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Anal Glands In Dogs

What are anal glands?
Anal glands are small paired sacs that sit on the left and right side (around 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock) of your dog/cat’s anus. The cells lining these glands produce an oily secretion with a distinct rotten fishy, metallic smell. Think of it as your pet’s signature perfume scent and is the reason why your pet is so fascinated by poop and other dog’s bum! Normally, when your pet defecates, their faeces apply pressure up against the anal glands and empties it naturally.

How do I know my pet has anal gland issues?
Anal gland issues arise when the glands fail to empty on their own. The watery secretions continue to accumulate and, eventually, the anal gland becomes impacted with thicker, sometimes even gritty, secretions. The impaction can be quite uncomfortable and your pet may start scooting or licking their bottom excessively. You may also notice your pet “leaking” a foul-smelling liquid and leaving a trace where they’ve been sitting. If not managed appropriately, anal gland impaction can then lead to anal gland infection which, in severe cases, results in a very painful anal gland abscess! Dogs, for some reason, are much more likely to develop anal gland issues than cats.

What causes anal gland issues?
There are multiple causes for anal gland issues and there can be more than one underlying factor at a time.

  • Abnormal anatomical structure of the anal gland and/or duct
    Some pets are born with abnormal (e.g. narrow, kinked) ducts, obstructing the flow of the anal gland secretions. Others pets with recurring anal gland issues can also develop narrow ducts due to all repetitive inflammation in the area and the subsequent formation of thickened scar tissue.
  • Obesity
    Obese animals are more prone to anal gland problems compared to slimmer pets. While the exact mechanism is unknown, it is suggested that the extra body fat causes a “cushioning” effect which results in less pressure being applied on the anal glands during defecation.
  • Food/environmental allergies
    Some dogs with underlying food or environmental allergies are more prone to anal gland issues. This could potentially be due to the inflammation resulting in a narrowed duct or an increase in anal gland secretions, both of which can result in incomplete emptying of the anal glands.
  • Inconsistent stools (e.g. diarrhoea, constipation)
    Dogs with inconsistent stools will often also have impacted anal glands because their faeces are too soft (e.g. diarrhoea) to express the anal glands or they are not expressed regularly enough (e.g. constipation).

How to manage and treat anal gland problems?
Treating anal gland problems starts with identifying the underlying issue. It’s very important to work with your veterinarian to identify the problem and help treat your dog appropriately. That’s why we like to treat your pet as an individual; there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Some of the common management and treatment options include:

  • Dietary modification
    Diet is usually the place to start for most pets. Some benefit from a high fibre diet that bulks up their poos or a fibre supplement (e.g. psyllium husk) – thereby emptying the anal glands more effectively – and causes them to defecate more regularly. Others benefit from a prescription hypoallergenic diet to minimise any underlying food allergies causing chronic diarrhoea.
  • Semi-regular anal gland expression
    For some pets, in addition to dietary modifications, they may simply benefit from having their anal glands expressed semi-regularly. Depending on your pet’s individual needs, this may be every month, every 2-3 months or even longer. If your pet is noted to have early signs of an anal gland issue, we may recommend rechecking them regularly and slowly increasing the interval between each anal gland expression.
  • Topical and/or oral anti-inflammatories and antibiotics
    For pets who already have impacted anal glands that are quite inflamed and/or infected, they may benefit from a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication to help get all the infection and inflammation under control. Depending on the severity, some will require an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory infusion directly into the anal glands while others are managed with oral medications.
  • Surgery (anal sacculectomy)
    In extreme cases, some pets may benefit from surgery, more specifically, an anal sacculectomy. This procedure means removing both anal glands, which will officially eliminate all anal gland issues because there won’t be any more anal glands! However, there are complications associated with this surgery, if done incorrectly, such as nerve damage, so we recommend the services of a specialist surgeon should this surgery be indicated.

Should I express my pet’s anal glands at home?
We can show you how to express your anal glands from the outside. However, we don’t recommend routine anal gland expressions at home – it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted! We always advise to have your dog’s anal glands expressed professionally as it is possible to cause further inflammation in the area if you’re not careful.