It’s like clockwork: Every four weeks, Chloe starts dragging her bottom, leaving a smelly stain on my carpet!” I looked down at a meek Malti-Poo shifting nervously as her owner’s voice flared. “I’m tired of cleaning rugs, and paying you and the groomer to squeeze her anal glands. Can’t you fix it? If you can’t, I’m going to find a vet who can!” Now I was beginning to fret. “Fixing” anal glands is a tall order for any veterinarian. Let’s talk about dog anal glands and some dog anal gland issues
Dogs have two tiny scent glands located just inside the anus at approximately the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. The function of these glands is to impart a unique scent to feces and when marking territory by rubbing against trees, rocks or carpet (kidding!).
When dogs sniff the rear of another animal, they’re talking to the anal glands. Many wild animals, most notably skunks, have the ability to squirt their anal sacs in self-defense. If you’ve ever smelled a fetid odor after your pup was spooked, that was his anal sacs in action.
Anal gland “juice,” or secretions, vary in consistency from thick and oily to watery to yogurt like. Dogs normally express their anal sacs when walking or during normal defecation. Because your dog’s anal glands are constantly secreting material, if the glands aren’t emptied regularly, they can become filled and uncomfortable. That’s when Chloe starts scooting.
If the anal glands get excessively full or impacted, they can become infected or even rupture. A serious condition called “perianal fistula,” an opening from inside the anus to the skin, can develop quickly if left untreated.
Anal sac cancer, most often an aggressive form called adenocarcinoma, may occur but is much less likely than infection or impaction. If you see blood, redness or swelling around your dog’s anus, have it examined by your veterinarian immediately.
Why some dogs have more anal gland problems than others isn’t known. Smaller dogs tend to have more anal sac impactions, probably due to tiny ducts that are more prone to close when swollen or infected.
Allergies may cause swelling of the anal sac ducts, leading to difficulty in emptying, or increased anal gland secretions. I also advise testing for hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease) and parasitic, bacterial or fungal skin infections.
Dog anal glands can be expressed externally or internally. I typically don’t advise dog owners to try this at home because it can be difficult, messy and you could potentially injure your dog (I’m talking to you, fingernails).
External expression can be done by holding a cloth over the glands and gently squeezing. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to fully empty the gland externally, making this approach less helpful. Internal expression involves gloves, lubrication, palpating inside the anus, and, I believe, is best handled by trained personnel.
Dogs that need help draining their anal glands tend to require it about every three weeks, at least according to a 2011 study. Apparently, Chloe’s clock was running smoothly on anal gland time.
If a dog develops an impaction, I’ll often flush the anal sacs with an antibiotic, antifungal and anti-inflammatory medication every five to seven days for two to three weeks. In severe or recurrent cases, adding low-dose oral steroids may speed recovery and reduce inflammation.
Surgical removal of the anal sacs is a consideration in dogs with chronic anal sac impactions. I consider this a last resort procedure after all medical treatments have been tried and I’ve eliminated an underlying cause, especially a dermatological condition.
I’ve seen dogs who had their anal glands removed continue “bootie scooting” because the real culprit was a skin allergy. The surgery is generally effective with few complications when performed by an experienced veterinarian.
We fully expressed Chloe’s anal glands, flushed and instilled with medication, and started her on low-dose prednisolone. Within two weeks, she looked — and felt — fantastic. We added a fiber supplement and prescribed two 30-minute walks per day. Over the next six months, Chloe only needed her anal glands expressed once.
“Well, you didn’t exactly fix Chloe’s anal glands, but at least she’s a little better. As long as I walk her two to three times a day, and she has a good bowel movement, I think I’ve got it under control.” I snuck a wink at Chloe. I’m pretty sure she winked back.
Thumbnail: Photography ©Mark Rogers.
Dr. Ernie Ward is an internationally recognized veterinarian known for his innovations in general small-animal practice, long-term medication monitoring, special needs of senior dogs and cats, and pet obesity. He has authored three books and has been a frequent guest on numerous TV programs.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!