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Anal gland problems in dogs are fairly common, appearing in about 2 – 12% of cases with dogs (1, 2, 3). They're generally divided into two condition categories: those without abnormal growths, and those with abnormal growths that are cancer related, which are very rare (4, 5, 6).

Scientists still don’t know what use the anal glands have to dogs, although many ideas have been tossed around (7, 8). Anal gland disease itself occurs due to impaction, also known as a blockage of the two ducts that remove the excretions of the dog anal glands out via openings on either side of the anus.

This article explains what they are, how to prevent and how to treat anal gland problems in dogs, including with a use of special diets.

What are Dog Anal Glands?

Anal glands are not technically glands. They are small sacs filled with glandular cells that produce a potent yellow fluid consisting of both oils and sweat (9, 10). They are similar to the scent glands found in skunks (11).

The consistency of anal sac fluid can be watery, creamy, thick or even pasty, and there may or may not be solid materials in it (12). This fluid then flows through two small tubes in a dog's body that open on either side of the anus.

Anal sac of a dog.
Anal sac of a dog. © McColl I, et al.

The obstruction, often referred to as anal gland problems in dogs, means that the liquid inside of the sacs builds up, resulting in an infection, and then even in rupture of the sacs (13). If there's a dog anal gland problem, you may see the following symptoms:

  • Your dog scooting rear end along the floor
  • A dog's persistent licking of the afflicted area
  • Your dog has a bad breath
  • Blood around a dog's anus and/or in stool

Most dogs will make the condition worse by continuously licking the area to ease up the pain and discomfort. The best way to stop this (and to prevent further anal gland issues) is by using a “cone of shame” or an inflatable collar, which may not be possible for all dogs, or a dog diaper to cover the area.

The anal sacs blockage can cause your dog severe discomfort and pain, therefore, veterinary treatment should be sought immediately. Without treatment, infection and abscesses are likely to occur (14). Small breed dogs are more prone to anal gland disease – most notably the Beagle, Chihuahua, Miniature Poodle, Cocker Spaniel and Lhasa Apsos.

With correct nutrition, weight management and personal hygiene routines, it’s possible to prevent and reverse any negative symptoms caused by dog anal glands problems. If you’re worried that your pet may be suffering from this condition, it’s best to take them to the vet for an examination.

With little medical treatment available, most of the care required to rid your dog of anal sacs blockage can be undertaken at home. To prevent issues in the future, there are also things you can do to treat dog anal glands by yourself.

Dog Anal Glands: Prevention and Treatment

Dogs Anal Glands Disease

Why Do Dogs Have Anal Glands?

Little is known as to why these sacs are present, but scientists have hypothesized that it could be for one of the below reasons.

1. Marking Territory

The strong, rancid smell that is attributed with anal sac secretions could, in theory, be used as a way for dogs to mark their territory. Seen on both male and female canines, this could be a way to ward off unwanted visitors by saying “hey, I live here.”

2. Health Check

The scent of the secretion does vary depending on the health of the canine in question. It may be used by dogs to communicate health or sickness to other dogs.

3. Lubricant

Through extensive research, it’s possible to see that throughout history, canines have been masters of adapting their diet based on what was available. A dog's anal gland releases an oily gunk directly on either side of the anus opening, leading some scientists to believe that this could be a natural lubricant to ease the passing of harder feces.

4. Piece of History

Potentially the least useful idea as to why dog anal glands exist is the historical thought. Dogs may have these glands simply as a leftover from their ancestor's anatomy when it may have been necessary to spray these fluids at predators.

Dogs Anal Glands Disease

Anal Gland Disease (also referred to as anal sac disease, anal gland impaction, anal sacculitis, anal sac abscess, impacted anal sacs, infection of the anal sac, and abscessed anal sac) is a condition which can affect dogs of all ages, breeds and genders. However, statistically studies show that it is much more likely to occur in small breed dogs (15).

Impaction is essentially a blockage within the tubes leading from the dog's anal sac. When impaction occurs, the buildup of fluids causes the dog’s rear end to emit a pretty bad smell.

