Anal Gland Disease in Dogs

Let’s talk about anal glands. It’s not a nice topic, but anal gland disease is a very common problem in dogs. But what are anal glands, why do dogs have them and what can dog owners do to prevent issues with their dogs anal glands? This article will answer all those questions and more! 

The legs and tail of a brown and white dog can be seen lying on blankets

Anal Glands - What Are They?

Anal glands, located at 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock on either side of your dogs rectum, are a pair of small sacs that are filled with fluid from sebaceous (sweat) glands. They are typically the size of a small grape, and when they are working properly, the sac expresses a small amount of fluid each time your dog defecates (goes number two). This fluid can have a really foul, fishy odour and is kind of like your dog’s “scent signature” and is the reason dogs like to smell each others behinds. Problems with anal glands arise when the fluid doesn’t drain properly which can lead to impaction, infection or even the formation of an abscess.

A drawing of the rear of a dog showing the position of the anal glands relative to the dogs anus

The anal sacs of a dog

Why Do Anal Glands Get Impacted or Infected?

When your dog defecates (goes number two), a properly formed stool (poo) will push on the sac releasing a small amount of fluid. However, if your dog’s stools are too small, too soft or loose (they have diarrhoea), the stool won’t push on the sac and the fluid will start to build up. The fluid in the sac begins to thicken and it becomes even harder to expel.

There are several other factors as well as poor stool quality that can cause the fluid to build up. Some dogs are just unlucky and are born with a hereditary malformation of their sac and glands meaning they aren’t in the right place to allow for a passing stool to express the fluid correctly.

A dog stares out across waves on the ocean while standing next to a person

Skin and food allergies can cause redness and inflammation in the perianal region (around your dogs bottom) which can restrict the release of fluid. Overweight or obese dogs are also more prone to developing anal gland issues.

The unnecessary expression of anal glands or emptying them when not required can create a build up of scar tissue which prevents the gland from emptying naturally.

Other conditions such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), yeast or mite infections, skin dermatitis, or very rarely, tumours can also cause a dogs anal glands to become impacted.

Two dogs are standing next to each other on a rocky shore of a river

What Are The Symptoms of an Anal Gland Problem?

There are several symptoms that may or may not affect your dog if they are having anal gland issues. Some of the more common symptoms are:

  • Dragging their bottom along the ground (sometimes called scooting)
  • Excessive licking, chewing or itching around their bottom
  • Straining, crying out or having difficulty pooping
  • Swelling, redness or a bump under the skin next to their rectum
  • Blood or pus on their stools (poo)
  • Blood or pus on carpet, their bed or your lap after they have been sitting there
  • Discomfort while walking or sitting
  • Noticing a foul or fishy odour coming from their rear
  • Growling or snapping at you if you touch their tail or near their bottom


"Scooting" GIF from GIPHY

Treating and Preventing Anal Gland Issues

The emptying of full anal glands is the most common treatment which we recommend is performed by your dogs vet. Adding fibre to your dog’s diet can help to ensure their stools are well formed enough to press on the sacs as the stool passes, releasing the fluid. Plain, mashed pumpkin or psyllium husk are the most common sources of fibre that are safe to give to your dog. Glandex are a tasty chew that can be given to your dog once a day to increase their fibre intake.

Fish oil is another great supplement to add to your dog's diet which has a multitude of health benefits including anti-inflammatory effects and can help to improve their skin and overall health. We stock brands such as Natural Animal Solutions, Value Plus and Vet's All Natural.

A pug in a blue harness is standing on pavers facing away from the camera

If it is allergies that is causing problems for your dogs anal glands, identifying the source of the allergy is the first step. Food allergies may require your dog to switch to a hypoallergenic diet such as Royal Canin Veterinary Hypoallergenic. Skin allergies often require switching your dog's shampoo and conditioner to an oatmeal based product such as Aloveen or Epi-Soothe.

Overweight or obese dogs need to have their food intake and exercise monitored to make sure they are not being over fed and under exercised.

You should also not over express your dog's anal glands. Some groomers will express your dog’s anal glands so if you use a groomer, it may be worth checking if they are expressing them unnecessarily.

A dachshund is running along a sandy beach besides the waves

If an infection has developed, your vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics and pain relief for your dog. If the infection has developed an abscess, this will need to be drained and cleaned, most likely under anaesthetic or some kind of sedation.

Any sign of anal gland disease should always be thoroughly investigated by your vet first to rule out any underlying causes and to ensure the treatment you have selected is appropriate.

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