Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Understanding Dog Anal Gland Function
What are dog anal glands? Not all dog owners are aware of the fact that dogs are equipped with anal glands. These are small glands found around the dog's anus on both sides. If we think of the dog's anus as a big clock, the glands will be found at approximately the 4 o' clock and the 8 o' clock position.
These glands are exocrine glands, and they secrete their products through special ducts. Unlike endocrine glands, they do not secrete into the bloodstream. Instead, they produce fluids that are held inside of the sac until the dog defecates.
When the dog's stools are firm enough, they exert enough pressure to cause the ducts to contract and routinely empty. These secretions also play a role in helping dogs mark their territory and in animal identification. Indeed, when you see dogs carefully sniff a pile of dog poop at the dog park, they are learning many things about the dog that deposited it.
Dogs also learn about each other from sniffing the other dog's bottom. It is thought that tail wagging is meant to effectively help diffuse the smell of these glands. Friendly, extroverted dogs generally want other dogs to know about them. It's as if they are spreading business cards around. Shy, introverted dogs on the other hand instead will tuck their tail tight and discourage butt sniffing and the dispersal of information.
While anal glands empty routinely during defecation, there are other circumstances where they will actually empty spontaneously. This happens when the dog is frightened, stressed, or excited. It's believed to be caused by a sudden contraction of the muscles in that area, explains veterinarian Eric Barchas.
The smell can be overwhelming, quite similar to a dead, rotten animal covered with a can of anchovies. When I worked for the vet, I would get a whiff of this smell every now and then after they were purposely emptied by the technicians or when a dog was frightened. Obviously, dogs smell these emissions too, and this may cause them to become nervous at the vet simply because they detect the alarmed state of other dogs.
Picture of a Dog With an Anal Gland Abscess
Is Your Dog a German Shepherd or a German Shepherd Mix?
If so, consider that German shepherds are prone to gland problems other than anal gland infections that can be very serious! These are called perianal fistulas, also known as anal furunculosis, and are severe lesions that cause many troublesome symptoms. Other affected breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, Old English Sheepdogs, Border Collies, Bulldogs, and Spaniels.
Common Issues With Anal Glands in Dogs
We have seen how in a healthy dog, anal glands fluids are elicited to secrete by the passage of firm stools. Problems start though when the stools aren't firm enough to allow the emptying of these glands or when the ducts become narrowed because of inflammation, or the fluid becomes thick because it accumulates and doesn't get expelled as it should. There are typically several progressive stages when this happens, but at times dog owners won't notice them distinctly.
- Impaction: The glands become impacted with built-up fluid which accumulates and thickens and becomes pasty causing the glands to become distended. The dog feels discomfort and will try to empty the glands by scooting and/or repeatedly licking and biting the glands. When the dog scoots, he sits on the floor and drags his legs on a rough surface like a carpet or dirt. This often leads to that terrible fishy smell accompanied by an unsightly trail of brownish fluid that seems to coincidentally always take place on pale carpets. At this stage, the dog can be helped to gain relief by having the vet or vet tech simply empty the glands.
- Sac Infection (Sacculitis): Unfortunately, impacted glands are prone to inflammation and infections, mostly because of their position right near the anus where bacteria thrive. Soon, the area next to the anus becomes painful, swollen and the skin may appear reddened. One gland or both glands may be affected; therefore the swelling may be present on one or both sides of the anus. At this point, the vet will empty the glands, prescribe antibiotics or will fill the gland through the duct with an antibiotic/steroid medication. Anal sac irrigation with saline solution may be needed to break up dense anal gland secretions.
- Abscess: If the glands are not drained, they may abscess (fill with pus which is made of dead bacteria and dead white blood cells ). This can be very painful and the dog may attempt to bite when touched. The dog may strain to defecate or may be reluctant to defecate because of the pain. The tail may be kept low. The dog may develop a fever. The swollen area will appear red at first and then later may turn deep purple. When an abscess takes place, usually there are two outcomes:
- The body fights the invading bacteria, and the pus is absorbed gradually without any treatment.
- The body cannot fight the infection on its own causing the pus to accumulate which puts increased pressure on the skin and eventually causes the abscess to rupture with its contents bursting out of the skin.
- Rupture: Unfortunately, in most cases, an anal abscess left untreated will rupture causing an unsightly hole from where bloody discharge may come out. This often happens after the swollen gland starts turning purple. When gland bursts, dogs often feel relief because a good part of the pain was caused by the swelling, but they often need more complicated treatment at this point involving surgical drainage of the abscess, flushing, infusion with Panalog and the administration of oral antibiotics.
