My Golden Retriever needs to have his anal glands expressed about every six months. Is this a procedure that an owner can learn to do?
Stanton, Southern California
Yes, you can. However, most people are pretty happy to let someone else do it, especially when they hear the first step:
1) Insert your index finger into your dog’s anus.
Let’s back up a bit and talk about what anal glands are. They are paired sacs on either side of the anus in dogs and cats, connected to the anus by way of small ducts. They produce a fluid that smells like a combination of fish and burning feces. Once you have smelled it, you never will forget it.
Under normal circumstances, the glands contract during defecation and the fluid is expressed through the ducts onto the feces. However, in some dogs the ducts become blocked by grit or debris, or the sacs don’t contract properly. This leads to a buildup of fluid. Excessive fluid causes discomfort (most frequently manifested by the dog dragging its anus on the ground) and can lead to infections and abscesses.
Many dogs and cats go their entire lives without any anal gland issues, while others need to have their glands expressed every week. Your dog isn’t doing too badly if he needs his done every six months.
Manual expression of anal glands must be done carefully and gently. Like milking a cow, it’s not especially hard — but there is an art (if that word is appropriate). If you want to do it (and I repeat: most people don’t!), here are your instructions:
1) Insert your index finger into your dog’s anus.You can express anal glands using pressure only from outside, but that tactic is generally less effective, in my experience. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.
2) Use the thumb of the same hand to help you identify the glands. They are located underneath the skin adjacent to the anus along the ventral (lower) aspect. If you imagine the anus as the center of a clock, the glands are located at 4 and 8.
3) Place a piece of tissue paper or gauze over your dog’s anus.
4) Isolate the gland between your index finger inside the anus and your thumb outside. Apply gentle pressure, starting at the lateral aspect of the gland (the part furthest from the anus). Stand to the side in case the fluid sprays in an unexpected direction — this will prevent it from striking your mouth, eyes, or clothing. This should not be painful for the dog, and only gentle pressure should be necessary; excessive or improperly applied pressure can cause anal gland irritation or rupture.
5) Repeat on other side.
6) Clean dog’s hind end.
7) Ask yourself: Are you sure you wouldn’t rather let someone else do this?
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