Anal gland problems in dogs

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. - Our editorial process

What are dog anal glands? These little sacs sit on either side of the dog’s anus, around the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. Located just below the skin surface between the two layers of muscle of the sphincter controlling the anus, they produce an oily, foul-smelling yellow to brown fluid that dogs use to broadcast who they are and mark their territory. These glands are the reason that dogs sniff each other’s rear ends when they meet.

What are anal gland problems in dogs?

What are the possible dog anal gland issues? Normally when your dog poos, the stool passing squeezes the glands and empties them. When all is well, you hardly notice that they are there. Sometimes the gland does not completely empty and the fluid that is left can become thickened, blocking the duct through which the gland empties. Blocked anal glands in dogs are smelly and uncomfortable and may result in them doing the dreaded ‘scoot’ along the ground, trying to empty them.

The glands can become completely blocked, or impacted, which may lead to infection. This can be extremely painful and make the dog feel ill. If this dog anal gland infection is not treated, abscesses can form and, if still not resolved, the glands can actually rupture. This requires urgent treatment but even ruptured glands can heal, and most return to their normal function.

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What causes anal gland problems in dogs?

In a normal healthy dog, the faeces squeeze the anal glands as it passes on its way to the anus and empties them. If a dog has soft stools or diarrhoea, there may not be enough pressure on the walls of the rectum to empty the glands properly. This means some fluid is left in the sac. The remaining fluid can thicken, becoming more difficult to remove. Over time, this thickened fluid can block the duct, the little tube that allows the gland to empty. Irregular bowel movements can leave fluid sitting in the glands for longer than ideal. These can be due to digestive upsets, eating poor quality food such as kibble or leftovers, or food that causes allergies or intolerances.

Inflammation of the anal sacs can narrow the duct, making it more difficult for all of the fluid to be removed. Obesity may also cause an issue, as fatty tissue around the glands and a lack of muscle tone means the glands may not empty properly. Small dogs seem to be particularly prone, possibly as their size means that their anal gland ducts are very small and may block more easily. A gland that produces too much fluid is unlikely to fully empty, even if everything else is fine, and may cause blockages and impactions regularly if not managed.

Infections and skin disorders in that region can cause problems. Repeated biting and licking at the skin may cause trauma to the glands as they are close to the skin surface. Trauma may also come from unnecessary repeated manual dog anal gland expression on a healthy, normal dog. If a dog has previously had an impacted or infected anal gland, this can also result in trauma, making the issue more likely to recur if not managed. Tumours known as adenocarcinoma can occur in the anal glands and are usually malignant. If you suspect anal gland problems in your dog, take them to see your vet to identify the reason, as the prognosis is typically good if caught early.

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Signs and symptoms of anal gland problems in dogs

If you think your dog has a problem with their anal glands, it is best to have them checked over by a vet. If any sign of blood, redness and swelling around the anus becomes apparent seen, your dog should see your vet as soon as possible.

Signs and symptoms you should look out for include:

  • Excessive licking and chewing around their rear end and base of the tail, to relieve the itch of full glands and trying to empty them.

  • Distinctive dog anal glands smell often described as a mix of rotting fish and faeces

  • ‘Scooting’ – dragging their bottom along the ground with their back legs stuck straight out in front, often leaving a stain trail behind them.

  • Problems going, with lots of straining and possibly appearing painful to poo.

  • Spots of greasy, smelly discharge left on the floor, usually tan to brown in colour.

  • Reluctance to have their hind end touched, possibly showing increased aggression because, for the dog, swollen anal glands are painful.

  • Diarrhoea or another digestive upset just before other symptoms become apparent.

If an infection has developed:

  • Red spots or pus visible in the discharge spots left on the floor.

  • Pus coming from the anus.

  • A swollen area showing a possible abscess near the anus.

  • A hole appearing near the anus, discharging bloody or green/yellow pus.

How to treat anal gland problems in dogs

A quick guide on how to empty dogs’ anal glands yourself:

  • Wear latex gloves and have a warm cloth to hand.

  • Find the anal glands at 4 and 8 o’clock when looking at the anus.

