Understanding Your Dog's Anal Glands and How to Care for Them

Every dog has two small scent glands or sacs located around the anus. When the dog passes stool, these glands release a strong-smelling fluid designed to aid in territory marking.

Unhealthy anal glands in your dog can be a real pain in the butt, for both you and your dog. When your dog is suffering with a problem in that region, the pain and discomfort can be considerable. It is particularly a problem in small dogs, but unfortunately, it is seen in canines of all breeds and sizes.

For a number of reasons, your dog's anal glands may not work as they should. Often, dogs will have anal glands that fill with fluid at every bowel movement, rather than have them express naturally each time. As a result, the sacs can become clogged or impacted, infections can then develop, and abscesses can occur. 

As an owner, you may have to put up with a foul smell, but your dog may have to put up with severe pain and possibly surgery. We will look at the warning signs of impacted anal glands and abscesses, and advise how you can prevent problems and care for them in general.

Warning signs of impacted anal glands and abscesses

When your dog fails to empty their anal glands properly, they run the risk of impaction. Impaction occurs from blockage between the gland and the opening caused by the liquid thickening when it is not expressed. It sometimes comes about after several days of diarrhea and soft stools. Vets warn of the risk impacted anal glands pose: prolonged impaction and swelling can cause nasty infections, fever, and abscesses and the condition may require surgery.

If your dog has an anal abscess, you should see a large, swollen area around the rectum, full of pus. If it has ruptured, you will see a visible tear in the abscess. If your dog is ‘scooting’ (rubbing the hind end along the ground to scratch the area), licking, and paying more attention to their butt than usual, and if a foul smell is coming from that region, your dog may be suffering from anal gland issues.

How you can treat impacted anal glands and abscesses?

It's best not to try a home remedy for glands that have become infected or impacted. Call the vet and make an appointment. The vet may have to sedate your furry buddy because the abscess must be drained. The area will then be repaired and cleaned, and antibiotics and pain medication will be prescribed. 

If full anal glands are a regular problem, your vet can teach you how to express the glands when necessary. Alternatively, you can bring them into the vet's office to have it done. It's important to note though, that while expressing them too often can cause problems, not expressing the glands enough can cause impaction. Pet parents often leave the logistics of this issue up to the vet. Preventative measures are an option as well.

How to prevent anal gland issues

One way you can impact the health of your dog’s anal glands as an owner, is to tweak their diet. For example, a high fiber diet will make your dog's stool more substantial and bulky. The stool will then press against the glands as it passes, aiding in the glands’ expelling fluid.

A change in diet may be the answer. Vets also indicate that grains in pet foods can be inflammatory to some canines, causing gland issues. In others, certain proteins can be the culprit. Adding omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oils may help. Fiber supplements are sometimes suggested as a way to bulk up the stool.

What to do from now on

Keep an eye on your dog, paying extra attention to their southern region. Also keep a nose out for a particularly foul odor, especially after a bath. If you do notice irritation or an abscess, see your vet, who will give you guidance and offer treatment. From home, you can ease the pressure on their anal glands yourself by applying a warm compress to relieve discomfort. 

You can also help to prevent any problems arising by altering their diet, increasing their fiber content and introducing novel proteins. It is vital to keep your dog’s anal glands healthy--if left to themselves, your dog's anal sacs may bring on considerable pain and your pooch could have to undergo surgery to solve the issue.

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