If your dog’s anal sacs are causing a problem, one of the first things you'll notice is your dog scooting. People will often observe their dogs dragging their bottoms along the floor or carpeting in an attempt to empty their full anal glands. Some dogs will also lick the anal area while others will nip and bite at their bottom or chase their tails.
No butts about it, dog anal gland issues are not at the top of anyone’s conversation list. However, it is a fairly common problem that occurs in many of our pets. Anal sac impaction most often results in only minor irritation (or, shall we say, “rear-itation”), but if left unchecked, an anal glad abscess can develop. A ruptured anal gland is a common complication that I see with dogs in the veterinarian ER. Owners usually present their pet for “bleeding from the rectum” and swelling under dog's tail when in reality, it is a ruptured anal sac that is draining blood-tinged fluid. It’s what I refer to as “anal sacs gone bad.”
What are anal glands?
Anal sacs in dogs are comprised of two grape-sized glands just inside of your dog’s anus that contain a foul-smelling brown material. People often describe the dog's anal gland smell to be very fishy. Prior to domestication, these glands served the purpose of marking an animal’s territory, and could be readily emptied voluntarily. Dogs nowadays have largely lost their ability to empty their sacs on demand, and the process occurs naturally during normal defecation when firm feces are passed, lubricating the anal opening in the process. These glands can also “spontaneously empty” during times of stress or excitement; you can recognize this has happened if your dog suddenly develops a very unpleasant odor or if you find your dog smells like fish when scared.
What is the anatomy?
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The drawing (below, left) shows the location of normal-appearing anal glands in the dog. The glands lie beneath the surface of this skin and are not something that you can visibly see. The second image (below, right) shows both an inflamed anal gland as well as a ruptured anal gland (more on this below).
How Do dog anal abscess Form?
Dog anal sacs become impacted when a blockage develops in the duct that leads from the gland to the anus. The main causes for a blockage in the duct include having a softer stool or diarrhea, allergies that result in inflammation of the sac and duct, or just plain luck of the genetic draw. It is a common misconception that a dog scooting means that your dog has worms. Surprisingly, worms are NOT a general cause for anal gland swelling.
At this stage, the anal gland is generally swollen and not painful. However, if an anal gland infection develops the dog's butt can then become painful, swollen and sometimes result in the formation of an abscess and the dog may be bleeding from the rectum. Anal sac infection develops because blockage of the duct results in inflammation of those local tissues. In general, when any tissue is inflamed it is no longer happy and healthy, making it easy for the bacteria that normally live in the area to get out of check and “take over,” causing an bacterial infection.
How Are Swollen Anal Glands treated?
I bravely tackled the mission of watching a disturbing array of YouTube videos, trying to find one that best demonstrated the task properly. This video provides a good illustration of the task. It may be considered graphic by some, so please don’t click the link if you are easily queasy—some things are best left to professionals.
Can I express my dog's anal glands at home?
Obviously, this is not for everyone, but if you feel comfortable doing so, this is a procedure that can be done at home. It is strongly recommended that you have your veterinarian or groomer demonstrate how to do this for you, for your first time. A second pair of hands up at the front of your dog or cat is helpful to give distracting rubs on the head and praise. A word of caution: Expressing incorrectly can cause irritation and lead to further problems so make sure you are able to perform the task correctly.
What if the Dog scooting continues?
Your veterinarian should recheck the anal glands if the dog's scooting behavior continues more than a couple of days following sac emptying. If left unattended, an abscess can develop in the gland and rupture through the skin of the rectal region causing bleeding. A ruptured anal sac abscess is oftentimes mistaken for rectal bleeding. Anal sac abscesses are generally treated with antibiotics, pain medications and warm compressing the area at home.
Another important reason to have your pet examined by your veterinarian if scooting continues is that there could also be other causes of this behavior such as allergies, parasites or even referred back pain.
What if my pet suffers from anal sac impaction on a regular basis?
If your dog scooting is a regular occurrence at your home and your pet’s anal sacs need to be expressed every month or more, you may opt to have the sacs surgically (and therefore permanently) removed. The procedure to remove a dog's anal glands can be complicated as the sacs are located next to many important nerves—mainly those that control rectal sphincter function—and meaning, if improperly performed, your pet could permanently loose control of its bowel function. Despite how scary this sounds, anal sac removal is considered a relatively “simple” surgery by experienced surgeons.
While not the most pleasant of topics to cover, I hope you have found this information informative and helpful!