Anal gland issues in dogs

Even an experienced owner may not have heard of an ‘anal gland’. Or, if they have, they may not be entirely sure what it is. This article will explain what these ‘mystery’ body parts are and will also discuss anal gland disease and how to prevent it.

So, what exactly is an anal gland?

Anal glands are present in many animals, including skunks, beavers, cats and dogs. They are small ‘sacs’ which are positioned either side of the anus. They cannot typically be seen from the outside as they sit just out of view. There is, however, a pinpoint hole that opens into the anal canal. Through this hole, the strong-smelling secretions are released. The purpose of these secretions is to ‘communicate’ with other animals. The odour can give off information about gender, health status and even age. Pretty cool, right?!

Why are glands important?

When glands are working well, we don’t really need to pay them any attention. A small amount of secretion is released when a dog passes a firm stool. However, the problem arises when the fluid is not released and the glands eventually fill up. This leads to swelling and discomfort. Signs associated with this can include:

  • Bum ‘scooting’
  • A fishy smell
  • Licking or chewing of the rump area
  • A constant urge to quickly look towards the rear end.

What can be done when my dog has a problem with its glands?

If addressed early enough, a vet or veterinary nurse can simply ‘unblock’ the glands by gently squeezing the area. This is not painful, though dogs may find it unsettling. Owners can be taught this technique if they wish to be able to empty the glands at home. This proves especially useful for repeat offenders.

If left too long, full glands can develop infections and form abscesses. This leads to pain and can result in a large, discharging tract coming through the skin. We may see pus and blood in the discharge. In these cases, treatment will be more aggressive and dogs could need both antibiotics and pain relief. Sometimes, it is less painful to treat an anal gland infection whilst the dog is under anesthetic and therefore this may be recommended by your vet.

Is there anything I can do to prevent a problem?

Often, yes. Some dogs (especially small breeds) are naturally prone to anal gland issues but there are certain interventions that can help:

  • The more solid the stool, the better. Consider feeding a highly digestible, fiber rich diet and using a probiotic supplement.
  • Keep your dog slim and active.

Empty those glands as regularly as needed, which may be every 6 weeks.