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canine health problems
Husky butt

The essentials

  • There are several types of anal gland or anal sac diseases — Anal glands can become impacted, infected, or abscessed. Sometimes, cancer is an anal gland concern too.
  • Anal gland problems are often very painful and owners need to watch for these signs — The first sign is scooting or dragging along the ground. You also may notice your dog licking or biting the base of their tail.
  • To treat, vets usually need to manually empty the anal sacs — Manual expression and an antibiotic or steroid ointment clear up most cases.

What are anal glands? 

The anal glands are often referred to as the scent glands, and in a skunk, these serve an important purpose! In dogs, they’re mainly used to mark territory and enable canines to identify one another. This is why they greet each other by sniffing at the rear of another dog. Dogs also use these anal glands to express extreme fear — which is why you might smell a fishy odor when your doggie is scared.

Where are they located?

A dog has two anal or “scent” glands. They’re located at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions on either side of the anus under the tail. The anal glands line the wall of the anus and produce a foul-smelling fluid that may vary from serous to pasty in consistency and brown to off-white.

Each sac opens into the lateral margin of the anus by a single duct. The anal sacs are paired structures, approximately 1 centimeter in diameter. Impacted glands are overfilled with secretion and have exceeded their normal capacity.

👉 In most dogs, it’s NOT necessary to express the glands unless there is a medical reason to do so.  Refer to the below signs that indicate your dog is having a potential health issue.

How vets treat anal gland and anal sac diseases in dogs

Anal sac disease is very common in dogs . Anal glands naturally express on their own when a dog has normal, solid stools. When pups have diarrhea, it can cause some problems.

There are varying degrees of anal gland problems and according to VCA Hospitals, “The abscess will appear as a painful, red, hot swelling on one or both sides of the anus. If the abscess bursts, it will release a quantity of greenish yellow or bloody pus. If left untreated, the infection can quickly spread and cause severe damage to the anus and rectum.” Major anal gland problems may start when abscesses form within the glands themselves.

Anal gland impaction. When the sacs fail to empty normally.  Vets treat anal sac impaction by manually emptying a dog’s anal glands.

Anal gland infection. This complicates impaction and may be recognized by the presence of pus or blood in the secretions. To treat anal gland infections, vets empty the anal sacs and apply an antibiotic into the sacs through the duct openings. An antibiotic may also be prescribed for owners to give their dogs at home.

Anal gland abscess. Signs of infection with swelling at the site of the gland and must be lanced if the gland hasn’t already ruptured. An abscess is ready to drain when it becomes soft and fluid-like. At this point, it should be lanced. The treatment plan may include an oral antibiotic and healing should be uneventful.

Anal gland adenocarcinoma (cancer). AGA is a very serious cancer in dogs. It occurs in the apocrine glands in the walls of the anal sacs. Sometimes a lump is seen next to the anus. The best route is to schedule an appointment with a veterinary oncologist and the vet will determine the treatment plan. Tumors that are inoperable will need radiation therapy and sometimes chemotherapy.

How does the vet empty the anal sacs?

Vets empty anal sacs in one of two ways:

  • Externally. Hold up a tissue to the anus and squeeze both sides of the anal area at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. If the fluid is very thick and pasty, this method may not work to empty the sacs.
  • Internally. Insert a lubricated, gloved finger in the anus and squeeze the sac between the thumb and forefinger held externally. Repeat this on both sides.

👉 Remember that it’s important a vet or vet tech express your dog’s anal glands. Pet parents shouldn’t try to do this at home.

Signs of overfilled anal glands

  • Scooting! and dragging their bottom on the ground
  • Excessive licking or chewing around the anus 
  • Frequent fishy “anal gland” odor
  • Abnormal carriage of the tail
  • Difficulty standing or sitting
  • Overall discomfort and possible swelling in this area

🚨 A ruptured abscess may bleed or ooze pus. This is an emergency, and a vet appointment is needed right away.

4 major causes of anal gland problems  

Like humans, dogs also need fiber in their diet as it helps the anal glands express naturally on their own. Many of these causes are the result of diet, environment, endocrine disorders, and diarrhea.

Some breeds are diagnosed more often

There are some breeds affected by anal gland difficulties and more at risk. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons,  “Anal sac tumors occur in male and female dogs with roughly an equal incidence. They occur in any breed but are more common in Spaniel breeds. 10 years is the average age of affected dogs.”

Groomers act as messengers

Groomers are an important and valuable part of a dog’s medical team. Sometimes it takes a village! Oftentimes groomers are a messenger and helpful when it comes to recognizing skin and health issues, like anal sac diseases. They report possible abscesses, lumps, and bumps to owners.

Prevention may help

The goal of prevention is to manage your dog’s stool consistency. Runny poops aren’t good for your dog’s health or their anal glands. Regular vet visits are the number one way pet owners can ensure their dog stays healthy. There are a few ways to prevent your pup’s anal glands from becoming overfilled.

  • Good nutrition and diet
  • Nutrients that promote healthy skin such as salmon oil
  • For dogs with frequent diarrhea, probiotics can help keep your doggie “regular”
  • Manage your dog’s health with regular vet visits
  • A stress-free environment and regular routine

👉 Prevention may also help dog breeds predisposed to anal gland problems.

Frequently asked questions

What are a dog’s anal glands used for?

These anal glands or scent glands are often used as territorial markers.

Where are my dog’s anal glands located?

A veterinarian will show pet owners where these small pouches are in the anus and talk to owners about recurrent anal sac impactions.

When should you take your dog to the vet for an anal gland infection?

If there’s a swollen area, unpleasant lingering odor, small quantities of fluid appearing, solidified material, or general discomfort as covered in the signs section, you should schedule a vet appointment.

Are anal sac ruptures serious?

Anal sac ruptures are very serious and the anal sac ducts can become infected! Even gentle dogs may growl if an owner tries to treat anal gland problems and touch their dog’s rear end. There’s always a degree of risk (permanent damage) if an owner decides to express anal sacs manually so a veterinarian needs to do this at the clinic.

How are anal sac problems and diseases treated?

A dog also may need a sedative or even general anesthesia if a procedure is needed and the dog is in pain. If your dog has anal gland adenocarcinoma (cancer) you may be working with an oncologist. Surgery may be an option and can be performed as long as less than 50% of the anus doesn’t need to be resected. Tumors that are inoperable will need radiation therapy and sometimes chemotherapy.