Note: When a gland ruptures, it's important to prevent the dog from licking the area. Ingested bacteria and anal sac material may cause infections in the tonsils, stomach, and the upper airway!
Recurrent cases of anal gland impaction may require surgery to remove the glands. However, prior to surgery dog owners should try a variety of solutions before going to such drastic measures.
What Dogs Are Predisposed?
It is still uncertain what causes some dogs to develop anal gland problems, while others can go a lifetime without any issues. Some predisposing factors have been found though. The following are dogs who are more likely to develop anal gland problems:
- Smaller dog breeds such as Chihuahuas, Dachshunds and Miniature/Toy Poodles
- Obese dogs
- Dogs with allergies
Do Antibiotics Work for Infections?
The use of antibiotics for anal gland infections is a bit a subject of controversy. According to Dr. Bruce Syme," A normal course of antibiotics does little to clear up anal gland infections, because the gland has very little blood supply, and the source of the infection (the secretion) is constant."
Veterinarian Dr. Drew who works for Just Answer also claims, "An abscess that is ruptured generally doesn't really require oral antibiotics in order to heal. Abscesses are generally "walled off" from the rest of the body, and antibiotics given orally won't penetrate into the abscess well. "
On top of that, it should be considered that the use of antibiotics alone to treat an abscess without draining the abscess is often ineffective mainly because the antibiotics are often unable to get into the abscess. Drainage and proper flushing are therefore far more important than using antibiotics.
The vet may, therefore, decide to drain and flush out the anal glands, under sedation or anesthesia, and place an antibiotic directly into the glands, a procedure that may work 50 percent of the time. While antibiotics are commonly prescribed for anal gland infections, Dr. Peter Tobias, in his holistic blog, claims "Antibiotics are only needed in fewer than 25% of all cases".
So why are so many vets prescribing antibiotics for anal gland infections? It's said they are prescribed to hasten healing and eliminate infection. We have seen though how arduous it may be for antibiotics to get into the abscess. Most likely though they may be prescribed as a preventive measure. The fact is, as with any infections, there are always those chances it may become a systemic infection that may get into the dog's bloodstream.
This is a very serious condition that can cause even death. It's most likely the same reason dentists prescribe antibiotics after a dental procedure. You do not have an infection yet, but the antibiotics may help the healing process and are given just in case, to prevent further spread of the infection.
Remedies for Healthy Anal Glands
Here are some remedies to help a dog's glands. These may help prevent repeated occurrences or can sooth your dog until he can see the vet.
- Silicea: If you have a homeopathic vet you can work with, ask about using Silicea. According to Dog's Natural Magazine, Silicea is a wonderful remedy that helps the body get rid of foreign objects such as pus or other excretions. For more on this remedy, see video below.
- Fish Oil: Dog's Natural Magazine also talks about the benefits of fish oil. Fish oil can help reduce itching and inflammation associated with anal gland problems. Discuss this option with your vet.
- Glandex: Glandex is a product purposely made for dogs who suffer from gland problems. It contains a blend of fiber that helps produce bulky stools. It also contains natural anti-inflammatories and probiotics.
- Warm Salted Water: Scott Nimmo, a veterinarian who has worked for Just Answer, mentions how effective warm salt compresses can be in the case of anal gland infections. He states: "I have known clients independently treat this condition on a home remedy basis in the following way and report success: By applying a poultice to the area with warm salt water for at least five minutes three times a day. An easy way to do this is to soak pads of kitchen towel in warm salt water and hold them against the area. You may need to change them three or four times to hold the heat. Then apply the likes of Neosporin into any open areas. Of course, if it does not resolve or deteriorates you should seek hands-on veterinary help."
- Warm Compresses: According to Pet Place, home treatment for an abscess would involve helping the immune system fight the infection. Warm compresses applied to the site and kept there for 5, or better,10 minutes about 3 to 4 times a day will help increase blood flow to the area. Increased blood flow to the area helps increase the population of white blood cells to the abscess, which ultimately improves the ability to fight the infection.
- With ruptured glands, you definitively do not want the area to develop a scab, otherwise bacteria and the goop will be trapped inside causing a relapse causing another swell and burst cycle. The warm compresses will help the blood flow to the area which expedites healing and also prevents the area from scabbing over. Unlike some other types of wounds, in the case of an abscess, you want it to stay open and heal from the inside out.
