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Understanding Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Dog anal gland problems: is your dog becoming a skunk? (Hopefully not!)

Dog anal gland problems: is your dog becoming a skunk? (Hopefully not!)

Learning About Anal Glands (and Their Problems)

You might have been totally unaware of dog anal gland problems until Rover started having issues. The fishy smell may have been overwhelming, or he may have started scooting across the floor. Regardless of what he did, the problem cannot be ignored. But, what are anal glands exactly? What are their function, and most importantly, why do they cause problems?

Anal glands are not only present in dogs, but they also appear in a variety of other mammals. Anal glands are basically small glands found around the dog's anus. If you look at the dog's anus, they are located at approximately the 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock position. Normally, these glands go unnoticed, until dog anal gland problems erupt.

The Function of Anal Glands in Dogs

So, what exactly is the function of these glands? Anal glands have a variety of functions, and some are quite peculiar from a dog owner's perspective. Yet, their functions can be quite fascinating at the same time. Here are some of the purposes of anal glands in dogs.

1. Spreading Information

You know that dogs wag their tails to demonstrate friendliness, but there is more to it than simply being a visual sign of friendliness. Equipped with more than 200 million scent receptors, dogs communicate a whole lot through smell. Tail wagging basically helps the anal and pre-caudal glands spread pheromones, which are meant to be picked up by other canines to retrieve important information. The tail, therefore, works almost as a fan, effectively spreading these odors. This explains why dogs are so interested in sniffing their rears. Dogs who are asocial or fearful may not wish to spread these odors and may decide to simply keep the tail tucked in.

2. Leaving Tracks

When dogs defecate, the anal glands release some pheromones as well, which further provides other dogs with important information. This explains why dogs are so interested in sniffing other dog's feces. Steven Lindsay in the book Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training: Procedures and Protocols, explains how certain secretions found in feces may act as a repellent to keep other dogs away from territory.

3. Revealing Threats

There is a special reason why many dogs are very fearful at the vet's office. This fear at times may seem unfounded but it stems from something us humans at times cannot perceive. Fearful dogs at the vet office often release secretions from their anal glands. Such secretions are picked up by the sensitive noses of other dogs which causes them to be alert and aware of something troublesome. In this case, the anal glands in dogs function in a similar fashion as the glands of a skunk facing a perceived threat.

While anal glands are used for recognition among dogs and scent marking, these two glands may at times encounter problems. This is when they go from unnoticed to impossible to ignore. Next, we will see some common dog anal gland problems.

Dog Anal Gland Expression Explained by Vet

Dog Anal Gland Problems and Their Resolution

Here is what can cause anal gland problems in dogs, as well as some treatment options.

Causes of Dog Anal Gland Problems

Anal glands are normally the size of a chickpea and commonly secrete a yellow-brown fluid when the dog defecates. This tends to occur when the stools are firm enough to allow the glands to successfully empty. Problems start when the stools are soft for quite some time, not allowing the glands to empty. When this happens, the glands may become overfull and cause discomfort in the dog. The affected dog may therefore start scooting or biting in hopes of expressing the glands in a DIY project.

This is where a little bit of help goes a long way. Your vet may express the glands for you or you can have a groomer do this for you. Some dog owners may be interested in learning how to express these glands on their own, but this can be a very smelly affair and is not for the faint of heart.

Failure to express the glands may lead to complications such as impaction and subsequent inflammation, infection and abscesses causing swelling, pain, bloody discharge, a foul odor and even fever. Some dogs may feel uncomfortable to sit and may "sit sloppy" to avoid the pain. Also, anal glands may be prone to developing growths which can turn out being malignant adenocarcinomas.

Treatment of Dog Anal Gland Diseases

In the case of persistent diarrhea, it is important to treat the problem so the stools firm up and resume successful emptying of the glands. The addition of some extra fiber may prove helpful in allowing the feces to become bulkier and more effective in emptying the glands. Some dog owners have obtained results by feeding plain pumpkin (not the pie version with spices added)

When the anal glands are starting to get inflamed, it helps to apply a warm compress to the area for 10 minutes at least 4 times a day for the first 3 days, and then twice daily for the following 3 days, explains veterinarian Dr Fiona for Just Answer. It helps to re-warm the compress every couple of minutes or so. This can be done until the dog can be seen by a vet and the glands can be emptied.

In the case of an abscess, the dog is put on oral antibiotics and once the swelling and pain diminishes, the vet may attempt to express them.

Finally, in severe cases such as in tumors or persistent dog anal gland problems, a procedure known as anal sacculectomy may be necessary. In such a case, the anal glands are completely removed.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 31, 2012:

Sounds like those glands aren't missed at all! thanks for stopping by!

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on August 30, 2012:

Even though either the groomer or the vet expressed my dog's anal glands regularly, they became impacted frequently and so uncomfortable that she had to undergo the surgery to remove them when she was about three years old. The aftermath (doggie diapers because the vet prescribed a stool softener) wasn't pleasant, but after healing from the surgery she's never missed the glands. No problems from not having them, I mean.

KDuBarry03 on August 22, 2012:

Wow, very informative. My dogs currently don't have this issue, and I never heard of this, but I will definitely be on the look out with my dogs. Thank you for an educational and thoughtful hub. Voted up, shared,etc.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 22, 2012:

Diet can really help. My female (this is kind of gross) had some episodes of mushy diarrhea, and I guess her anal glands were not emptying correctly, so when she groomed herself I guess she emptied them as I got whiffs of that fishy smell. After adding pumpkin to her diet, her stools were well formed again and no more smell.

BethDW on August 21, 2012:

Great hub! I adopted an older lab mix a few years ago, and a few months after her adoption she started to REALLY smell! With the help of google I managed to figure out she had an anal gland infection, and before that experience I didn't even know such a thing was possible! (and I'm not a stranger to dogs, growing up my family had a small breed dog for 16 years). We determined that she was on the wrong type of food. We had to try several different diets before we managed to fully fix the problem. It has taken almost two years to finally find a diet that perfectly suits her needs, but she's much healthier and happier now. This is a very helpful and informative hub, voted up and shared!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 19, 2012:

Lawrence, many dogs never have a problem. When they pass firm stools the glands empty and everything is fine and in order. When dogs have soft stools for some time, things can start getting troublesome and the dog will start trying to empty them by scooting, biting etc. If Madam has normal stools chances are her glands work just fine. Best wishes and thank for stopping by~!

Lawrence Da-vid on July 18, 2012:

Thank heavens "the Madam" goes to her vet every six months for a routine inspection. Dr. Epstein does give her a workout every trip. Next time I take her, I'm going to query about those glands.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 17, 2012:

Hello Gypsy, thanks for stopping by! Anal glands are a very stinky affair, the first time I worked for the vet and got a whiff of fishy glands I felt like losing my lunch!

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on July 17, 2012:

Very timely hub as our 15 yr old lab cross has just started getting very stinky (but we still love her). Off to the vet with her!

Thanksfor the info.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 17, 2012:

It's an interesting topic, isn't it? Especially since they play such an interesting role in inter-dog communication.

Gloshei on July 17, 2012:

Thanks for such an interesting post, I am amazed how many people don't know about Anal Glands. At one time our groomer used to do them for us, but in France they don't so we had to go to the vet to get it done. This is best left to the experts.

Love the other links as well thanks.