While dog anal glands problems are usually not life-threatening, with the exception of anal gland cancer, they are relatively common and can affect your dog’s quality of life. Not to be confused with dog hemorrhoids, tumors, fissures or rectal prolapse, dog anal glands issues occur specifically due to blockage of the two ducts that remove the excretions of anal glands out via openings on either side of the anus.
What are Anal Glands?
Anal glands, or anal sacs, are found on both sides of a dog’s anus, just underneath his tail. This pair of small glands is filled with oily fluid that has a similar smell as the odor a skunk releases.
While the exact purpose of dog anal gland remains a matter of debate among experts, it's theorized that they lubricate a dog’s stool and disperse his unique scent to allow the dog to mark his territory.
Some also believe that they contain pheromones, which are chemicals dogs use to communicate. In fact, the scent from one dog’s anal glands can reveal other dogs some information about the animal, such as his health, sex and approximate age.
Signs of Dog Anal Glands Problems
Anal glands usually drain naturally during a dog’s bowel movement, but they can sometimes get impacted and clogged up. This can lead to swelling and infection, or even abscesses. Here are the signs that your dog is having a problem with anal glands:
This is usually the first sign. When a dog’s anal glands become impacted, he may feel pain and try to empty them by dragging his bottom along the ground. If you notice that your dog is scooting often, it may signal a problem with his anal glands and needs to be looked into.
2. Biting and Licking His Rear
Another common symptom is biting and licking of the anus. Your dog might do this in order to try and get the glands drained or he might do it in sheer frustration. He might also lick his paws for the same reason. Some dogs even chase their tails when they feel uncomfortable or in pain.
3. Bad Odor
Since dog anal glands are responsible for canine's unique scent, when they get impacted this scent becomes too strong. If you notice that your pooch smells bad even after you give him a bath, then anal glands might be the reason.
4. Swelling and Redness
Impacted anal sacs can cause the area around the pet's anus to become swollen. There can also be a change in color in that area since swelling can also cause redness, or in some extreme cases, dog anal glands can even turn purple. Pets that suffer from chronic inflammation of anal glands can have hardened skin under the tail.
5. Abscesses and Drainage
If the problem of impacted anal glands is not addressed in the early stages, this can lead to infection. Infection of dog anal gland can be spotted by noticeable bulges just under the surface of the animal's anal opening and drainage from the rectum. In more severe cases, abscesses may appear in the area.
Other potential signs of dog anal gland problems include bleeding in the anal region or straining to defecate. You may also notice a smelly and greasy discharge that is usually brown or tan.
Be on the lookout for indications of an infection. These can include pus or red spots in the discharge, swelling, and a hole discharging green, yellow, or bloody pus by the anus.
Causes of Dog Anal Gland Issues
There are many potential causes of dog anal gland issues, but the most common one is the inflammation of the anal ducts. Smaller breeds are more likely to suffer from this blockage because their anal sac ducts are smaller and thus more prone to the blockage.
Breeds that are more susceptible to anal gland problems include Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Poodles. Older dogs are also more likely to suffer from this issue. If your dog has abnormal positioning of his anatomy, this can also cause anal gland issues.
Diarrhea is another common cause of anal glands because they're more likely to fill when the dog’s stools are soft and there is not enough pressure present to empty the glands. Similarly, constipation can lead to these problems because the lack of stools can prevent the emptying of anal glands as well.
Allergies are also linked with dog anal gland problems since they can cause anal sac ducts to swell. So can eating low-quality food, including due to intolerances or allergies. Bacterial, fungal and parasitic skin infections can also be the cause, as well as hypothyroidism. Changes to the consistency of your dog’s bowels can also cause issues with the anal glands.
How to Prevent Anal Gland Problems?
Preventing anal gland problems is possible with a proper, healthy diet and exercise. The highest risk of dog anal glands issues is present in small, obese animals. A healthy diet and exercise ensures a smaller risk of digestive problems, especially diarrhea and constipation, thus ensuring the regular emptying of anal sacs.
If your dog suffers from these issues often, try to increase fiber in his diet to make his stools bulkier, or switch to high fiber foods. Take your pooch to regular vet checkups and make sure that your vet checks his perennial area for any signs of anal gland issues.
How to Treat Anal Gland Problems?
The treatment of dog anal gland will depend on the severity of the problem. The immediate treatment for impacted anal glands entails emptying the glands manually by your veterinarian. This is called dog anal gland expression, and it is done by gently squeezing the liquid from the glands.
Your vet can show you how to express dog anal glands so you can do it yourself at home should they become impacted again in the future. In recurring or more persistent cases, adding a low-dose of oral steroids may speed up the recovery and reduce inflammation.
However, if the glands are not just impacted but infected, your veterinarian will first flush them out with some softening solution or saline in order to remove the hardened material.
If there are abscesses present, the vet will probably lance them and prescribe antibiotics for a week or two. The treatment after that will be done under anesthesia due to pain when the vet will open and drain the abscesses. After that, veterinarian will once again prescribe antibiotics, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs.
In the most severe cases when the problem persists after treatment, or if there is an anal gland tumor present, your vet may suggest surgery to remove your dog’s anal glands completely. This is a simple procedure that will resolve the problem permanently but it may lead to fecal incontinence.
In conclusion, while dog anal glands issues don’t present a serious danger to your pup's life, they can nonetheless cause discomfort and pain. Pay attention to signs like scooting, biting and licking of the anus and any physical changes in the area around your dog’s anal opening. Feed your dog a healthy diet with enough fiber and exercise him regularly to prevent potential anal gland problems.
Answers to your Common Questions about Dog Anal Gland Problems
For those who prefer information in easily-digestible chunks, the following should answer the most common questions about dog anal gland problems.
How Do You Know If Your Dog Needs His Glands Squeezed?
Some signs that your dog needs his glands squeezed include licking his bottom, scooting around on the carpet, or leaking either a brownish material or foul smell.
How Do You Treat Anal Gland Problems in Dogs?
Your vet will treat the dog’s anal gland problems by draining the fluid from the glands. In the case of abscesses, they will open and drain it and give your dog anti-inflammatory drugs plus antibiotics.
How Do You Squeeze a Dog’s Anal Glands?
To squeeze or express your dog’s anal glands, put on gloves and apply lubricant to your index finger. Put the index finger in your pooch’s anus with your thumb on the outside. Bring these two fingers together, running them along the left side of the anus. The anal glands should be at around the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. Use a paper towel and your other hand to collect the fluid that comes out.
What Happens When a Dog’s Glands Are Full?
If your dog’s anal glands are too full, they can cause an uncomfortable level of pressure. This is when you are likely to notice signs of dog anal gland problems.
Can I Express My Dog’s Glands Myself?
Yes, you can express them yourself. You will need gloves, paper towels, and lubricant. Follow the above instructions for expressing or squeezing the glands.
Will the Anal Gland Issues Occur Again?
Although not always the case, your dog may have recurrent impactions or abscesses on his anal glands. For example, overweight dogs are more likely to have issues due to their sacs not emptying as they should. It is also important to note that the issue won’t disappear until you eliminate the underlying cause.
Additionally, impaction can lead to scarring, which can narrow the anal ducts. This can increase the likelihood of future issues. In some cases, your vet may suggest surgically removing your dog’s anal sacs.