Dog Anal Glands: The Basics

Often, when we think about dog anal glands, it's because there are problems with them. Problems that are... stinky.

However, before we discuss the sometimes stinky complications your pup’s hindquarters can have and how to prevent them, let’s discuss what anal glands do. 


What’s the Purpose of My Dog’s Anal Glands? 

PetMD states, “Anal glands, or anal sacs as they are sometimes called, are small paired pouches located between the internal and external anal sphincter muscles, one on each side of the anus at roughly the 4 and 8 o’clock position. They empty through short and narrow ducts just inside the anus. Each sac is lined with abundant, modified sebaceous (oil) and apocrine (sweat) glands. The secreted substance is normally an oily, brownish fluid that packs a strong odor."

There are a couple of purposes of these glands. One is to help your pup leave his signature scent behind, thereby marking territory - the equivalent of lifting a leg on a fire hydrant. This is why dogs are so interested in sniffing one another's hindquarters: they're making their formal introductions to one another!

These glands also help ease the transition of your dog’s stool out of his body and onto the ground. The problem occurs when the glands become impacted, or there are other complications. 


Complications with Anal Glands 

Sometimes your dog’s anal glands get full and your pup is unable to release the liquid inside. If you find your dog scooting across the floor or seeming far too interested in his back end region, it could be due to impacted anal glands.  PetMD says, "Liquid held inside the sac is usually expelled when a dog defecates, but if this does not occur on a regular basis, the material inside thickens, which makes it harder to pass. If this situation persists, the gland may become impacted, inflamed, and infected. The gland can even abscess and rupture through to the skin surface.”

You can imagine this is uncomfortable at best and extremely painful at worst.  “Anal glands fill for a number of reasons: most commonly when the dog's stools are soft (for example, after a few days of diarrhea), so insufficient pressure has been exerted to empty the glands. Whenever they fail to vacate properly there's a chance of becoming impacted or, even worse, infected - a very painful condition requiring urgent veterinary treatment.

Impaction results from blockage of the duct leading from the gland to the opening, with the gland usually becoming non-painful but swollen. However, infection can result from prolonged impaction giving the glands a chance to build up nasty bacteria resulting in pain, increased swelling and, sometimes, even abscesses and fever.” (Source: The Kennel Club.) 

Other complications include tumors or even oddly positioned anal sacs. Your veterinarian can help determine the source of the problem. 

Treating Anal Gland Problems 

Mild impactions are relatively easy to treat. Your veterinarian will examine your dog's anal region and manually express the anal glands. The material that's expressed may be further examined to look for signs of infection, though usually expressing the glands is all that's needed. If infection is found, antibiotics may be prescribed. If the anal glands are severely impacted or abscessed, surgery may be needed to drain the glands or (sometimes) to remove them. Obviously, it's best if it doesn't get to this point, though, so if your dog is showing signs of discomfort, scooting, etc. (including odor emanating from his/her rear), it's best to make an appointment with his/her veterinarian as soon as possible. Then, your veterinarian will assess your dog and help you make an informed treatment plan. 


Preventing Dog Anal Gland Problems 

After treating any problems that may have arisen, your next step is to prevent new ones. For dogs that are prone to anal gland impaction, it may be necessary to manually express their anal glands periodically. Your veterinarian, a vet tech, or a groomer can do this, or you can learn to do it. Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend a diet change. For some dogs, an increase in fiber can help firm up stools, providing enough pressure to naturally express the anal glands. 

Another way to prevent impacted anal glands is to walk your dog frequently and keep him/her at a healthy weight. Dogs that are overweight and/or don't get enough exercise are at greater risk.


If your dog is prone to bouts of diarrhea, regularly scoots across the floor, or is otherwise overly interested in his own rear end, it's best to make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine the the cause. If you want to make an appointment now, give us call or click here to request an apointment.



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