- Topical Antibiotic Cream: As mentioned, the anal gland area is prone to infection because it can get easily in contact with bacteria from the anus. Every time your dog defecates, the area should be flushed and topical antibiotic cream should be applied to the surface. It's important to make sure the dog doesn't lick this off. Plain Neosporin without pain relief (in other words, not the one with Pramoxine HCI) is one of the preferred antibiotic ointments for dogs as it is safe if dogs lick a small amount. Best though to prevent this from happening, as we don't want it to go wasted! Just Answer veterinarian Dr. Andy suggests applying topical Neosporin to any ruptured gland already oozing any material. A good way to prevent licking it off is applying an Elizabethan collar or distracting the dog by taking him on a walk.
- Betadine: Just Answer veterinarian Dr. Deb suggests to clean the area of the ruptured gland with a diluted solution of betadine/iodine and water. The betadine solution should be the color of weak tea and can be applied twice a day. The area should be allowed to heal from the inside/out which should happen after 7 to 10 days.
- Epsom Salts: Dr. Khalsa recommends using Epsom salts for dogs with anal gland problems. Please watch the video below for more details. She suggests mixing Epsom salts with warm water according to the directions on the box. Then cotton balls or a washcloth are soaked in the mixture and applied to the area. Ideally, this should be kept for about 10 minutes about 2-3 times a day for a few days, up to a week for severe problems. This helps pull the toxins out of the anal glands and heals the tissues.
- Fiber: Last, but not least, owners of dogs prone to gland problems should go to the root of the problem. Dietary changes can help firm up the stool so that the dog is able to empty the anal glands each time he has a bowel movement. Plain pumpkin (not the pie type with spices) often works great. Another option is grated carrots or the addition of bran or medications such as Metamucil (ask your vet for directions). Other sources of fiber are special diets made for dogs who need a higher fiber intake.
As seen, there are several things that can be done to help a dog with anal gland issues. Surgery should be used only as a last resort. Many times, the issues can be solved without taking this drastic measure. While home remedies may be helpful in some cases, consider that your dog should be seen if he's in pain, acting lethargic, running a fever, acting abnormally, and not wanting to eat.
A Review of Home Remedies by Dr. Khalsa
For Further Reading
- Dog Health: Understanding Anal Gland Problems
What are some common dog anal gland problems? How can these problems be solved? Learn some interesting facts about the function of glands in dogs.
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: Our dog is skittish, and most of the time when people come to our house she releases a smell that we think is from her anal glands. Could it be explained more?
Answer: Sure! Yes, you are correct, that obnoxious fishy smell is coming from her anal glands.
Dogs tend to express their glands during defecation but also when excited or in a state of intense fear or panic.
Dogs in fear may tighten their rectum and this may cause the anal glands to leak a bit. This scent in the old days when dogs lived in social groups in the wild worked well for alerting other dogs of dangers.
When working at the vet this smell was not unusual as dogs felt nervous in such a place. Other dogs would sense this smell and would also get nervous as a consequence.
Question: I heard that when extracting/pushing the anal glands that it’s really bad for the dog is it true?
Answer: I have heard that too and I think it was the topic of one of Dr. Becker's articles. The school of thought is unless dogs are found to have anal gland problems, their glands should be left alone. Squeezing those glands when there is no need causes unnecessary trauma which may lead to a recurrent problem. Among humans, a similar idea stems from ear wax, Live Science claims "leave your ears alone unless you experience symptoms that you think are associated with too much earwax."
Question: My puppy doesn’t bite, scoot and the glands are not infected. He just gets a really bad odor when he’s sleeping or has to go out. My vet says he’ll grow out of it but my sister's dog is 6 and still does it. Is there anything I can do? Any foods that cause this? Like eggs or tuna?
Answer: If the smell you get is fishy, most likely it's the anal glands. If your dog's stools are not nice and firm, then this can be a cause for the smell you sense. Some dog owners have obtained good results with pumpkin or supplements for anal gland health that help firm up the stools.
Question: Our vet poked her finger inside my dog's anal gland to check it and the second time blood came out. The first time it was a liquid material; she thinks it was still an infection, not the gland liquid. We don't know if she did a culture. Our dog has been taking antibiotics for a month! Why did blood appear on her finger the second time from the gland?
Answer: It may be that the blood is due to the presence of an anal gland abscess. Another idea that comes to mind, although unlikely, is that the vet was a bit rough and accidentally scraped the tissue causing the bleeding. If your dog has been on antibiotics for a month and they are not working, (generally they should help within a couple of weeks) chances are, your vet may have to flush the actual gland and the duct and maybe try a different type of antibiotics. For a culture, it may be better getting a sample from inside the gland.
Question: My 12-year-old Sheltie has had diarrhea on and off for a while now. He has been on medication for skin allergies and has arthritis. He is now discharging a very foul brown, whitish fluid out of his anus. His entire rear end is blood red. What can I do until I can get him to the vet?
