals: age, sex, and overall health. That’s because tiny sebaceous (sweat) glands line the inside of your pet’s anal glands, and produce an oily–and foul-smelling–fluid. The smelly excretions produced by dog anal glands are useful for identification, but they need to express regularly in order to remain healthy.
So, why do dogs’ anal glands fill up? Full anal glands aren’t ideal, since the glands should be emptying on their own with regular, healthy-sized bowel movements. If they don’t empty regularly, uncomfortable symptoms of impaction can rear their ugly head, and your pet will need immediate support.
Anal Gland Anatomy
- Basset Hound
- Bichon Frisé
- Cairn Terrier
- Cocker Spaniel
- English Cocker Spaniel
- French Bulldog
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Lhasa Apso
- Miniature Pinscher
- Miniature Poodle
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- Scottish Terrier
- Shih Tzu
- Silky Terrier
- West Highland White Terrier
- Yorkshire Terrier
Chihuahua Anal Gland Issues
Toy Poodle Anal Gland Issues
Cocker Spaniel Anal Gland Issues
Basset Hound Anal Gland Issues
Beagle Anal Gland Issues
While many small dogs are prone to anal gland issues, any dog can be affected by anal gland complications. So how do you know if your dog needs glands expressed, or if they’re suffering from some form of anal gland issue?
Here are some basic signs to watch for:
Scooting is your dog’s way of trying to relieve discomfort caused by anal gland issues, such as aching, itching, or pressure in the anal area. When your dog scoots, they’ll drag their butt across a textured surface to find relief. Scooting can be one of the first signs of anal gland distress, and can be miserable for both your pet and your carpet!
Having their glands expressed isn’t always the most pleasant experience for your dog, and some pain after manual expression can be normal. If the pain persists for longer than 24 hours, your pet may have an anal abscess (a pocket of infected tissue). An abscess can act as a blockage, preventing the anal glands from emptying on their own and leading to infected glands and further complications.
Why is your dog bleeding from its butt? If you notice bleeding from the rear end or bloody stools from your dog, hemorrhoids could be to blame. This could be especially true if your pet is dealing with new or worsening constipation–whether it’s due to anal gland impaction, a lack of dietary fiber, dog hemorrhoids, or a combination of all three. In extreme cases, a ruptured anal gland in dogs could be the cause, a ruptured abscess, or other severe complications like damage to the digestive tract.
Much like scooting, tail and posterior licking can be signs that your dog is dealing with discomfort in that area. This could be due to itching, pain, and throbbing due to the dog’s anal gland infection and inflammation.
Has your dog recently become constipated? A lack of dietary fiber, stress, lack of hydration, and poor diet can lead to constipation–but so can an anal gland impaction. When the anal glands become full or inflamed (and aren’t being emptied on a regular basis), they can grow large enough to narrow the anal cavity. This makes it more difficult for stool to pass through, leading to painful constipation and straining during bowel movements.
On the other hand, if your dog is dealing with diarrhea, this could be a likely cause of anal gland issues. When your dog’s stools aren’t bulky enough to express the glands–in the case of diarrhea or soft stool–the glands will remain unemptied and more likely to become infected or impacted.
If you or your veterinarian suspect that anal glands are the source of your pet’s uncomfortable symptoms, it could be due to one of the following conditions:
Signs of a ruptured anal gland in dogs can be scary for pet parents. A rupture could cause blood to appear in the stool, or leak from the anal area between bowel movements. This condition can be extremely painful for your pup, and may cause even the calmest animals to become aggressive if you go near their tail or rear end.
When the anal glands don’t empty on a regular basis, a buildup of fluid from sebaceous glands can lead to infected dog glands. No matter the cause of your dog’s anal gland impaction, infection can occur once the glands have remained full for too long without being expressed.
An abscess occurs in the anal glands as a result of infection. Abscesses occur when an infection goes untreated, causing a mass of pus-filled tissue that can block your dog’s anal canal or cause other painful complications. When an abscess ruptures, you can expect symptoms similar to a ruptured anal gland.
When anal glands become filled with fluid, they can become swollen or distended. This enlargement can lead to a narrowed (or obstructed) digestive tract and, as a result, impaction. If anal gland impaction is to blame, it will be tough for your dog to pass stool without pain or discomfort.
Inflammation is your body’s response to an invading toxin or allergen, and your dog’s system works the same way! If your dog has been exposed to an allergen–whether it be dietary or environmental–their immune system triggers inflammation to fend off potentially harmful pathogens. Inflammation includes redness and swelling, which can affect the anal glands. When swelling occurs, this can lead to impaction and other related complications in the digestive tract.
