Dog anal glands aren’t a pleasant topic … but they’re very important to your dog, even though they’re gross and smelly!
Dogs, male and female, mark their territory with urine … that’s well known. But they also mark their territory with poop. And your dog’s anal glands are an important part of this. They’re his scent glands, and if they aren’t working correctly, they can get infected or impacted, and cause discomfort.
What Are Dog Anal Sacs?
Think of your dog’s rear end like a clock face. Near his anal opening, at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock, he has two anal sacs that contain oil and sweat glands. The content of these sacs is … stinky, to say the least. When your dog poops, or he’s stressed, these small sacs release a foul-smelling liquid that’s yellowish-brown with a fishy odor.
When your dog poops, the stool should push on the anal glands and cause them to empty. The fluid leaves a strong odor that communicates information about your dog to other dogs …. which is why dogs sniff each other’s rear ends when they meet.
When anal glands work normally, the anal sac duct opens and allows liquid to come out of the glands. But sometimes things don’t move smoothly. Over time, poor diet or chronic problems like soft stool can cause the anal gland ducts to get blocked.
Signs Of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs
If your dog’s having anal gland problems, you may see some of this behaviors:
- Scooting (dragging his butt on the ground)
- Licking or biting at his rear end
- Straining when pooping
- Sitting uncomfortably
- Difficulty standing
Causes Of Anal Gland Problems In Dogs
Stanley Rubin, DVM, MS, DACVIM, notes in the Merck Veterinary Manual that “Small breeds are predisposed to anal sac disease; large or giant breeds are rarely affected.” (1)
Some research shows that 12% of dogs have anal gland issues. Diet is an important factor in anal gland problems. Most processed commercial dog foods don’t contain enough fiber to help the anal glands empty normally.
If pooping doesn’t create enough pressure to express the anal glands naturally, your dog’s anal glands and ducts can swell shut over time. Or, the discharge from the glands becomes too thick to pass through easily. In some more severe cases, anal gland infection called sacculitis can develop.
Natural Remedies For Dog Anal Gland Problems
Don’t rush to the vet or groomer to get your dog’s anal glands expressed. Regular gland expression can make the glands dependent on this help … and it can make them more inflamed, contributing to more problems in future.
Instead, try some of these home remedies to relieve your dog’s problem.
A calendula compress will help relieve inflammation in your dog’s anal area. Once the swelling goes down, the anal glands should open and drain.
Mix 1 tsp of sea salt and 8 drops of herbal calendula tincture (available at most health stores) to a cup of warm water. Saturate a cloth with the mixture and hold it against the inflamed area until the cloth is cool. Repeat every hour until the glands open and drain, or the swelling goes down.
Feeding fiber broth will help bulk up your dog’s stool, which will pressure the anal glands to empty. Try this recipe, courtesy of Phivo Christodoulou, Australia’s “Dog Health Guy.”
- Heat 1 cup of bone broth*
- Add 2 tbsp psyllium husks
- Stir the mixture until it turns to a jelly-like mixture
- Let it cool before feeding
*Note: You can use water instead of bone broth, but bone broth will encourage your dog to eat the mixture, and provides extra nourishment.
Feed this broth as a meal replacement every other meal for 1-2 days until stools are firm, or anal glands express. Give small dogs 1/5 to 1/4 cup, medium to large dogs 1/2 to 3/4 cup, and giant dogs 1 cup per meal,
Caution: if you give your dog fiber broth, go outside with your dog to make sure he’s pooping okay. Some dogs might need help with the larger size stool at first. If your dog’s straining, you might need to place your hand in a poop bag and help pull the poop out. It’s an unpleasant job but your hand won’t get dirty and your dog may need your help!
There’s a homeopathic remedy called Silica (or Silicea) that’s very effective at helping expel foreign substances (like anal gland fluid).
You can buy Silica at many health stores. Ask for a 6C potency. Mix 3-5 pellets (don’t touch them with your hands) into a small glass of filtered or spring water. Stir for 30 seconds, then use a teaspoon or glass dropper to place some of the liquid on your dog’s gums twice a day for 2 to 7 days. (Stop dosing once the anal glands empty).
