This content was reviewed by veterinarian Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM.
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It’s not the most pleasant subject to discuss. But hey, you’ve surely dealt with your dog’s puke and potty accidents before, right? And this is for your beloved pup’s comfort after all — and ultimately his health.
If your dog suffers from occasional anal gland issues, we’re here to help. Learn how to spot the signs of impacted anal glands, how to express your dog’s anal glands, and what you can do to help prevent frequent blockages. If not taken care of immediately, blocked anal sacs can lead to a severe infection.
Before we dive into our article, let’s first talk about anal glands vs anal sacs. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re not actually the same thing. Every dog has two anal sacs, which are on either side of their anus at approximately the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. These sacs are full of anal glands, which are sweat glands that continually fill up with fluid. Anal gland fluid has a unique yet stinky scent to each dog (dog butt-sniffing explained!).
Dog anal sac issues are relatively common among all canines. Why? Every time your dog poops, these sacs empty a small amount of this smelly fluid from the glands. But problems arise when the sacs get clogged, or impacted, and don’t secrete enough — or any — fluid during defecation. If these sacs become full, you could be dealing with an infection, nasty abscesses, or ruptured sacs, which could require surgical removal of the anal sacs.
In general, anal sacs become impacted when the anal ducts that carry the stinky anal gland fluid to the outside of the body become inflamed. This inflammation thickens the ducts, causing the fluid to get backed up and stuck in the anal sacs, leading to impaction.
Certain factors can increase the risk of a dog developing impacted anal sacs:
- Food allergies
- Low-fiber diet*
- Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid glands)
*Many cheap commercial dog foods don’t contain enough fiber to harden a pup’s stools. And it’s these solid stools that help your dog’s body naturally express the anal gland fluids. So, if you’re looking for an easy solution to reduce the chances of impacted glands, we recommend transitioning your dog to a higher quality, fiber-rich food. Of course, talk with your veterinarian first before changing your dog’s diet.
Impactions and infections are more common in small to medium-sized breeds, including Beagles, Basset Hounds, Chihuahuas, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Miniature and Toy Poodles, and Lhasa Apsos. Large-breed dogs seldom suffer from anal gland problems.
The symptoms are pretty easy to spot to know if it’s time for anal gland expression.
- Scooting their butt on the ground
- Excessively biting or licking their butt (learn more about why dogs lick)
- Releasing the contents of their anal glands indoors
- Red skin around the anus
- Bleeding or pus draining from around the anus
If you see blood or pus around your dog’s anus, it’s time to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. These symptoms could indicate a serious infection or ruptured anal sacs.
If your dog isn’t bleeding or oozing pus around their anus, it’s usually safe for you to empty the dog’s glands yourself. Below are proper at-home dog anal gland expression practices.
What You’ll Need
- A pair of disposable plastic or latex gloves
- Vaseline or a similar lubricant
- Paper towels
- A warm soapy washcloth
- Someone to help you gently restrain your dog
- Place a small dog on a table in front of you, or kneel behind a larger dog. Your dog should be standing on all fours.
- Have your helper gently restrain your dog. We recommend having them place one arm underneath and around your dog’s neck like a cradle and the other arm hugging the rest of his body closely.
- Put on a pair of latex gloves and lubricate your index finger.
- Lift their tail and insert your index finger into your dog’s rectum (about one inch).
- Place your thumb on the outside of your dog’s anus and bring your thumb and index finger together, running them around his anus. You can locate the anal glands, one at the 4 or 5 o’clock position and the other around the 7 or 8 o’clock position. Feel for a firm pea to plum-sized object.
- Once you’ve located the anal gland, place a paper towel in front of the area (glands tend to squirt outward). Using a light amount of pressure, gently milk the gland’s contents* toward you. When you can barely feel the gland, it’s fully expressed.
- Follow the same procedure for the second anal gland.
- Once you’ve emptied both glands, use a warm soapy washcloth to wash the area. Cleaning a dog’s anal glands helps rid the site of the strong, fishy smell associated with expressed contents.
*Normal anal gland fluid is brown with a thin consistency. If the expressed fluid is thick, chunky, or colored green, yellow or gray, this is abnormal and could indicate an infection or other problem. You should contact your vet in the case of abnormal fluid.
You should only empty them when you spot the typical symptoms we described above. To be on the safe side, call your veterinarian when you notice the symptoms and ask if it’s okay to express the anal sacs yourself.
Be aware that expressing a dog’s anal sacs too frequently can actually increase the risk of impaction. If you feel uncomfortable doing this unpleasant task yourself, take your dog to your veterinarian.
The video below does a great job of helping you visualize the process.
If you’d rather leave anal gland expression to the experts, you’re not alone. In fact, anal sac inflammation is one of the top 10 most vet-treated conditions for dogs, and continued treatment can hit your finances.
You may want to consider signing up for pet insurance as a proactive measure to lower your financial risk for potential health threats during your dog’s lifetime. Why? Pet insurance is one of the best things you can do for your dog — not only for the health of your pup, but to save you from financial trouble should an accident, illness, or pet emergency arise.
Humans have health insurance, so our furry friends should too. That way, you’ll never have to choose between an expensive treatment and your pet’s suffering or even his life. Pet insurance gives you peace of mind so that you can make better and less emotional decisions in the face of a crisis.
Check out our reviews of the top pet insurance providers to learn more.
So, now you know how to spot dog anal gland issues and how to express dog sacs. Here are some other tips that will help you prevent anal sacs from becoming impacted and care for your dog.
Make sure your dog is getting enough fiber in his diet. Bran, canned pumpkin, apples, brown rice, and vegetables are all high in fiber, and you can easily add them to his diet. Talk with your veterinarian about the best way to incorporate high-fiber foods into your dog’s diet. You’ll need to do it gradually to give your dog’s digestive system time to adjust to the new foods.
Changing to a higher quality dog food can make a huge difference, but you may also wish to add a daily supplement for digestive health. Look for high-fiber, high-quality dog foods that contain no additives or preservatives. Two excellent products are Wellness Core Natural Reduced Fat Grain Free Dry Dog Food and Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Dog Food.
They can be. There are several popular health supplements that are designed to ease your dog’s anal gland problems by adding fiber to your dog’s diet. We recommend Diggin’ Your Dog Firm Up Pumpkin Supplement (pumpkin is very high in fiber) or Glandex Soft Chews Anal Gland Fiber & Probiotic Digestive Supplement for Dogs.
One last bit of advice we have for you is to be patient. It takes some practice to master the expression procedure, and if you ever have any questions, contact your veterinarian. Changing your dog’s diet can also take time, learn more about safely changing your dog’s food.
Changes won’t happen overnight or even in a week. Once you’ve stuck to their new diet, it typically takes a month to six weeks before you and your pup will see improvement.Tagged With: Digestion, DIY, Gastrointestinal, Reviewed By Dr. Pendergrass, DVM