Some of the most common reasons that dogs anal glands can occur are:

Prior Infection. Scar tissue can form if your dog has suffered from a past anal sac infection which then makes it more likely for impaction, as well as additional infections, to occur.

Past Trauma. Injuries can deform the opening of a dog's anal gland duct, and make it difficult for the secretions to escape.

Allergies. Ingested or environmental allergens cause inflammation to many different areas of a dog's body, and can in some cases cause inflammation surrounding the duct opening. Again, this makes it difficult for anything to get through, and without treatment, this can cause infection.

Loose Stools. If your dog suffers from diarrhea, loose stools, or irregular bowel movements, this will place little to no pressure on the colon, which is required to expel the anal glands. Short term changes won’t cause any problems, but when it's happening for a longer duration, this can cause impaction.

Signs and Symptoms of Dog Anal Glands Problems

Symptoms of Dog Anal Glands Issues

When your dog suffers from this condition, the symptoms will likely stand out due to the extreme discomfort associated with the condition (16, 17, 18). These symptoms may include the below.

1. Scooting Butt

When you see your dog dragging their butt across the floor, don’t immediately jump to diagnosing them with worms. An internal parasite infestation is one of the leading causes of “scooting,” but the second most common is due to irritation, infection, or impaction of a dog's anal glands.

It can be difficult to diagnose by yourself which of these conditions your pet is suffering from, but your vet can quickly run some tests to determine what the issue is, and what treatment is necessary.

2. Distinct Odor

Healthy excretions of the anal sacs in dogs, while not smelling like roses, generally is not overpowering. However, when there is a build up of the oils and sweat contained within the gland, you will likely notice a constant strong smell coming from your dog’s rear end.

3. Bad Breath

Your dog has two main ways to relieve the discomfort posed by the anal gland disease. The first one is scooting. The second is licking at the afflicted area. When licking, the dog is picking up these rancid secretions at the area, which in return causes your dog's breath to smell bad.

4. Abscesses

When a blockage persists for an extended period, a dog's anal sac itself can swell from the pressure and burst. This would then result in one of two outcomes: (a) either the area surrounding the rectum will appear swollen, or (b) a pus like liquid will be oozing from the area.

How to Diagnose Dog Anal Glands Problems

Diagnosing anal gland problems in dogs is usually a quick and straightforward affair, with owners ordinarily listing the common symptoms of a dog licking at their rear or scooting their butt across the floor.

Blood work and urinalysis will be performed.

Issues with dog anal glands is common, and this is a routine procedure. It will not directly show whether there is an impaction of the anal sac duct, but it will show whether there is an infection relating to this, or any other underlying condition that may be causing these symptoms. To diagnose problems with dog anal glands, your veterinarian will take a sample of the anal sac contents.

During this procedure, the vet will see whether blockages are evident and examine the potency of the liquids to see whether they have been there for some time.

How to Diagnose Dog Anal Glands Problems

Home Treatment of a Dog's Anal Glands Problems

There are many ways that you can help prevent dog anal glands from becoming swollen and diseased. Most can be performed at home, but if you're nervous or do not want to care for your dog's anal glands by yourself, your veterinarian can assist you.

1. Adjust Your Dog's Diet

The best preventative measure for this condition is feeding a high-quality diet that is high in fiber and low in fat. Anal gland secretions can be expelled naturally by regular bowel movements, but not when the fecal matter is not too loose, and extra fiber has been shown to do exactly that (19, 20).

Some dog foods for anal glands are already formulated specifically to contain more fiber. A few recommended brands you can try include:

2. If Needed, Ensure Weight Loss

Extra weight in dogs will cause their anal glands to be surrounded with more fatty tissue, which means it's harder to empty the dog's anal sacs. Dogs that are of healthy weight are less likely to experience anal gland problems, and even when they do, it's easier to treat them.

A very common theme for many medical conditions is that they are far more likely to occur in dogs that are holding onto a few extra pounds. Making sure that your pet is at a healthy weight for their breed, age and height is one of those things that will prevent not only anal sac problems but many other health issues, too.

