Few things in a dog owner's life are as foul-smelling and potentially nausea-inducing as a dog’s anal glands.
These smelly sacs are the cause behind many a vet visit and certainly not something many pet owners want to mess with. Unfortunately, a lot of dogs have trouble expressing these glands themselves, which can lead to a lot of trouble and pain. Have you ever noticed your dog scooting his butt across the ground? That’s a good sign something’s wrong with his rear.
What are anal glands?
Anal glands, or anal sacs as they’re sometimes called, are small sacs on the inside of your dog’s sphincter. They’re each lined with oil and sweat glands and produce an odor that is unique to each dog. If you’ve ever wondered why dogs sniff each other’s butts when meeting for the first time, it’s because of these. The liquid inside the anal gland builds up over time and is typically secreted when your dog poops. Sometimes, if your dog is not producing solid stools, the liquid can become thicker and impacted. This is when the scooting begins (see above). Impacted anal glands can quickly become infected and even create an abscess that will push through the skin. When this occurs, it can become incredibly dangerous for your dog.
What do anal glands do?
Anal glands serve two primary purposes. First, the odor produced by the glands acts as a territorial scent marker. This allows your dog to stake his claim to your yard and let other dogs and animals know where he’s been. Second, the liquid in the anal glands is thought to help lubricate hard stool so it more easily passes and helps prevent constipation or pain.
Anal gland infections are more often associated with smaller breeds of dogs, but can affect breed. Impacted anal glands are often the result of dietary problems. The issue is common in dogs that do not receive enough fiber on a daily basis, thus causing soft stools. When a dog is unable to produce normal stools on a regular basis, they become unable to express their anal glands on their own. This leads to build-up of the fluid, which causes it to thicken and become stuck. Obesity is also thought to be a precursor to anal gland problems, as the extra fat around the sphincter can make it difficult for stool to apply the appropriate amount of pressure on the glands. Some of other causes include sphincter muscle dysfunction, overproduction of fluid and distended anal glands.
What are the signs?
Luckily the signs of an anal gland problem are usually easy to spot. In addition to the aforementioned scooting, you might notice your dog constantly licking his behind. If your dog’s anal glands are impacted or infected they’ll produce an almost fish-like odor. On occasion, they’ll also leak. If you notice any of these occurrences or behaviors, it’s a sign that you need to get your pup to the vet.
When dogs are unable to express their anal glands themselves, the act has to be done manually by a veterinarian or the owner. It is not a pleasant experience for anyone involved. Your veterinarian with use lubricant to insert a gloved finger into your dog’s sphincter and express the sacs one at a time. While generally not painful, we imagine it’s incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. The anal glands are located at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions just inside of the anus and must be expressed gently. The liquid is normally a clear brown color. If you notice the liquid is yellow, pus-like, or red that means they anal sac is infected and requires medication. In serious cases, an abscessed anal gland might require surgery. This is why it’s extremely important to ensure your dog is on a proper diet with the right amount of fiber. If you’re concerned about the potential for anal gland issues with your dog, consult with your veterinarian for an action plan to ensure he’s getting all of his nutritional needs.
Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible.