Anal glands problems in dogs

If you own a dog, you’ve probably noticed, at least once, a nauseating smell coming from your furry friend’s butt. Wondering why is your dog smelling like fish? The answer is simple, his glands are probably full.

The impaction of anal glands in dogs is one of the most frequent health issues encountered lately in veterinary practices. So, what are those glands? How do they get impacted? And what can you do to avoid that problem or, at least, relieve your dog’s pain and discomfort?

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase using one of my links, I will earn a small commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. Check out my disclaimer for more details

What are anal glands? Where are they located?

Most dog owners don’t know about those small glands, and many of them will never do, unless they see their dog “scooting” or excessively licking his bottom.

The anal glands are present in most mammals such as cats and dogs but absent in humans.

In fact, those are not exactly glands but 2 small sacs with a glandular system composed mainly of sebaceous glands.

Located near the anus at 8 and 4 o’clock under the skin surface, precisely between the 2 layers of the anal sphincter (muscle of the anus), those pouches are typically the size of small grapes and are linked to the rectal mucosa by 2 small ducts that convey the liquid they produce to the outside when your dog defecates or when he is extremely frightened or excited.

[Image of anal glands]

Why do dogs have anal glands?

Have you ever noticed that dogs smell each others bottoms? Well this is their way of shaking hands! They can recognize each other by smelling and identifying the scent produced by those anal glands.

Boo and Layla

The anal glands are actually scent glands, producing an unpleasant odor and thick oily discharge to mark the territory and identify the dogs.

Under normal conditions, these secretions are released in small amounts each time your dog defecates.

And you may not tell the difference between the smells of two different dogs’ anal gland discharges, but each dog has a unique odor; it is somehow like a fingerprint!

Also, they are believed to act as a rectal lubricant, helping the stools to pass easily while defecating.

How to tell if dog anal glands are full or impacted?

Anal sacs issues can present in various forms, from a simple impaction when the dog is unable to empty their secretions, to an abscess if they get infected, or a more serious and life threatening condition like a cancer or a perianal fistule if they get ruptured.

Some from the anal glands, resulting in an impacted or full anal gland. Any bacterial infection can worsen the condition.

Small dog breeds are more likely to suffer from anal glands problems, compared to large dog breeds.

And the most common signs that can alarm you about anal glands issues are:

  • Scooting which consists of your dog dragging and scratching his butt against the floor.
  • Pain/ discomfort associated with sitting on the floor
  • Swelling or “lump” under the skin next to the rectum
  • Excessive licking or biting of the anal region
  • Tenesmus (painful straining) and Vocalization when defecating
  • Constipation
  • Pus or blood present in stool, carpet, or bed
  • Releasing a nauseating smell (fishy odor)

Some of those symptoms are not specific to anal glands disease and may be encountered in other illnesses such as:

  • Perianal fistula
  • Perianal tumors
  • Perianal hernia
  • Parasites

That’s why, you need to consult with your veterinarian in order to make the right diagnosis and prescribe a proper treatment.

How do anal glands get impacted or infected?

The anal glands can get clogged due to many reasons, such as:

  • Failure to be squeezed out normally when pooping
  • Excessive secretion of the glands
  • Poor muscle tone due to obesity and lack of exercise.

When the secreted liquid remains emprisonned in the anal sacs for a long period of time, bacteria can multiply excessively which leads to infection, inflammation and an enlargement of the anal glands.

These are some factors that increase the chances of anal gland problems:

  • Obesity
  • Chronic skin dermatitis (Bacteria or Yeast)
  • Skin mite infestations (Sarcoptes, Demodex)
  • Insufficient dietary fiber
  • Environmental allergies
  • Food Allergies
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Chronic soft stool
  • Poor gastrointestinal health
  • Genetic predisposition

When should you seek veterinary help?

As soon as you notice any sign of pain or discomfort in your dog such as scooting, excessive licking or a swelling in the perianal region, you need to pay your vet a visit.

The first thing your vet will do, after assessing the problem, is trying to relieve your dog’s pain by manually expressing the glands.

You can do that yourself, but there are lots of misleading videos in the internet that can worsen your dog’s affection. So, it is preferable ask your vet first about the proper way to do it and the frequency of expression.

Anal glands infection and abscesses

Unfortunately, when the sacs are infected, the manual expression is not efficient anymore, on the contrary, it can damage the rectal tissue and help spread the infection to other tissues. And you need drug medication, including antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

For abscesses, your vet may perform minor surgery to drain the abscesses; Sedation is required for this procedure.

If the pus and bleeding come from the dog’s anal region, this might mean that the abscess is already ruptured, and prompt medical care is needed.

