The Wonderful World of…Anal Glands

Have you ever seen your dog dragging his butt on the carpet and think to yourself what in the hell is he doing…?

“Why does my dog scoot his butt on the carpet?”  This is one of the more common questions I get asked as a groomer, and my answer always seems to be a surprise — anal glands.  Most people have never even heard of them.

What are anal glands?

An anal gland is the sac on each side of a dog’s (or cat’s) anus.  These sacs fill with a brownish fluid that has a very distinctive and pungent smell.  The liquid has either a thin or thick consistency and is normally excreted when the dog or cat defecates.  There are a few theories as to to why pets have anal glands.  One theory is that the scent helps to mark territory.  Another theory is that the liquid helps to lubricate the passage of firmer stools.


Anal Glands rev. 1

Why do anal glands need to be expressed (ie drained)?

If the anal gland is unable to drain, impaction of the gland can result.  There are a number of possibilities that may result in an impacted anal gland.  Stools lacking firmness may not apply enough pressure on the glands to express them naturally.  Another possibility could be that the fluid within the gland near the opening has thickened up, causing a clog. Regardless of the cause, an impacted anal gland is definitely something to be concerned about.  Left untreated, an infection can occur, the gland can abscess, and rupture.  An open sore will form in the skin next to your pet’s anus.  This is extremely painful and can be life threatening.  It must be treated by a veterinarian.  Surgery and antibiotics are often needed to clear up the infection and to repair the ruptured gland.

What can be done to prevent an abscessed gland?  

Expression of an impacted gland is a necessity.  Groomers will sometimes express the glands during the bathing process.  It is important to ask if they perform that service; not all groomers will express glands.  Groomers usually express the gland externally, and if the glands are set too far in or if the impaction is too great it can be difficult to express this way.  Aside from the groomer, you can also make an appointment for your veterinarian to perform the service.  Veterinarians can express externally and internally (if required).  You can even ask them to show you how to do it yourself.  Some pets with anal gland disease may require expression to be done every one or two weeks.

Below is a quick video of anal gland expression:

(Viewer discretion is advised)

Another way of avoiding anal gland issues is to increase the amount of fiber in your pet’s diet.  Read your pet food label and look for foods high in fiber.  There are also supplements you can purchase at your local pet store or online retailer.  These supplements are loaded with fiber and are said to help promote healthy anal gland function.  Bulkier stool will apply more pressures on the glands allowing more liquid to be released.

What are the signs of an impacted gland?

When a dog scoots or drags his but on the ground he is trying to relieve any uncomfortable sensations such as itching, pain or irritation.   A pet also may bite at his rear end, cry out in pain when defecating, or have red swollen skin on either side of his anus.  Once these signs are apparent it is time to try to get the impacted gland expressed.

Not all pets have anal gland issues.  As a groomer I primarily see the need of more frequent expressing in small and medium sized breeds.  That being said, it is still important to know what the signs are for an impacted gland to ensure the health and happiness of your pet.

Photo credit: Y0$HlMl via / CC BY


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