Answer: Since he has been having diarrhea on and off, I am guessing that his anal glands are not emptying as they should. For the anal glands to successfully empty, a dog needs solid stools.
When anal glands do not empty as they should, they become impacted. Your dog will feel uncomfortable, and this will trigger licking, biting and scooting. Since he is discharging some anal gland secretions, I am guessing he has been biting the area or scooting which has caused his bum to get all red.
There is really no quick fix. You will need to correct the diarrhea as it is the underlying cause. Sometimes feeding some plain pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie type with spices added) may help firm up the stools. However, sometimes diarrhea can be caused by parasites, dietary indiscretions, or systemic disorders, so a vet visit is in order if the diarrhea is persistent.
As a temporary measure, you can try limiting his biting to the area by using an Elizabethan collar. The skin can be soothed a bit with a warm compress. If you have antibacterial soap (Hibitane or chlorhexidine soap would be ideal), you can add a small amount to a cup of warm water. Place a washcloth in the mixture, and place it over the red area for 10 minutes, re-warming it every few minutes, then pat dry. You can add some plain Neosporin after, just make sure your dog doesn't lick it.
This is just a temporary fix that may help sooth the area. Your dog may need a course of antibiotics by your vet if there is an infection or abscess.
© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli
nicole on February 27, 2019:
please help i tried epsom salt before my silica came in the mail and my dog hated it, seemed more painful and his anus is red now. what now?
Pritha bhar on August 17, 2018:
My golden retriver is 3 mnths old.his rectum has comeout...what to do??
Nancy on April 18, 2018:
Thank You, I will try this.
georgette on April 18, 2017:
Laura De Leon on February 20, 2017:
My almost two weeks ago my dog had gone to the vet to get her anal glands expressed and a week later one side is swollen, there is and odor and secretion. It is total situation from last time. The vet recommended an 8 week trial diet. She recommended Purina HA. I don' t why she didn't recommend these other remedies. Thanks for the article this was helpful. I will be trying one or two of these remedies.
Virginia Hughes on February 20, 2017:
My dog just went to the vet four days ago for a severe able gland infection they gave her ORBAC. It seems to have been no help at all.. They want me to bring her back n Wednesday but she's miserable... I'm gonna try wht u recommended with the epsom salts n gonna go n buy some silica... Anyone else had this prob.... Thks JJAY
beth on October 22, 2016:
How long can I expect the bloody fluid to drain while giving the silicea? My dog has been to the vet three times with infected glands. I decided to try the silicea and epsom salts. Her glands started draining a nasty smelling bloody liquid about three days into this treatment. This has continued for almost a week. When will it typically clear up?
Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on June 18, 2014:
Your hub is very informative as always. There are so many preventable ailments. We only need to know what to do to help our furry friends. Voted up.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 18, 2014:
Hello Heidithorne, some dogs are really prone to this. I see many hounds suffering from these issues. One of my client's dogs had this issue often, the vet recommended the dog shed a few pounds and the issue diminished considerably.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 18, 2014:
My one girl dog has a lot of problems with this and they need draining regularly. So when I see she's paying way too much attention to her backside, I know it's time to bring her in! Thanks for sharing the info on a very common problem!
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 18, 2014:
It is important to take care of dogs health issues can be problematic if not noticed right away. You have a ell-researched hub on this topic.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on June 17, 2014:
I have never seen any indication that my Min. Schnauzer has anal gland problems, but her stools are firm, so hopefully that takes care of any problems she might have.
My dog only gets chicken, rice and green beans, as she is sensitive to glutens.
Voted UP, etc. and shared.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 17, 2014:
Luckily my dogs haven' had issues with their anal glands. Their poop is nice and firm most of the time. There was a time where my girls stools were softer and I would get a whiff of that fishy smell when she licked her behind, this was solved promptly with some canned pumpkin added to her diet.
Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on June 17, 2014:
Thank you so much for writing this very helpful and much needed hub -- now I understand so much more about the problems my little Pom is having and know what to do to help him. Thanks again. Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on June 17, 2014:
This has been something I've been curious about. Most of my life I've had dogs living in our house but it is only in the past ten or so years that our dogs have needed to have their anal glands expressed. I thought it might pertain to the changes in their food formulation. (GMOs or ?) From what you've said, it seems that allergies have a lot to do with it. Thanks for this informative article and the helpful solutions.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 17, 2014:
Thanks Peggy for sharing the article on dog anal gland problems.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 17, 2014:
This is very helpful information to know for those of us who have dogs as pets. Spreading the word by pinning to my dogs board, tweeting, google+ and sharing with my followers.