Generally speaking, it’s possible that all of the conditions listed above can be interconnected–or happen simultaneously. That’s why you’ll notice similarities between symptoms, and may see your dog showing the same coping behaviors with each condition.
Veterinarians most commonly recommend two things for anal gland issues–manual expression and/or increased fiber intake. If your pet is scooting regularly or struggling with new or worsening constipation, these may be your vet’s first recommendations:
The most well-known treatment for impacted anal glands is manual expression, especially if your dog’s symptoms are more advanced. Manual expression is dreaded by most pet parents, because it can mean: a) getting their hands dirty at home, b) a costly trip to the vet, or c) taking time out of their busy schedules to have it done. Manual expression is reserved for smaller animals who need frequent gland expression, or for severe cases of impaction or infection.
Wondering how to express dog anal glands? Manual expression can be mildly uncomfortable for your dog, so it will require two people to perform: one person to hold the dog’s torso and head, and a second person to perform the expression.
To perform a manual expression, you or your vet will use clean, gloved, and lubricated fingers to milk the glands from the anal area. It’s important to express fluid from each gland until both are empty, and follow by cleaning the anal area with a sanitary wipe once the expression is finished.
Smaller dogs may need multiple manual expressions per year–as many as one per month. Some dogs may never need their glands manually expressed, while others only get them on an as-needed basis. How often manual expressions are needed depends on how well you help your pet maintain healthy gland function on a daily basis.
Aside from manual expression–which can be costly, time-consuming, and uncomfortable for your pet–your veterinarian may also recommend increasing your dog’s fiber intake. While fiber intake is important for bulking up their stools, your pet will need a more comprehensive treatment plan to avoid future issues.
When starting a new fiber treatment, it’s important to start slowly. Giving half the daily recommended dose for at least one week can help your pet’s digestion adjust. Abruptly increasing fiber intake can make your dog feel bloated and gassy, or cause diarrhea or vomiting.
Both manual expression and higher fiber intake can give your dog some relief, but may not be the most sustainable solutions. Ideally, your pet’s diet and exercise regimen should help keep anal glands functioning properly.
Cleaning a dog’s anal glands doesn’t have to be scary for you or your pet, and many of the treatments can happen in your dog’s familiar home space. In addition to the anal gland treatments recommended by your vet, there are plenty of helpful habits to practice at home:
Daily gut health maintenance can make a big difference in your dog’s anal gland health, and supplements can help! Choose an anal gland supplement for dogs that includes digestive enzymes, probiotics, and prebiotics to support GI function. The addition of fiber can also help improve your dog’s bowel movements and motility, while ingredients like Quercetin can promote a healthy inflammatory response to allergens. There are even advanced anal gland supplements for cases of more persistent gland issues.
Your dog’s gut motility–movement of food through the digestive tract–can be greatly improved by exercise. By that token, it’s expected that dogs with a sedentary lifestyle will struggle more with bowel movements. Keeping your dog active is beneficial for every aspect of your pet’s health, and may even help support more healthy anal gland function.
For cases of anal gland abscesses, you can use a wet, warm rag to encourage drainage. Placing the compress over your dog’s bottom (specifically, the anus and surrounding area) for 10-15 minutes twice daily can encourage the abscess to drain on its own before it can cause further complications.
In addition to a warm compress, you can also keep the area clean and soothed with hygienic wipes or a medicated anal gland spray. Some sprays can also help ease the symptoms of dog hemorrhoids and other discomfort caused by anal gland issues.
If your pet has recently been sick, they’ll be relying on you to help get them healthy again–and that includes supporting their digestive health!
Diarrhea can occur when your dog’s dealing with a food intolerance, parasites, or other illnesses–and can have a major impact on anal gland health. Adding fiber can help to bulk the stool up during an illness, and help restore healthy stool formation and regularity.
Some dogs will be prescribed antibiotics to battle bacterial infections. Antibiotics can be helpful in eradicating illness-causing bacteria, but they’ll kill off the ‘good’ bacteria, too. Good bacteria is essential in your dog’s gut microbiome–without it, digestive function and even immune response can be compromised. Adding probiotics (good bacteria) and prebiotics (food for good bacteria) to your dog’s diet after antibiotics can help improve digestive health and, by extension, healthy anal gland function.
- Rectal bleeding, during or between bowel movements
- Oozing brown, foul-smelling liquid from the anus between bowel movements
- Severe pain or tenderness in the posterior area (i.e., anus, base of tail) that makes your dog uncharacteristically aggravated or anxious
- Visible swelling around the anal area
- Severe constipation that prevents your dog from passing a bowel movement for 48-72 or more, or causes pain during defecation
- Listlessness or lethargy (uncharacteristic low energy)
- Signs of infection like fast breathing at rest, excessive sleeping, or fever