Anal Glands? Anal Sacs?
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?
It’s probably because her glands need to be emptied.
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.
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.
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.
If your dog is scooting, it probably means that the glands or anal sacs are impacted. If this happens, it is time to take your dog to the vet.
Your dog may need to be given a sedative and a catheter will be placed into the duct of the gland. The vet will inject water or a saline solution into the glands until the secretion is removed. Most veterinarians will then give your dog an antibiotic ointment to prevent a bacterial infection. This may need to be repeated daily.
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 expressing these glands regularly.
You can prevent anal glands from becoming impacted by making it a habit of expressing them when you bathe your dog. This might not be the most pleasant of the grooming tasks, but it is very necessary.
If you are squeamish, or if the strong odor upsets you, it’s best to let your groomer or veterinarian do it for you.
As a word of caution, the odor can be very strong and it can get messy, so I like to do it in the bath with running water to wash away any fluids immediately. You can also use a soft paper towel or tissue, moistened with a scented lotion if you are not planning to bathe the dog.
To express them yourself, place your thumb and forefinger at the four and eight o’clock position. You might need to have someone help hold the dog’s head. Feel for the small round sacs. If there is liquid in the sacs you should be able to feel the sac and know that it is time to express them.
To express them, find the glands with your thumb and forefinger and squeeze gently inward and upward. The yellow-brown liquid should be released and if the dog is in the tub, simply rinse the brown substance off the dog and down the drain. Then apply shampoo and wash thoroughly. Rinse and condition the hair.
A word of caution: The fluid in the glands can slowly ooze out especially if it is very thick. It can also squirt out quickly in a way that reminds me of projectile vomiting. Be sure your face is not too close because this is not something you want to be showered in. It is a very foul smelling liquid!
If you feel nothing, then in all likelihood the sacs are not full and you need do nothing, if this occurs but the dog is still scooting on the floor, and looking miserable, it is best to call the veterinarian. If you see blood or pus or a little sore that appears to be an abscess, do not touch the glands, but call your vet.
Most dogs won’t find this the most pleasant experience, but it does not hurt them. You should probably do this at least once every couple of months or ask the groomer to do it during a regular grooming visit.
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?