Anal gland disease in dogs - 2 dogs are standing on rocks next to a stream


Let’s talk about your dog’s anal glands. The topic of anal gland disease is not a pleasant one, but it is a very common problem in dogs. How do dog owners prevent issues with their dogs' anal glands, why do dogs have them, and how might these issues go away with proper care? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and much more!

The legs and tail of a brown and white dog can be seen lying on blankets

Anal Glands - What Are They?

Anal glands, which are sometimes called anal sacs, are located on either side of your pet's rectum about the four o'clock and eight o'clock positions. They are a pair of small sacs located just inside the rectum. These sacs fill with fluid from sebaceous (sweat) glands and both male and female dogs have anal sacs. They are typically the size of a small grape, and when they are working properly, the sac expresses a small amount of fluid each time your dog defecates (goes number two). This fluid can have a really foul, fishy odour and is kind of like your dog’s “scent signature” and is the reason dogs like to smell each other’s behinds and poop. Problems with anal glands can arise when the fluid in the glands doesn’t drain properly. Glands that are unable to drain properly can become impacted, infected, or even form an abscess.

A drawing of the rear of a dog showing the position of the anal glands relative to the dogs anus

The anal sacs of a dog

Why Do Anal Glands Get Impacted or Infected?

When your dog defecates (goes number two), a properly formed stool (poo) will push on the sac releasing a small amount of fluid. However, if your dog’s stools are too small, too soft or loose (they have diarrhoea), the stool won’t push on the sac and the fluid will start to build up. The fluid in the sac begins to thicken and it becomes even harder to expel.

There are several other factors as well as poor stool quality that can cause the fluid to build up. Some dogs are just unlucky and are born with a hereditary malformation of their sac and glands meaning they aren’t in the right place to allow for a passing stool to express the fluid correctly. The fluid in the sacs is perfect for growing bacteria which can enter the ducts and travel to the sacs from your dogs’ faeces if they are not regularly flushed, like when they are working normally.

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An abscess will form if the infection is left untreated. Fluid fills the sacs and becomes bloody, eventually the fluid is replaced with pus. Externally, the abscess will appear as swelling on either side of your dog’s anus. The area will be red, hot to the touch and can be very painful. If enough pus forms, the abscess can burst, oozing yellowy green or even bloody pus. An untreated abscess can quickly spread infection beyond the anal sacs and may even cause permanent damage to your dog’s rectum and anus.

Skin and food allergies can cause redness and inflammation in the perianal region (around your dog’s bottom) which can restrict the release of fluid. Overweight or obese dogs are also more prone to developing anal gland issues as their anal sacs do not empty well.

The unnecessary expression of anal glands or emptying them when not required can create a build-up of scar tissue which prevents the gland from emptying naturally.

Other conditions such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), yeast or mite infections, skin dermatitis, or very rarely, tumours can also cause a dog’s anal glands to become impacted.

What Are The Symptoms of an Anal Gland Problem?

There are several symptoms that may or may not affect your dog if they are having anal gland issues. Some of the more common symptoms of impacted anal glands in dogs are:

  • Dragging their bottom along the ground (sometimes called scooting)
  • Excessive licking, chewing or itching around their bottom, usually at the base of the tail, rather than around their anal area
  • Straining, crying out or having difficulty pooping
  • Swelling, redness or a bump under the skin next to their rectum
  • Blood or pus on their stools (poo)
  • Blood or pus on carpet, their bed or your lap after they have been sitting there
  • Discomfort while walking or sitting
  • Noticing a foul or fishy odour coming from their rear
  • Growling or snapping at you if you touch their tail or anywhere near their bottom

"Scooting" GIF from GIPHY

Treating and Preventing Anal Gland Issues

The emptying of full anal glands is the most common treatment. We recommend that this procedure is performed by your dog’s vet. Because the area can be incredibly painful, your dog may require sedation or even anaesthesia before your vet can fully empty and then flush the glands.

Dietary Changes and Supplementation

Adding fibre to your dog’s diet can help to ensure their stools are well formed enough to press on the sacs as the stool passes, releasing the fluid. Plain, mashed pumpkin or psyllium husk are the most common sources of fibre that are safe to give to your dog. The best dog food for a dog with anal gland problems is a high fibre food such as Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal High Fibre or Hill’s Prescription Diet Dog Gastrointestinal Biome Digestive/Fiber Care. These are veterinary therapeutic diets and must be used only under the advice and supervision of your veterinarian.

Glandex are a tasty peanut butter-flavoured chew that can be given to your dog once a day to create bulkier and firmer stools. As well as a high fibre content, Glandex chews also contain anti-inflammatories, digestive enzymes and probiotics. Glandex wipes are great for cleaning up after anal gland expression and help to support healthy anal glands.

Fish oil is another great supplement to add to your dog's diet which has a multitude of health benefits including anti-inflammatory effects and it can also help to improve their skin and overall health. We stock several brands of omega oil supplements suitable for dogs such as Natural Animal Solutions, Value Plus Omega 3, 6 & 9 oil and Vet's All Natural Omega Blend Oil.

Overweight or obese dogs need to have their food intake and exercise monitored to make sure they are not being over fed and under exercised. Small breeds of dogs are particularly susceptible to anal gland issues and small, overweight dogs are extremely prone to issues.

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If it is allergies that is causing problems for your dog’s anal glands, identifying the source of the allergy is the first step. Food allergies may require your dog to switch to a hypoallergenic diet such as Royal Canin Veterinary Hypoallergenic. Skin allergies may be improved by switching your dog's shampoo and conditioner to an oatmeal-based product such as Aloveen or Epi-Soothe.

Cleaning Anal Glands

You should also not over express your dog's anal glands. Some groomers will express your dog’s anal glands so if you use a groomer, it may be worth checking if they are expressing them unnecessarily.

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Treating an Anal Gland Infection

If an infection has developed, your vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics and pain relief for your dog, commonly an anti-inflammatory. In more severe cases, or if your dog has repeated issues with their anal glands, surgery may be recommended.

Any sign of anal gland disease should always be thoroughly investigated by your vet first to rule out any underlying causes and to ensure the treatment you have selected is appropriate. If your dog shows any signs of anal gland disease, a visit to your vet should be your first priority.

Recurring Anal Gland Issues

For dogs with recurring anal gland problems, your veterinarian may recommend that they are surgically removed. This is quite a delicate surgery and while some nerve damage can occur, it is often temporary. In very rare cases, damage to the nerves during surgery is permanent and your dog may lose the ability to control their own bowel movements.

Some Frequently Asked Questions About Anal Glands

Do all dogs need their anal glands expressed?

No! Not all dogs will have problems with their anal glands so not all dogs will need their anal glands expressed. Large breeds of dogs that are of a healthy weight will often never have trouble with their anal glands. Small breeds of dogs that are overweight or obese are the most susceptible to anal gland blockages.

How often should you express dog anal glands?

You should only express your dogs’ anal glands as often as needed. Over-expressing your dogs’ anal glands can actually make the problem worse as it can cause scar tissue to form, further blocking the flow of fluid from the glands.

How do you know if your dog needs their anal glands expressed?

The most common sign you will see that will indicate that your dog needs their anal glands expressed is “scooting”. Your dog will drag their behind around on your carpet or the grass in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure that is building up in their anal glands. Other behaviours in your dog that may indicate an anal gland problem can include licking or chewing near and around their rectum, appearing to be in pain or having difficulty while pooping or blood on stools (poops) or on furniture or bedding where you dog has been sitting or lying.