Self-medication can be harmful to your dog, especially if you don’t know the exact cause of the problem. So please, have your dog checked by a certified veterinarian.

Anal glands tumors

The worst case scenario would be the development of anal gland tumors, because they are usually diagnosed at an advanced stage and may spread to other tissues.

There are 2 types of anal glands tumors:

  • Adenomas (benign tumors)
  • Adenocarcinomas (malicious tumors)

How to fix and prevent dog anal gland issues?

Expressing anal glands

In most cases, just by expressing the anal glands, your dog will feel instantly relieved and will get well immediately.

Eventhough some dog groomers offer anal gland expression, it will not be necessary for healthy dogs as they can empty their sacs naturally while defecating.

In fact, the repeated expressions can sometimes cause tissue damage with various levels of inflammation.

For certain dogs, manual expression won’t be enough and some specific dietary adjustments will be needed, depending on the primary cause.

Worming your dog regularly

Some digestive worms can irritate the rectal mucosa causing inflammation and swelling that may obstruct the anal glangs ducts and cause an impaction.

That’s why you should have your dog regularly treated for intestinal parasites, your vet will give you a worming protocole depending your dog’s activity and lifestyle.

Treating irritations or wounds in the anal region

Several affections of the anal region can damage the anal gland duct and clog it. This is the case, for example, with severe long-term diarrhea or dystocia (difficult birth)

Fighting obesity

Dogs are considered obese when they weigh 20% more than their ideal body weight.

If your dog is obese, then his perianal muscles are weak and won’t help naturally emptying the anal sacs. So how can you avoid that?

First, find out the cause of obesity, is it overfeeding? lack of exercise or maybe a health condition such as Diabetes, Cushing or Hypothyroidism.

And depending on that primary cause, you can design a specific diet along with your Vet’s medical prescription.

Increasing Fiber Intake

When you increase the fiber in your dog’s food, his stools will get larger and firmer which will stimulate the anal glands and help empty them naturally while defecating.

There are many supplements in the market that can add fibers to your dog’s diet, such as Glandex with their Soft Chews and Fiber supplement powder:

Also, Psyllium fiber supplements may be a good fiber source for your dog.

My pick for you would be Fiber for dogs, as it is made in the US and consists only of 2 natural ingredients: natural psyllium seed husk powder and non-gmo dehydrated beet root powder, with no added preservatives or artificial flavorings and colorants.

This product will help your dog with many intestinal problems including diarrhea, constipation and anal gland issues by thickening his stool.

What are the best dog foods for anal glands?

As mentionned before, soft stools are the main reason why the glands do not empty properly.

So you need to promote large, well-formed stools: “The higher the volume of the stool, the better”.
A good way to do this is to add fiber to your dog’s diet, especially insoluble fibers. These fibers are found in beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Because they are not digestible, they will pass through the entire digestive tract and become part of the stool. Thus, the more fiber your dog eats, the larger his stool will get.

You should select a dog food that is high in fiber. You can also use canned pumpkin, it is better for the anal gland due to high fiber content.

But, if the anal glands impaction is recurring no matter how many times you have them expressed and regardless of the fiber intake or the food quality, your veterinarian might consider removing them especially if they tend to get infected and form abscesses or if there is a tumor.

Can dog anal gland be removed?

If your dog has recurring anal gland problems, then an anal Sacculectomy (removal of the anal sacs) may be one of the solutions.

This is a drastic measure that I, personally, advise you to avoid, unless you are dealing with a tumor or a nasty abscess.

The anal glands contribute to the body’s detoxification cycle and their removal can lead to a series of unfortunate consequences such as:

  • An accumulation of toxins in the body,
  • A permanent damage to the anal sphincter or the nerves of the anal area causing a fecal incontinence (your dog is not able to hold his poop).

Furthermore, this procedure is quit expensive.

Final words

During those times of lockdown, with the lack of physical exercise and the tendency of over-feeding, many dog owners may struggle with anal glands issues.

Those problems can be very stressful and painful to your dog and very delicate for you to deal with.

So you’d better be well informed in advance instead of having to look up for ways to get rid of the everlasting nauseating smell on your couch.

If you’ve ever faced anal glands problems in your dog before, tell me about your experience in the comment section!

Photo credits

Featured image:

IMG_1760 by 50-phi licensed under CC BY 2.0

Image 1:

Dog Bum added L&R by Susan Nicole licensed under CC BY 2.0

Image 2:

Boo and Layla by Natalie Maynor licensed under CC BY 2.0

Image 3:

At London Zoo by Beryl McMillan licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image 4:

Anal_gland_abscess by Joel mills licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Subscribe ... It's FREE

Join our Newsletter and stay updated

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This