  • Apply firm but gentle pressure to the glands under the skin and move upwards and back towards the anus.

  • Hold the cloth over the anus to prevent the smelly fluid squirting everywhere.

  • Wipe the dog clean and give them a reward.

If you see any signs of anal gland problems for the first time, have your dog checked over by a vet to identify the particular cause, and decide the treatment and management needed. If there is any sign of blood, pus or lots of pain, go to the vet as soon as possible. Infections will likely require antibiotics and may need flushing clean.

Impactions can be relieved by manually expressing the glands. If the impaction is severe or infected, a vet must do this as it can be very painful and may need sedation. If the underlying cause means that the dog will suffer from repeated blockages, the glands will need regularly expressing. Some experts say dog anal gland cleaning is an expert job, but your vet or groomer may show you how to do this at home to avoid stressing your dog with repeated visits.

If your dog is not showing any signs of problems, there is no need to express the glands, and it may do more harm than good if done too often.

One of the most common causes is soft stools. This can result from feeding a poor quality diet, or one with ingredients to which your dog is allergic or intolerant. A frequent offender for dogs is wheat. Switching to a high quality, low processed and nutritious food can help keep your dog’s stomach happy and healthy.

What is the best dog food for anal gland problems?

The best dog food for anal glands should be:

  • Highly digestible

  • Full of fibre

  • Limited ingredients

Providing your dog with a highly digestible food that’s packed full of fibre will help to prevent anal gland problems by promoting regular bowel movements and healthy stools.

Digestible food leaves less liquid in the gut and improves the consistency of faeces, while fibre also helps to firm up your dog's stool and maintain healthy bowels. Firm stools and regular toileting are key to draining the anal glands naturally and preventing problems such as impacted or blocked glands.

As explained by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS, “Pure uses fresh human-quality ingredients that are packed with fibre, which helps bulk up your dog’s faeces helping to relieve many anal gland issues.”

Fibre controls the speed in which food can pass fully through the digestive system, so a high fibre diet that is highly digestible is essential. The more natural the food is, the better it will be to help your pup’s problems. Anal gland issues can be triggered even more by the chemical-fuelled, highly processed dog foods such as kibble, as they’re difficult to digest with low nutritional value.

Wholegrains such as brown rice provide excellent results for dogs with anal gland problems, as brown rice is rich in fibre to aid gut motility and a steady digestion. In multiple of Pure’s recipes, we combine protein, fruits and vegetables with brown rice to promote the digestive system for those dogs suffering with digestive issues.

For pooches that can’t tolerate grains, our grain-free recipes still include the high in fibre vegetables to ensure your pup is still getting a highly digestible diet. Potatoes, peas and carrots are excellent for supporting digestion and overall gut health.

Overall, Pure is packed full of wholesome, natural ingredients, high in the right carbohydrates with the right balance of protein and fat to clear up those problems.

In fact, many customers whose pets suffered from anal gland problems saw their condition dramatically improved by Pure. Alfie and Trilby both routinely suffered from impacted anal glands, but have not suffered any reoccurrence since they moved onto a Pure diet. Because trauma from previously impacted glands makes recurrence likely, that proves how effective Pure can be at keeping your pup happy and healthy.

The im-paw-tence of other ingredients is not to be overlooked either. Avoiding allergens will prevent digestive upset and skin reactions that could trigger gland issues or cause trauma to the glands. If your dog has an intolerance to an ingredient, the gut will become inflamed, and the body will try to eliminate the problem quickly. If you notice that your dog’s stools are consistently soft, or they have diarrhoea, something in their diet needs to be addressed.

The best dog food for anal gland problems will have a limited list of high-quality, natural ingredients, with no artificial additives, to make sure it won’t trigger any health conditions or cause irritation.

This is where a tailored plan can work wonders for your dog’s digestive health and allergies. Tell us about your pooch, their age, size, breed, ailments and allergies, and we will curate a plan that’s paw-fect for your pup.

There will be absolutely no nasties, packed full of natural ingredients, making allergic reactions and irritation a thing of the past.