3. Exercise Your Dog More

In a similar vein, getting your dog to move around more through extra playtime, training, more vigorous exercise or longer walks will keep them at a healthier weight. More exercise will also open up the tubes that connect the dog anal glands to the outside world.

The best way to get to this point is through really strenuous exercise, to which you will have to build up over time. Do not push your couch potato pet straight into heavy exercise but get to that point gradually. Vigorous exercise like hiking or long distance run were shown as an effective way to deal with anal sac problems.

4. Add Fiber Supplements

If your dog is not getting enough fiber in their regular meals, and you don’t want to switch them onto a different food altogether, a simple alternative are fiber supplements which you can add to your pet's food. Fiber is the best solution to this issue when in its early stages.

Additional fiber in a dog's diet will help to firm up the stool and keep your pet going on a regular schedule. As previously mentioned, firm stool helps to express dog anal glands naturally. However, be wary of drastically increasing your dog’s fiber intake if they suffer from pain when going to the bathroom, or worse, if there's any bleeding around the anus.

Psyllium is a type of soluble fiber that is of low fermentability. It has long been used for the prevention or treatment of constipation in dogs, but it can also be helpful for treating and preventing anal gland problems. Use an organic brand like Viva Naturals ($9.42) for your pet. Some other well-rated fiber supplements for anal glands in dogs:

5. Add Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

Adding a fish or vegan omega-3 fatty acid supplements to your dog’s food can help relieve itching, and lessen inflammation in the anal sacs. There are also far more benefits of fish oil for dogs than just fixing your dogs anal glands, many of which may subsequently help with treating the condition and preventing further occurrence.

6. Use a Warm Compress

Holding a warm compress against your dog’s anal gland openings, either with only water, or salted water can really help to open up the ducts and relieve impaction. When dealing with this health problem, you pup is likely to have pain in that area, and a warm compress or heating pack like this one will be very comforting (which you can pair with pet diapers).

7. Check for Allergies

Food allergies are a common reason for inflamed obstructed anal glands in dogs. By placing your pooch on a the elimination diet, and determining the allergen that your dog is reacting to, you can remove this from their diet and in turn, remove the risk of future inflammation of the anal sacs. The best approach is to use a novel protein dog foods which contain ingredients that your pet is unlikely to have been exposed to before.

8. Use Stool Softeners

Depending on how bad your dog's anal gland problem is, sometimes it may cause ulceration or abrasions when the sacs are too big. When this happens, defecating for a dog will become very painful. To reduce the strain and pain, you can use stool softeners for dogs, which are supplements that are either prescribed by your vet or bought over-the-counter, like NaturVet ($11.99) or Pfizer ($12.95).

9. Expressing the Anal Glands by Yourself

Some dogs do have difficulty expressing their anal glands naturally and may require manual assistance to ensure that anal sac impaction or infection will not occur. But, do not attempt to do this without your veterinarian's consent and instructions on how to do this at home if you're doing it for the first time. Once you know the technique, expressing anal glands on a dog are actually easy and fairly safe.

Veterinary Treatments for Dog Anal Glands

1. Expressing the Anal Glands

Messing with your dog’s anal glands when not necessary can, in fact, do more harm than good. Not to mention, nobody wants to get involved if it’s not required. But, if your veterinarian feels that manual expression is required, you have two options – do it yourself (with their instruction) or have them take care of it.

2. Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

After draining, your vet will likely prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the cause of impaction in the first place, as well as fend off any additional swelling caused by expressing the sac.

3. Antibiotics

If your dog is suffering from an infection or has a history of them, your vet may administer antibiotics after draining the dog anal glands to prevent another infection from occurring. Having said that, overuse of antibiotics can lead to other health issues, or resistance.

4. Surgical Removal

In extreme cases of a dog suffering from repeat anal gland infections, removing these is a possibility. However, there are many risks and complication which can occur during, and after this procedure, therefore, it’s rarely advised except for in the cases where the risks are greater to the canine when left untreated.

READ NEXT: 15 Cheap Ways To Prevent Most Common Health Issues In Dogs 

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The Ways to Prevent and Treat Dog Anal Glands

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