When is it Appropriate to Consider Anal Gland Surgery in Dogs?

My 7-year-old chocolate lab has been dealing with chronic anal gland infections since Feb. 09 (left gland). We tried various antibiotics, hot compresses, regular expressions,...
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My 7-year-old chocolate lab has been dealing with chronic anal gland infections since Feb. 09 (left gland). We tried various antibiotics, hot compresses, regular expressions, and hypoallergenic food. I have spent thousands at the vet. I am wondering if now it’s time for surgery.

What questions should I ask to learn more about anal glad surgery? How do I find the best surgeon in my area (San Diego) who has lots of successful experience with this kind of surgery? What if money is an issue (how do I have that conversation with the surgeon)?

Thank you!

Wendy
San Diego

Anal glands are a savory subject for a Monday morning.

Consider yourself lucky if you don’t know what anal glands are. You may want to stop reading now. But just in case . . .

The anal glands consist of two sacs adjacent to the anus in dogs and cats. They are connected to the anus by small ducts. They produce a fluid that smells like a combination of feces and rotting fish–once you have smelled it, you will recognize it for life.

When animals defecate the glands normally empty spontaneously. But for some unfortunate animals the emptying does not always occur. This causes the affected gland or glands to become distended and uncomfortable. Impacted glands also can become infected.

Most anal gland issues can be solved by manually expressing (emptying) the glands every now and then. But some very unfortunate animals (with very unfortunate owners) suffer from chronic, intractable anal gland problems. Chronic infections and impactions can lead to a major quality of life issue for everyone in the house.

There is good news: the anal glands can be removed surgically. This usually permanently cures even the worst anal gland issues (unless cancer is involved).

There is also, unfortunately, bad news when it comes to anal gland surgery. The surgery has a relatively high rate of complications including infection (think about the surgical site–it can’t be kept clean), pain, failure to remove every last bit of gland (leading to ongoing problems), and anal leakage.

Wendy, your best bet is to start by talking to your regular vet. Ask her opinion of the surgery, and ask for a referral to an experienced surgeon. This is not a surgery for a new veterinary graduate to perform. Ask the surgeon specifically about pain control, infections, and the surgeon’s personal rate of more serious complications such as fecal incontinence.

Ask the surgeon up-front how much the procedure will cost. It will not be cheap to have a good surgeon perform the procedure. However, in the long run you and your dog will be much better off with a good surgeon than with a fly-by-night operation.

Photo: the glands in question are on the other end of the dog.

26 thoughts on “When is it Appropriate to Consider Anal Gland Surgery in Dogs?”

  1. I am worrying, our Akita/bullmastiff is due to have her anal glands removed next week. She started having them expressed every couple months when we firstly got her at the age of 4 and now a year on she has been having to have them done every week. The vet was struggling as she is in pain with one as it is very impacted. He suggested a flush or removal, we decided on removal as she gets very nervous going to the vets and if the flush only works for a few months I don’t want to put her through alll that stress again. She has also been on numerous antibiotics for last year for infections. I’m so scared for her but cannot see any other way. She eats royal canine sensitive stomach and pro fibre but still the problem !

    1. That is exactly what I am going through with a 10 year old Shihtzu. Nothing the vet does is responding to treatment. Flushing, antibiotics, expressing them monthly, bleeding from there. Now they want me to get an appointment with a veterinary dermatologist. I already have thousands of dollars of bills to no avail. Good luck to everyone going through this. Atleast I don’t feel so alone anymore. I see it is more common than I thought.

  2. Has anyone ever heard of surgery to cut them open frm the outside & stitch them open? What happens is they just dry out. Once in a grt while there would be small scabs there but it was never a problem again. Her anal glands would leak all the time. Vet said removal carried risk of incontinence. That was all I needed to hear & that is only one of the complications as seen on here. I’m glad I did it instead of removal. I’m thinking about doing dog #2 but I wonder if they even do that anymore.

