Does your dog have problems with their anal glands?
Unfortunately lots of dogs have problems with their anal glands. Some anal gland impactions get so bad that they become abscessed and rupture, causing pain for the dog, and quite a nasty mess for their people (as well as the costs associated with having the infection and abscess treated). So if anal glands are such a pain in the butt — both literally and figuratively — why do dogs have them and what can you do to help your dog if they suffer from regular anal gland problems?
See some of my recommended products and solutions at the end of the article.
What anal glands are and why dogs have them
Anal glands are scent glands — some people refer to them as “anal sacs.” They are located between the layers of muscles that make up the rectum and, when all is working right, they are naturally expressed, through the duct that connects the gland to the “outside world,” each time a dog poops. This is another way that a dog can mark their territory and leave a “smell signal” for any other dogs that may pass by their little (or big) “poop present.”
Anal glands and their secretions are part of dog-to-dog communication, and as such, they do serve a role
When and how do anal glands become a problem?
The most common way that anal glands become a problem are when they get impacted (the secretions stored within them aren’t able to be expressed) and when they become infected. Impaction is uncomfortable and increases the chances of infection.
Impacted and infected anal glands will become abscessed if not treated. Once the pressure within the abscessed anal gland builds to a high enough level, the abscess is likely to rupture through the dog’s skin, since the impacted material can’t be normally expressed through the anal gland duct. Abscesses may require surgical repair and drain placement, and these infections typically require antibiotics and pain medications, too.
Dogs with conditions that cause chronic or recurrent inflammation of the skin will often have chronic or recurrent problems with their anal glands. Some of the conditions that might increase a dog’s risk of having anal gland problems are listed below.
It should also be noted that frequent anal gland expressions, as might happen at the groomer’s during routine regular grooming, can actually cause future anal gland problems! This is because the squeezing that’s done during anal gland expression, especially when done “externally” (the difference between external and internal expression is defined later in this article), can lead to inflammation which could result in scar tissue formation, further narrowing an already narrowed anal gland duct.
What increases your dog's chances of anal gland problems?
Conditions and factors that can increase chances and frequency of a dog’s anal glands becoming impacted and/or infected include:
- Chronic (deep) skin infections with bacteria and/or yeast
- Skin mite infestations (e.g., Demodex, Sarcoptes)
- Food hypersensitivities (“food allergies”)
- Atopic dermatitis (“environmental allergies”)
- Being overweight or obese
- Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels or function)
How to tell when a dog has a problem with their anal glands
Dog’s with anal gland problems will often give you plenty of signs… some more obvious than others. And while the signs listed below will often indicate an anal gland problem, they won’t always. So if you’re seeing these signs repeatedly, or if you’re seeing these signs and know that your dog has a history of anal gland problems, it’s time for a visit to your vet. They can help make your dog more comfortable, and help you get to the “bottom” of your dog’s problems, whatever they may be.
Is your dog 'scooting'?
"Scooting" or dragging their butt along the ground is only one of the many possible signs indicating a potential anal gland problem. Others may be:
- Excessive licking of their rectum
- Straining, vocalizing, or otherwise having difficulty or pain when defecating (pooping)
- A swelling or “bump” under the skin next to their rectum
- Blood and/or pus on their stools
- Blood and/or pus on the carpet, their bed, or on your lap after they’ve been laying there
- Work with your veterinarian (and possibly a board-certified veterinary dermatologist) to figure out and manage the underlying cause of the frequent anal gland problems
- If your dog is overweight or obese, figure out why and work to get them to, and maintain them at, a healthier weight and body condition. Note that while excessive weight in dogs is often a result of overfeeding (especially table scraps and treats) and under exercising, it isn’t always. Conditions such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and others can lead to excessive weight in dogs.
- Add fiber to your dog’s diet. You can use canned pumpkin (not the pie mix!), psyllium fiber supplement, or even switch them to one of the high-fiber diets (either “over-the-counter” or one of the veterinary prescription diets).
- Add fish oils to their diet — the Omega 3 fatty acids in fish oils can be anti-inflammatory and thus help with skin inflammation and anal gland impaction.
