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Anal Glands:  Problems in the Shih Tzu Breed

By Janice Jones     |Last Updated November 4, 2019

Problems with these little glands can cause pain and irritation, but what are these tiny glands and what do I need to know about them?

Have you ever seen your tiny dog trying to lick or scratch his butt?

Or perhaps you’ve seen your cute little dog dragging his butt, or scooting around the floor on her bottom?

Anal Glands or Anal SacsThese glands are located at the 4 and 8 o'clock position on either side of the rectum.

It’s probably because her anal glands or sacs as they are sometimes called has a problem.  They could be slightly impacted, infected, abscessed or even ruptured. In any case, having a problem with anal glands can be an uncomfortable if not painful issue for dogs.

What are Anal Glands?

Often referred to as scent glands in animals, the purpose of these little sacs is to allow a dog to mark his own territory and identify other dogs by their odor.  Remember that the sense of smell is the most developed sense in the canine. Most mammals have these glands. 

When everything is fine, the glands are expressed through a duct that connects the gland to outside of the body each time a dog poops.  

Skunks, for example, use the contents of their anal glands to scare away predators.  Ever heard of an opossum playing possum?  This is when they lie very still, trying to appear dead.  As they do this, the anal glands secrete foul smelling liquid scaring away predators.

Sometimes stressed dogs will express these glands involuntarily creating a most disgusting smell. Normally, the contents of the sacs are trickle out when the dog has a bowel movement.

If the dog has soft stools or long bouts of diarrhea, the stool is not hard enough to exert pressure on the glands and then they begin to fill up. Full anal glands are uncomfortable to dogs and this is when you might see the scooting behavior.

Where are Anal Glands Located?

These tiny sacs or glands are located on either side of the dog’s anus at about the 4 and 8 o’clock location if you are looking directly towards the back end of the dog. These glands fill up with a liquid that looks like dark yellow, tan colored oil.  

If nothing is done, the liquid turns to a dark brown thicker paste, making it very difficult to express. When it gets to this stage it is considered to be impacted and if blood or pus is present, it is also likely infected.

How do I Know if my dog has a problem?

If your dog is scooting, it probably means that the glands or anal sacs have a problem. If this happens, it is time to take your dog to the vet.

When the secretions that are stored in the anal glands do not flow out normally when the dog poops, they can collect and become impacted.  Impacted anal glands often become infected and will abscess if they are not treated.  As the fluid continues to collect, the abscess may rupture through the dog's skin which will require surgical repair.

Besides scooting or dragging their rear on the ground, you may also witness one or more of the following:

  • Constant licking of the rectum
  • Crying
  • Difficulty pooping
  • Swollen rectum
  • Blood or Pus in the stool
  • Blood on carpet or where they have scooted.

Factors that Lead to Chronic Problems

Some dogs go through an entire lifetime and never have a problems.  Others aren't so lucky.  Their anal gland problems become chronic.  What makes one dog more likely to have problems?

  • Chronic skin infections accompanied by bacteria or yeast
  • Skin mites such as Demodex and Sarcoptes
  • Food Allergies
  • Atopic Dermatitis (environmental allergies)
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Too much manipulation at the groomers when expressing anal glands is not necessary.

Treatment

If you find your dog scooting, the best thing you can do is make an appointment with your vet.  In the office, the vet will expressive the glands and check for infection or abscess.  Once expressed, the vet may give a long acting antibiotic injection or oral antibiotics to prevent infection.

If they rupture, your vet will provide a sedative, and then place a catheter into the anal gland duct.  From there, the vet can inject a saline solution to open up the ducts.

Oral antibiotics are often prescribed or the dog is given an antibiotic shot.  If this is beginning to sound expensive, it can be so therefore, take care to prevent this from happening by discovering the underlying problem.

Just a Word of Caution

Years ago, the advice given to people was to express the anal glands during each visit to the groomer.  Groomers were taught to express the glands using an external method of squeezing and lifting up at the 4 and 8 o'clock position on either side of the rectum.

Expressing anal glands is no longer advised because they found that dogs that were having their anal glands routinely expressed had more inflammation and problems.  The actual manipulation was causing injury.

Advice From My Veterinarian

I had a little boy with impacted anal glands.  Even though I was careful to check them each time I bathed him, the worst happened--they got infected and caused my poor dog much pain. After a round of antibiotics, my vet recommended that I add additional roughage to his diet in the form of pumpkin.

After thinking about this awhile, it made perfect sense.  The high quality dog food I was feeding was not providing the "filler" ingredients that my dogs needed.  While I would never advocate putting a dog on a poor or cheap dog food just because it had a large quantity of corn or other fillers, I do think we need to consider the fact that those "cheap" foods do seem improve a dog's gastrointestinal health.  What do you think?

What Else Can You Do To Help Your Dog

Add fiber in the form of canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie) 

Help your overweight dog loose a little weight

Add fish oil.  The Omega 3 in fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties which can also help if your dog has recurring skin problems.

Determine if your dog has a food allergy and work with your vet to find a different type of food.

Avoid expressing the anal glands.

There are also products available that are 

References and Further Reading

Merck Veterinary Manual

Miracle Shih Tzu Pup

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