  3. I am in the same situation with my 7 yr. Old German Shepherd. It started with blood in his urine and feces which lead to a cancer scare with the emergency vet. We got him neutered which fixed that issue but created another issue with his anal glands. First the right gland swelled and he started licking it constantly. We had it expressed but next to nothing came out. The vet said it was most likely allergies and prescribed meds. That did nothing. Brought him in again and the vet techs came outside in the gravel parking lot to express his gland again. My dog was not happy and sat on the techs hand in the dirt. Nothing came out the the tech was pissed. Took my boy to another vet and they expressed the gland AGAIN. Was told there was some swelling and it would go away in a couple of days. It didnt and the gland ruptured. Surgery was preformed and a tube placed for drainage that was rinsed out after every BM. It is going on 3 months since the tube was removed and we still are having issues. Still swollen still oozing still in pain and still on meds and wearing the e collar . Now he has developed some skin bacteria that turns his skin black in patches, hair loss and constant scratching, liking and chewing of paws , face, ears, back. Im at my whits end and I hate to see my boy in pain.

    1. Not what I was hoping to read.. the complications, that is. My 2 year old pit bull STINKS!!! I can smell her anal glands from across the room. I feel very comfortable expressing them and she doesn’t object at all but I never get anything out! How much is in there? What color is the fluid? I am REALLY frustrated. But, I don’t want to put her through all of these complications. She broke her leg a year ago and after a 10k surgery, she needed weekly cast changes, antibiotics, sedatives, pain meds, the cone, and a playpen. My life was on hold for 8 months! She was a rescue dog. What kind of Karma is that?

      1. Patricia L McNeely

        Hi, watch a video on you tube, I do our dogs. It’s easier if someone can control dogs head, it’s not a fun procedure for them. It stinks, and sometimes may squirt. Be ready to clean dogs bum with a soapy rag after procedure. So either hold paper towel or Kleenex to protect you. hold the tail up and lean it out of the way,. Now imagine a pearl located at the 5 and 7 o’clock area of the bum-hole. You can wear plastic gloves and use ky jelly and stick your finger in and press up and out. Usually I just do it from the outside with my thumb and first two fingers , push in up and out. Good color would be slightly yellowish. Bad color is pus/blood colored. Don’t forget, do one side and then the other. Seek vet attention if color looks infected . Reward dog with a steak dinner and flowers. ?

  4. My dogs gland ruptured. He was in pain while going number two. We took him in, the vet said it would be an easy procedure. He was on high anti biotics and pain meds; we could tell he was uncomfortable. He was stitched up and a drain was left in. Drain was removed 4 days later. The stitching was loosening and it wasn’t healing properly. We then went to a different vet and he said that they needed to go back in and do it again correctly. We went with it and again, it was not healing correctly. Vet said there could be a bacteria that doesn’t let skin mend together to heal. Keeping that area clean is extremely difficult! We are still in the midst of caring for our dog after the surgeries. Next step would be a skin graf which we are dreading. (Not to mention all the anti biotics and pain meds made our dog constipated and had to get an enema) this is not a surgery to be taken lightly

    1. I’m so sorry for your pet. My 3 and a half year old chi/dachsund mix is going through a similar situation. Anal gland rupture about two weeks ago and seems like it’s a recurring infection. I’m going to try everything in my power to help her without surgery, I really don’t want her to deal with the complications. I will keep your dog and your family in my prayers during these stressful and worrying times.

    2. My 11 year old Schnauzer had a lipoma removed from his left hip 5 weeks ago and the Vet decided to remove the anal gland. He has had nothing but problems ever since, still has small amount drainage. I wonder if the drainage will stop?

  5. Pingback: Why Does My Dog Smell, Even After A Bath? – Puppy FAQ

  6. Hi how did the surgery go. The vet wants to remove my dogs anal glands due to ongoing infection. I am really reluctant after reading so many horror stories, but I don’t want my dog to be constantly infected either.

    1. A really good vet must do it. It is surgery. Those infections are not fun for either of you and especially the dog. Very painful. Just make sure your vet is a surgeon and not a take the temp vet. Must be a surgeon. They need to have a surgical unit or uses a speciality hospital. It will be much worth it when the baby feels better. Make life easier for you as an owner as well. Constant cleaning of their behind, the mess that the secretions leave is a real mess and the smell finally goes away. I was washing my dogs bed 4 times daily and a butt bath at least two times daily.

  7. We are scheduled to have Oakley’s glands removed on Tuesday. I feel so bad for him they make him miserable. We get them expressed every month. Oakley is 3 yrs old. Hoping this helps him but I’m nervous. My husband and I will take the next 3 weeks off so we can watch him. Any suggestions or advise would be much appreciated.

