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What are Impacted Anal Glands?

Impacted anal glands are often the first stage of anal sac disease. As the impacted anal glands become swollen and distended, they become inflamed and can make it painful for your dog to pass feces. This second stage of inflammation is referred to as sacculitis. Bacteria can begin to grow and cause a localised infection.  

The final stage is when an abscess forms. If the abscess bursts, pus will ooze out, spreading the infection to the anus and rectum, and leaving a hole next to the anus that may need surgical treatment.

The anal glands are small, oval-shaped, and located in the rectum on both sides of the anus. The glands produce a greasy, foul-smelling substance that acts as a territorial marker for dogs. Normally, stool will push against the sacs while exiting through the rectum and force the yellow-brown to gray substance to be secreted out with it.

But if for some reason the pressure is not enough to cause this to occur, the substance can build up in the anal glands and thicken, thereby plugging the glands. Impacted anal glands can then begin to swell and become irritated, causing discomfort and possibly an infection in your dog. This may occur due to e.g. the conformation of the dog, obesity, poor diet or chronic diarrhea.

Symptoms of Impacted Anal Glands in Dogs

Symptoms of impacted anal glands should be taken seriously. If left untreated, an impaction can lead to a serious infection. Signs that include excessive attention or wariness of your dog’s anal area can be a clear indication that something is wrong. Symptoms you may see include:

  • Scooting rear end along the ground

  • Excessive licking or biting at anal area or root of the tail

  • Excessive tail chasing

  • Painful defecation

  • Straining to defecate

  • Foul odor from rear end

  • Red, swollen, and painful anal area

  • Increased aggressiveness 

  • Brown or red discharges from anal area, often spotting the floor

  • Diarrhea or other digestive problems preceding other symptoms

  • Abscess near rectum

  • Hole near rectum that releases bloody or greenish-yellow pus

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Causes of Impacted Anal Glands in Dogs

Anal glands can become impacted if the substance inside is prevented from being secreted, thus allowing it to thicken. This will swell the sacs and plug the ducts, further preventing any secretions from leaving the sacs. Reasons this could occur include:

  • Inflammation of the anal sacs

  • Loose or irregular stools

  • Trauma, such as from pinching, squeezing, or unnecessarily manually expressing the glands

  • Obesity

  • Infections

  • Skin disorders

  • Excessive gland production

  • Poor muscle tone

  • Tumor 

  • Body conformation (small breeds are most often affected)

Impacted anal glands are more commonly seen in obese and older dogs, perhaps due to reduced activity, reduced muscle mass and a decreased ability to groom. All breeds can be affected by impaction, but it does seem to affect smaller breeds more often. Commonly affected breeds include:

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Diagnosis of Impacted Anal Glands in Dogs

In order to diagnose impacted anal glands in your dog, your veterinarian will need to know when you first saw symptoms, the progression of symptoms, any recent illnesses or injuries your dog may have had, any changes of behavior or diet, and if your dog has had his anal glands manually expressed, either at home or by a groomer. A physical examination will often include a rectal exam. If the anal sacs are impacted or infected, your vet will be able to detect this immediately. Through examining this area and noting any swelling, odour or secretions, your vet can often diagnose this condition.

Your veterinarian may want to discover why your dog’s anal sacs have become impacted in the first place, and may run a series of tests. This is especially true if your dog is a repeat offender. A urinalysis, stool analysis, anal swab, and blood work can all give your vet significant information about your dog’s health. In some cases, they can rule out causes or conditions, while in others, they can show hormonal, electrolyte, and other chemical levels or abnormalities that can help find a reason behind the impaction. X-rays and/or scans may also be undertaken to look for tumors or other physical causes of improper gland drainage.

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Treatment of Impacted Anal Glands in Dogs

Treating impacted anal glands may be as easy as having your veterinarian manually express your dog’s anal glands. This is accomplished by squeezing the small glands individually until the thickened substance is secreted out. If your dog’s impaction is severe, or has become infected, your dog may need to be sedated so that the glands can be flushed out with saline, or a softening solution. While one treatment may be sufficient, your vet may recommend that your dog have periodic manual expression of the glands to prevent the condition from recurring. 

Topical or oral steroids can relieve the inflammation and associated pain, while topical or oral antibiotics can eliminate infections. If an abscess is present, surgery, antibiotics, and hot compresses can help them to heal. Pain medication may also be prescribed to make your dog more comfortable while the swelling and inflammation recede. Several interventions can help to re-establish anal gland health; such as dietary changes, products that help firm up the stool and probiotics

In very severe cases, or for recurring impactions, your vet may recommend having your dog’s anal sacs surgically removed. While this does provide a permanent solution, it can result in fecal incontinence in a small number of patients.

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Recovery of Impacted Anal Glands in Dogs

Many dogs who have experienced an anal sac impaction will see it recur. Every time this happens, the ducts leading out of the sac can become more damaged, which can cause another impaction in the future. If the problem becomes chronic, surgery can provide a permanent solution. While the prognosis of recovery from surgery or other treatments is good to fair, you will need to monitor your dog. Periodic anal sac expression may be recommended. Using a warm compress on your dog’s anal area can relieve the pain and swelling after treatments, and feeding a high fiber diet may prevent impaction from occurring again.

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Cost of Impacted Anal Glands in Dogs

Simple obstructions that require manual expression are inexpensive. However, if the anal sac disease is severe and there is an established infection, the sedation, procedure and medication may cost up to $500.

Impacted anal glands can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog has impacted anal glands or is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

Want more info on pet health insurance? Check out our guide to pet insurance 101.

Paying for your pet’s routine shots, bloodwork and tests can be also difficult to budget for. Fortunately, Wag! Wellness plans cover costs for routine care for your pet, getting your money straight back into your bank account within 24 hours. In the market for wellness plans? Compare wellness plan packages to find the right plan for your pet!

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Impacted Anal Glands Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Maltese poodle

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Ten Years

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Unknown severity

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25 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Anus And Shaking

My dog recently started to shake like he’s cold and has a swollen anus. Not been eating lately. What do I do? Besides the vet

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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25 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. If your dog is not eating, and is shaking, he is sick - there is no home therapy that I can recommend, and he does need to see a veterinarian. They will be able to examine him, see what might be causing the problem, and get treatment for him.

Oct. 8, 2020

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Yorkiepoo

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11 months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea With Little Blood, Vomiting Poop

Her bottom is very red and swollen could this be an anal gland problem? She is licking at her bottom and scutting after she goes. Her dog bed where she went to the bathroom

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment if needed.

Oct. 14, 2020

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