One of the less-than joyful parts of pet ownership is dealing with your dog's rear end. If you have ever discovered a potent, perhaps fishy smell coming from your dog's backside or witnessed your dog scoot and nibble on their rear (often a sign of discomfort), most likely they are having an issue with their anal glands. I have come across many dog owners who have never heard of anal glands and yet they are an important part of our pup's health and identity. So let's clear the air about what they are, what purpose they serve and how to know if your pup has a problem.
What exactly are anal glands and what is their purpose?
Anal glands are two sacs located at about 4'oclock and 8'oclock inside of the dog's rectum in which a stinky, smelly fluid contains pheromones that act as biochemical messengers. This fluid is said to provide information to help dogs communicate with one another. When your dog poops, the muscle contraction squeezes the fluid from their sacs into ducts that then empty into the anus. It can also be released in moments of fear or excitement. If you have ever wondered why dogs like to sniff each other's rear ends when they greet each other or smell each other's poop, this is why. They are collecting information from the anal glands. It's like a canine finger print: a unique identifier for every dog (and cats).
What happens if there is an issue?
According Dr. Heather Oxford, issues occur for a variety of reasons - the most common being related to diet. Grains can be inflammatory in some dogs and certain proteins can be inflamatory in others. In addition, certain medications can create inflammation in the gut and can contribute to soft stools." If the diet doesn't contain enough fiber to create a bulky stool it can also affect your dogs ability to express their anal glands efficiently," she tells The Baroo. Some other reasons can include seasonal allergies, which can cause your dog to lick and chew on an itchy rear end and in turn create irritation. Illness, injury, or even a structural abnormality can cause issues with the anal glands. The most surprising cause of anal gland issues can be over-expression, often caused by regular trips to the groomer. Groomers are often taught to express anal glands as a routine service to pet owners but according to Dr. Karen Becker, frequent expression by the groomer can weaken the anal sac muscles and lead to an inability of the dog to effectively release the fluid on it's own. Healthy anal glands should express naturally on their own and should only be expressed with direction from a qualified veterinarian when and only if there is an issue. If the anal glands are not expressing properly on their own, the fluid has the potential to build up and get impacted.
Blocked or impacted anal glands can be very painful and uncomfortable for your dog and should be assessed by your veterinarian. If an abscess develops it presents as a painful, puss-filled swelling on one or both sides of the dog's anus. If left untreated, the abscess can spread and cause damage to the anus or rectum. Your veterinarian will flush the abscess with soap and water or an antiseptic wash and prescribe antibiotics if it is warranted. In very rare and severe cases of chronically impacted anal glands, your vet will have them removed. This is a last-case scenario that should be avoided if possible. As stated above, your dog's anal glands are an important part of who they are.
What you can do to keep anal glands healthy
Provide a high quality diet with sufficient fiber
Probiotics and digestive enzymes can help aid in healthy digestion
Encourage proper exercise to help stimulate digestion and bowel function and reduce stress and anxiety
Stay on top of food and environmental allergies
Ask your groomer to refrain from expressing anal glands unless recommended by your veterinarian
A warm compress on your dogs rear end can help soothe irritation
Seek veterinary care if you suspect an abscess or infection
Sometimes a leaky anal gland can leave a messy, smelly stain on furniture or rugs. Skouts Honor stain and odor remover is our non- toxic, biodegradable and eco friendly go-to.