    1. I am also nervous my small 10lb schnoodle is booked for surgery to remove the glands next week She has been dropping her smell every day for around six months. Even does it after be expelled by the Groomer or Vet the day before. She never has had an infection so don’t have any worries there. I really don’t want to do this but we have no choice.

      1. Omg mine does the same every single day , two to three times per day.. it is very exhausting for us at my dog too.

        I was considering removing them but im not sure yet, was your dog’s successful?

    2. Danny Las Vegas

      You’re both going to take three weeks off work, just to “watch” your dog? That’s insane. You only need one person to watch a dog. Why don’t you split it in half? One of you can do the first 10 days and the other can do the remaining 11. No need to lose both streams of income. Or, you could purchase a digital video surveillance system (relatively inexpensive) for your home and both of you will be able to watch him on any computer, including your phones, from wherever you happen to be—and neither of you will have to miss work. There are several options, as you can see, more sensible than what you are currently planning on doing.

      1. I am sure they are not “insane” people throw this word around just a little too much. These people have an obligation to that fur baby , And a great excuse to take a few weeks vacation (paid) .

      2. You obviously have not been through this, as we are right now post surgery. It’s difficult for ONE of us to keep an eye on him. Fortunately, we are both retired. I’m not saying one person can’t do it. It’s just easier with two. He is a 95 pound labradoodle and can be difficult to clean his rear end by yourself when he “slips” up and releases fecal matter. There is NO WAY you can monitor by camera. You will not be able to stop the bad behavior through a camera OR clean his rear end when needed. We were sent home with a cone which took him a while to get used to. The first night, not so bad. Second night (last night) woke up to drops of poop all over the house and a very freaked out dog. Probably because he could not help himself and felt really bad for disappointing us. Took about 20 minutes to clean his rear end and about a half hour to clean up the house. People, this was a necessary surgery, but it’s not easy for anybody. Even our other dog. She knew he was not well and knew that we were upset. If you need to go through this with your pet, try to be patient and give him a lot of love and affection throughout the day. Same with any other animal in the house. Now we are sitting here waiting for the vets office to open so we can call. It seems that he has been butt scooting all night and he’s extremely red everywhere they shaved. Also looks like some hemorrhoidal action as well. Luckily, the sutures are still in tack, which is the most important thing. If they get ripped out, surgery all over again. We love our fur babys as I’m sure you all do. Good Luck to you all.

        1. Thank you, Mary Lee! And yes, take it from her and from me – my 120 lb Rhodesian ridgeback just had the surgery 5 days ago – post op care is NOT a cake walk. I’m doing it alone and it takes a tremendous amount of time. I’m glad I’m working from home to be able to care for him. 1). Medications: critical to recovery and needed to prevent complications. You must stay on top of them. I had to give one of them every 6 hours for the first three days so not a lot of rest. 2) Keeping the dog away from his rear/wearing the cone: My dog is pretty easy going about this. But I can see where some dogs would fight it. You have to keep a constant eye on it. 3) No walks or play: this is also hard when they start to feel better. They will get bored and the site needs to heal so they have to stay sedentary. 4) Possible drainage and incontinence: my dog bled all over the back seat on the way home from the surgery, and he had a couple of accidents/leakage on the floor. You must be patient and it has to be cleaned up, disinfected, deodorized. So, this is not a picnic. Make sure you prepare (have an soft ecollar and a doughnut collar ready and be prepared to be with your dog 24/7 during recovery)!

          1. My dog is 13 years old with an abscess and tumor (benign) we are looking for surgeon for consultation. He can’t sit still 🙁

    3. I have Bostons and almost every one has had to have them removed. It is not pleasant for a few days, but in the long run, so much better and so much less pain than the infections they get. Those infections are really painful and require so many meds. I have an 11 year old Boston that has had problems for years and right now a bad infection that will not clear. Going to have her left gland removed. She will wear the collar for a few days and be on meds, but in the end, she will feel so much better.

  8. Problem started with a smell. Went to vet, anal gland prob, suggester removal! 9 yr old female cocker, she is otherwise perfectly healthy in every way! Should l go ahead wuth surgery????

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