By David Brooks MRCVS of Pet Insurance Expert.
Does your dog ever drag his/her bottom along the ground? Does your dog nibble and chew at his/her knees, tail or bottom? Does your dog sometimes strain excessively to defecate? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then your dogs anal glands might need emptying.
What are anal glands?
Anal glands are sacs located either side of the anus, at approximately four and eight o clock. These sacs contain natural liquid secretions which can vary in color from yellowish to brown to grey in healthy animals. When a dog defecates, the sac is normally emptied and a small amount of the secretion coats the stool. The function is essentially as a scent marker for marking territory, which is of course redundant in domesticated animals. Anal glands are the reason why dogs like to sniff each others bottoms, they are merely checking out each others personal scent. In most dogs the sacs empty regularly and easily, however some struggle to empty them and these dogs are predisposed to anal sac disease.
Why do some dogs get anal gland problems but others not?
Good question. Certain breeds are worse affected than others, though any breed can get problems. Toy breeds such as Chihuahuas, Dachshunds and Miniature Poodles are commonly affected, and also Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Obese dogs are more likely to suffer from anal gland problems, but thin dogs can also be affected. A high fibre diet is thought to help dogs empty their sacs naturally, though this is unproven. Vets are unsure exactly why some glands block up and others do not, but dogs that require their anal sacs to be manually emptied tend to have a recurring problem where the owner will need to organize for this to be done regularly.
How do I know if my dog has a problem?
- Your dog starts to drag his/her bottom along the floor, known as scooting
- Your dog nibbles or chews at his/her knees, groin, rump, tail or anus
- Your dog strains hard whilst passing a stool
- Your dog has started to develop a foul smell
- Your dog is showing evidence of pain in the area around the anus
- You have noticed a swelling, discharge or a hole near the anus
How do I empty the anal sacs?
Most anal sacs can be emptied easily, and by the owner at home if they are prepared to. It is advisable to wear latex gloves for hygiene reasons; these can be purchased at some DIY stores or pharmacies. If you cannot face doing it yourself, your vet will be happy to do it for you.
There are two techniques for emptying anal glands, externally or internally. Try externally first, if you struggle to empty them then try the internal method. You will know they have emptied as you will see the secretion squirt out!
External emptying: Place your thumb and forefinger at 4 o clock and 8 o clock below the anus, an inch or so away from the hole. Gently massage upwards and inwards towards the anus. If nothing comes out, try pressing a little harder. If they still do not empty, you may have to try internal emptying.
Internal emptying: Place your thumb at 4 o clock and your forefinger inside the anus, 1-2cm in. Try to feel for the swelling, and squeeze it. Once empty, repeat for the other side. It may be easier to change hands to achieve this. If the sacs are very impacted, firm pressure will be necessary to empty them and the discharge will appear like a thick paste rather than a liquid.
What happens if I do not empty them when they are full?
Well, your dog will remain in discomfort. If the duct leading from the anal sac to the skin (through which the discharge normally empties) is blocked, the sac will continue to fill and usually form an abscess. This is a bacterial infection of the anal sac, where the sac fills with pus and then bursts through the skin, leaving a bloody hole. A burst anal gland abscess required veterinary treatment immediately, and a prolonged course of antibiotics. Needless to say it is much better to empty the anal sacs regularly to prevent this from happening.
My pet needs his/her anal glands emptied regularly. Is there a long term solution so that I do not have to keep doing this?
Yes there is, a surgical operation where the anal glands are removed entirely. This is nearly always completely curative, and relatively straight forward to perform. As mentioned earlier, the glands serve no physiological purpose to the dog and so are not missed. Complications with the surgery only tend to arise if the dog has previously had a burst anal gland abscess, as this can scatter the lining of the sac and make removal more difficult. The surgery is done under general anesthetic, the duration of the operation depends upon the size of the dog and the technique used but usually takes around an hour. This operation is often advised in young to middle aged dogs that need their glands emptied 4 times or more in the space of a year.
David Brooks MRCVS is part of the veterinarian team at Pet Insurance Expert, the most comprehensive resource on pet insurance in the UK. Learn about the different pet insurance options and find the best pet insurance for your pet.