Dog Health: Understanding Anal Gland Problems
What Are Anal Glands Exactly?
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. Following are some of the purposes of anal glands in dogs.
- Purpose 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, therefore, decide to simply keep the tail tucked in.
- Purpose 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.
- Purpose 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
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.
Disclaimer: this article is not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has developed anal gland problems, please seek the advice of your vet.