Anal glands are two small sacs that sit near a dog’s or cat’s anus. They sit roughly at 4 and 8 o’clock position of a dog’s anus and secrete a foul smelling liquid that most owner will never forget! A lot of owners report the smell to be rather fishy and metallic! Ew!
Each anal gland sac is lined with abundant, modified sebaceous and sweat glands. The secretion material is normally brownish and slightly oily. This secretion is emptied through a small duct which can normally be seen on a dog or cat’s anus.
What do they do?
There are a few theories on the function of anal glands. Anal gland secretions are usually emptied when a dog defecates. One of the main theories is that when a dog passes a motion, it will gently express the gland. This gives each dog his/her own scent which is believed to act as a powerful scent marker. This is also why a lot of dogs sniff another dog’s anus when they meet one another.
What causes anal gland problems?
Anal gland problems arise when the anal glands fail to empty. The secretion inside the gland will eventually become thicker and the gland can become impacted. Eventually, the impaction can lead to the glands being inflamed and infected. In some severe cases, anal gland abscess can even form and rupture through the skin. This is a very, very painful condition.
How do I know my dog has anal gland issue?
One of the most common signs of a dog having anal gland issue is anal scooting. This is that action we all recognise, where a dog drags his/her bottom on the ground. Excessive licking of the anus or pain when passing stools are also common signs. Some pet owners also report foul smelling liquid on areas where they have been sitting.
Common causes of anal gland issues
1. Abnormal anatomical structure of the anal gland and/or duct
Some dogs are born with abnormal ducts (narrow, kinked) ducts or even in some animals where previous trauma to the duct results in failure to drain the glands, hence obstructing the flow of the anal sac material.
Obese animals are often seen to be more prone to anal gland problems compared to slimmer dogs probably because of extra body fat in the anal region, causing less pressure on the gland when a dog passes his/her stool. This will lead to the anal glands not being emptied completely.
3. Food/environmental allergies
Certain dogs with underlying food/environmental allergies suffer from anal gland inflammation which eventually leads to anal gland problems.
4.Chronic soft stool/diarrhoea
Dogs with chronic soft stools will not be able to empty their anal gland frequently due to the fact that the faeces are too soft to “massage” the anal glands when passing through the anus.
Treating and managing anal gland problems
Treating anal gland problems starts with identifying what the main issue is. It’s very important to work with your veterinarian to identify the problem and help prevent it from occurring again.
If your pet is overweight, it will be very important to help get your pet to a healthier weight. Pets that are of a healthy weight live longer than their overweight counterparts!
The role of diet plays an important role in dogs with anal gland issues. Dogs with a sensitive gut who are prone to soft stools should be maintained on a strict diet plan as advised by your veterinarian. Certain dogs with underlying allergies should also be on a strict exclusive diet to help with their allergies.
In some extreme cases, some pets may benefit from having their anal glands surgically removed. This procedure is called anal sacculectomy. This is usually a last resort treatment and we always advise pet owners to have a board certified veterinary surgeon to perform this procedure due to the potential complications (nerve damage to the anus).
Should I express my dog’s anal glands?
If your dog is not showing any signs of anal glands issues (like scooting and chewing at their back end), you should never need to express them manually. We always advise to have your dog’s anal gland expressed professionally as one can damage the glands and/or duct if not careful.