What are dog anal glands? These little sacs sit on either side of the dog’s anus, around the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. Located just below the skin surface between the two layers of muscle of the sphincter controlling the anus, they produce an oily, foul-smelling yellow to brown fluid that dogs use to broadcast who they are and mark their territory. These glands are the reason that dogs sniff each other’s rear ends when they meet.
What are the possible dog anal gland issues? Normally when your dog poos, the stool passing squeezes the glands and empties them. When all is well, you hardly notice that they are there. Sometimes the gland does not completely empty and the fluid that is left can become thickened, blocking the duct through which the gland empties. Blocked anal glands in dogs are smelly and uncomfortable and may result in them doing the dreaded ‘scoot’ along the ground, trying to empty them.
The glands can become completely blocked, or impacted, which may lead to infection. This can be extremely painful and make the dog feel ill. If this dog anal gland infection is not treated, abscesses can form and, if still not resolved, the glands can actually rupture. This requires urgent treatment but even ruptured glands can heal, and most return to their normal function.
Signs and symptoms of anal gland problems in dogs
If you think your dog has a problem with their anal glands, it is best to have them checked over by a vet. If any sign of blood, redness and swelling around the anus becomes apparent seen, your dog should see your vet as soon as possible.
Signs and symptoms you should look out for include:
- Lots of licking and chewing around their rear end and base of the tail, to relieve the itch of full glands and trying to empty them.
- Distinctive dog anal glands smell often described as a mix of rotting fish and faeces
- ‘Scooting’ – dragging their bottom along the ground with their back legs stuck straight out in front, often leaving a stain trail behind them.
- Problems going, with lots of straining and possibly appearing painful to poo.
- Spots of greasy, smelly discharge left on the floor, usually tan to brown in colour.
- Reluctance to have their hind end touched, possibly showing increased aggression because, for the dog, swollen anal glands are painful.
- Diarrhoea or another digestive upset just before other symptoms become apparent.
If an infection has developed:
- Red spots or pus visible in the discharge spots left on the floor.
- Pus coming from the anus.
- A swollen area showing a possible abscess near the anus.
- A hole appearing near the anus, discharging bloody or green/yellow pus.
What causes anal gland problems in dogs?
In a normal healthy dog, the faeces squeeze the anal glands as it passes on its way to the anus and empties them. If a dog has soft stools or diarrhoea, there may not be enough pressure on the walls of the rectum to empty the glands properly. This means some fluid is left in the sac. The remaining fluid can thicken, becoming more difficult to remove. Over time, this thickened fluid can block the duct, the little tube that allows the gland to empty. Irregular bowel movements can leave fluid sitting in the glands for longer than ideal. These can be due to digestive upsets, eating poor quality food such as kibble or leftovers, or food that causes allergies or intolerances.
Inflammation of the anal sacs can narrow the duct, making it more difficult for all of the fluid to be removed. Obesity may also cause an issue, as fatty tissue around the glands and a lack of muscle tone mean the glands may not empty properly. Small dogs seem to be particularly prone, possibly as their size means that their anal gland ducts are very small and may block more easily. A gland that produces too much fluid is unlikely to fully empty, even if everything else is fine, and may cause blockages and impactions regularly if not managed.
Infections and skin disorders in that region can cause problems. Repeated biting and licking at the skin may cause trauma to the glands as they are close to the skin surface. Trauma may also come from unnecessary repeated manual dog anal gland expression on a healthy, normal dog. If a dog has previously had an impacted or infected anal gland, this can also result in trauma, making the issue more likely to recur if not managed. Tumours known as adenocarcinoma can occur in the anal glands and are usually malignant. If you suspect anal gland problems in your dog, take them to see your vet to identify the reason, as the prognosis is typically good if caught early.
How to treat anal gland problems in dogs
If you see any signs of anal gland problems for the first time, have your dog checked over by a vet to identify the particular cause, and decide the treatment and management needed. If there is any sign of blood, pus or lots of pain, go to the vet as soon as possible. Infections will likely require antibiotics and may need flushing clean.
Impactions can be relieved by manually expressing the glands. If the impaction is severe or infected, a vet must do this as it can be very painful and may need sedation. If the underlying cause means that the dog will suffer from repeated blockages, the glands will need regularly expressing. Some experts say dog anal gland cleaning is an expert job, but your vet or groomer may show you how to do this at home to avoid stressing your dog with repeated visits.
A quick guide on how to empty dogs’ anal glands yourself:
- Wear latex gloves and have a warm cloth to hand.
- Find the anal glands at 4 and 8 o’clock when looking at the anus.
- Apply firm but gentle pressure to the glands under the skin and move upwards and back towards the anus.
- Hold the cloth over the anus to prevent the smelly fluid squirting everywhere.
- Wipe the dog clean and give them a reward.
If your dog is not showing any signs of problems, there is no need to express the glands, and it may do more harm than good if done too often.
One of the most common causes is soft stools. This can result from feeding a poor quality diet, or one with ingredients to which your dog is allergic or intolerant. A frequent offender for dogs is wheat. Switching to a high quality, low processed and nutritious food can help keep your dog’s stomach happy and healthy. Ideal for dogs with sensitivities or allergies are our Chicken Dinner and Turkey Terrific varieties. If you are looking to give them a try, they come as one of our handy starter packs.
Other dog's stories
To read other dogs’ stories of Pure fed dogs and how they have progressed after switching to Pure recipes, have a look at our Success Stories page.