Anal Glands: What Are They and Do I Need to Express Them?

As a dog lover you should be aware of these glands and how to care for them to keep your dog healthy.

Most dog owners have no idea what anal glands are, and judging by how unappetising the name sounds, most don’t want to know. But it’s a good idea to find out, as anal gland problems can plague all types of dogs.

Anal glands, also known as anal sacs or scent glands when found in dogs, are little glands located close to the anus. Many mammals such as cats and dogs have anal glands. Dogs employ their anal glands in marking territory, as well as recognising other dogs by smell. At some point in a dog’s life, the anal glands often need to be expressed for health and hygiene reasons.

Why do anal glands cause problems?

Anal glands are often problematic, especially in small dogs. In an ideal situation, anal glands are expressed naturally whenever the dog has a bowel movement. The movement of the faeces causes the anal glands to be automatically expressed.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and often small dogs find that their anal glands are not being fully expressed. Larger dogs with loose stools or low fibre diets can also face problems with expressing their anal glands.

How do you know if your dog is having anal gland issues?

The symptoms of anal gland problems are not pretty, and you can be sure you’ll notice your dog’s discomfort soon enough.

If you’ve been spotting your dog scooting his rear end all over the place, whether on the carpet, in bed or in your own lap, there’s a good chance he is suffering from anal gland problems. Dogs often scoot their butts in order to try to relieve an itch caused by irritated anal glands.

Another tell-tale sign is when your dog just can’t stop licking its anal area. Swelling can also be spotted around the anus if the glands have become impacted. Obviously, this is going to be very uncomfortable for your dog. If you spot any swelling, that’s a sign that you need to call the vet immediately.

What to do if you notice anal gland problems

While anal gland problems can look and sound scary, they are no cause for panic, and a great many dogs will experience them at some point.

If this is the first time your dog is experiencing such problems, take them to the vet for a checkup to ensure your pet is suffering from no other issues.

If the vet recommends that your dog’s anal glands be expressed, request to be shown how to do this at home. This doesn’t sound like the most pleasant thing to do with your pet, and involves squeezing the glands at suitable intervals. But knowing how to do it yourself can save you from the inconvenience of having to call a vet or groomer should the problem recur.

Take care not to express your dog’s anal glands unnecessarily, as excessive expression can lead to discomfort. If your dog appears comfortable, does not seem overly smelly in that area and shows no symptoms of anal gland issues, there is no need to express.

Some dogs unfortunately encounter recurring anal gland issues. If that is the case with your pet, you will need to express its glands on your own, or have a groomer do it for you.

Do not be tempted to ignore an anal gland problem in hopes that it will go away. When left untreated, anal glands can become impacted or infected.

If you are one of those brave souls who choose to express your dog’s anal glands on your home at home, suppress the urge to keep your eyes closed. If you observe that the fluid appears thick or pasty, or if nothing is coming out, call a vet. Likewise, if your dog yelps or appears to be in pain as you express its anal glands, that could be a sign that the glands have become impacted, and that your pet should be treated by a vet immediately.

If your dog seems to suffer from chronic anal gland problems or infections in that area, that could signal that it’s time for a switch to a more fibre-rich diet, or surgery to have the anal glands removed.

To prevent anal gland problems, it’s a good idea to put your dog on a fibre-rich diet from the get-go, as it is a lot easier to prevent anal gland problems through diet than to get rid of an existing one. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight and ensuring he gets sufficient exercise are also keys to preventing anal gland problems.

Many first-time dog owners welcome their new pets home without knowing what anal glands are, or that these can become a source of problems in future. If your dog exhibits signs of anal gland issues, don’t panic. Learning how to express the glands on your own is not difficult once you get over the ick factor, and can go a long way towards relieving your dog’s discomfort, although of course if you notice anything is amiss you should contact a vet immediately.