- Since food hypersensitivity can increase a dog’s chances of suffering from anal gland problems, some dogs will see an improvement with their chronic anal gland issues when started on a true* hypoallergenic diet. Your veterinarian can guide you in choosing the proper diet to follow. [*Note: "Grain free" isn't the same as a true hypoallergenic diet, as it's typically the type of protein (i.e., chicken, beef, soy, etc.), rather than the presence of grains, that's the cause of food allergies. Also, as you might have read, certain grain-free and certain exotic-protein diets may also be contributing to an increased incidence of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), a dangerous heart condition in dogs.]
- Be careful with repeated and frequent expressions of anal glands. Anal gland expressions — whether done “externally” or “internally” — do cause some degree of inflammation and tissue damage which could create scar tissue and further problems when done unnecessarily. So just make sure that anal gland expressions aren’t overdone.
Recommended Fish Oils for Dogs
Nutramax Welactin – The high concentration of EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the tasty liquid format, make this fish oil a great and easy-to-use supplement for dogs — just mix it in with either dry or canned food. And the fact that it's made by Nutramax, a reputable and trusted brand within the pet supplement market, is the icing on the cake.
Vetoquinol Omega – Made by Vetoquinol, a trusted veterinary supplement brand, these Omega fatty acid capsules are an excellent choice for people who want to give fish oil supplements to their dogs in capsule form.
Recommended Fiber Supplements for Dogs
One easy way to get more fiber into your dog's diet is to add a few spoonfuls of canned pumpkin to their meals. But make sure you're just getting straight pumpkin, not pie mix (which has spices, sugar, and other unnecessary ingredients added). We like the Farmer's Market brand, because it has one ingredient: certified organic pumpkin. You can also get it in a 12-pack.
Psyllium can also be a great fiber supplement to add to your dog's food to bulk up their stools and potentially keep their anal glands from becoming a problem. Yerba Prima makes a psyllium powder that you can sprinkle onto your dog's food. Since every dog and situation is different, talk to your veterinarian about the correct amount to add for your dog.
Note that if you get a product other than the one recommended and linked above, like Metamucil, make 100% certain that it doesn't contain the sweetener xylitol. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs, even at very low doses. And it is NOT an artificial sweetener, so don't assume it's safe just because the packaging says "No Artificial Sweeteners."
Glandex, a veterinarian-developed anal gland supplement formulated in powder or chews, has proven convenient and effective in anal gland control for many dogs. If your pup is having frequent anal gland issues, I'd definitely recommend giving Glandex a try!
Pro Tip: If your dog has a suspected or known food hypersensitivity ("food allergy") causing or worsening their anal gland problems, opt for the Glandex Peanut Butter chews. They're the flavor and texture option that doesn't contain beef, a protein source that can be a common culprit for food allergies in food-sensitive dogs.
There's also a "starter kit" with both types of their supplement, their wipes, and a measuring scoop (for use with the powder supplement) to get you and your pup started.
Don't Forget Gloves and Cleanup
If you find that you need to express your dog's anal glands manually, you can check the videos below to learn how to do so at home. But first, make sure you're loaded up on the necessary supplies. Grab a supply of latex-free, powder-free gloves as well as some things to clean up afterward and deal with the smell, such as waterless shampoo, "butt deodorizer – you can spray it both on your pet's butt and in the air, and even on the carpets/floors/walls/drapes if anything from the anal glands squirts past your paper towel :-), and some animal odor eliminator (AOE) or Glandex "butt wipes."
Here's a good video, where our friends at Glandex show you how to express your dog's anal glands at home. Two notes to add about the video though: (1) I recommend using a bit of lube (Surgilube, Vaseline or KY) on your finger when doing the "internal method," and (2) I recommend having one of those Glandex (or another) wipe or paper towel in your hand, covering the rectum, whenever expressing the anal glands — regardless of whether you're doing the "external" or "internal" method... success can be VERY messy!!
Although the video above teaches you how to express your dog's glands internally, this procedure is best left to your vet and their team.For dogs that have frequent anal gland problems, some may benefit from having the glands removed — a surgical procedure called an anal saculectomy. The procedure can be costly, and isn’t without its potential complications (most notably nerve damage) though, so it’s not often a “first line” treatment. Some general practice vets are comfortable with and can do the anal saculectomy procedure, but some may suggest referral to a board-certified veterinary surgeon to minimize risks of complications arising.
Does your dog have chronic problems with their anal glands? Ever had a pet with an anal gland abscess? Feel free to share your and your dog’s trials and tribulations with anal gland problems in the comments section below.