Give the remedy about 1/2 hour away from food. Stir before each dose. You can keep the glass on your kitchen counter covered with a saucer or paper towel. Don’t refrigerate it.
If these solutions don’t work, or if your dog’s anal glands get infected, don’t let your groomer express your dog’s anal glands. Instead, ask your holistic vet to examine your dog. A holistic vet will understand how to help you manage anal gland issues without regular expression or surgery.
When Should Dog Anal Glands Be Expressed?
Holistic veterinarian Dr Jodie Gruenstern DVM, CVA explains that manual expression of dog anal glands isn’t the best way to go about relieving your dog’s discomfort, especially not by your groomer.
“Many groomers express anal glands routinely. Similar to popping a pimple, this pressure on the tissue surrounding the gland can lead to problems. Ask your groomer to leave the anal glands alone.
“Anal glands should empty normally with defecation. The stool volume should pressure the anal glands to expel the material naturally.”
“This stinky excretion (like a skunk’s spray) is for marking. Your dog may also naturally expel it when he’s excited or scared,” Gruenstern says. “He may also scoot after pooping. This doesn’t mean that the glands need expressing. So if you think your dog’s anal glands are not emptying properly, don’t ask your groomer to express them.”
Instead of immediately thinking of anal gland expression, try some of the home remedies above to relieve your dog’s problem. And, Dr Gruenstern explains that if your dog’s anal glands really need expressing, ask your vet to do it.
“If the glands need expressing, your vet or tech will use a glove to insert a finger into the anus and “milk” the glands to empty from the inside. Squeezing both at the same time from the outside (as most groomers are trained to do), is inadequate and can be harmful.”
Should Anal Glands Be Removed?
In extreme cases, some veterinarians suggest anal gland removal surgery. But this can cause permanent damage to your dog’s anal sphincter muscle. It also prevents your dog’s body from cleansing itself of toxins through anal gland emptying.
Alex Gallagher DVM, MS, DACVIM (SAIM) in the Merck Veterinary Manual warns about potential complications of anal sac removal surgery, including the possibility of fecal incontence (3) …
“ … fecal incontinence, a common complication of anal sac surgery, may result from damage to the caudal rectal branch of the pudendal nerve and may be coplete if damage is bilateral. Chronic fistula formation may be seen when sac removal is incomplete or when the sac ruptures. Scar formation in the external anal sphincter may result from surgical trauma and result in tenesmus.”
Try to avoid resorting to surgery for your dog’s anal glands. Instead, make some changes to help prevent the problem in the first place.
How To Prevent Anal Gland Problems
Diet: As mentioned earlier, poor diet is often a cause of anal gland problems because it affects stool consistency. Feeding a raw diet with sufficient bone content will help keep your dog’s stools firm. If you can’t feed a raw diet, add high fiber foods like fruits and vegetables that will bulk up the stool. Firmer or bulkier stool will help the anal glands empty naturally when your dog poops.
Exercise: Make sure your dog gets plenty of regular walks. Exercise will strengthen his rectal and abdominal muscles, while also stimulating bowel movements.
Probiotics: Research shows that probiotics and prebiotics can support anal gland health. Recent research by Bergeron et al(at the University of Montreal (4) found that “the diversity and richness of the bacterial microbiota of the anal sacs in dogs is greater than what has been reported in previous studies with culture-based methods.” The researchers concluded ” … the bacterial microbiota of the anal sacs in dogs varies between individuals and differs from the rectal bacterial microbiota.” You can use a pre and probiotic supplement, or feed some fermented vegetables.
Manage Allergies: Problems like a food allergy or sensitivity can cause irritated anal glands. You may need to ask your holistic vet for help finding out the causes of your dog’s allergies.
It’s always best to feed a fresh, whole food, preferably raw meat based diet … and keep an eye (or nose) on your dog’s poop. That way, you’ll be able to identify problems as they arise, and act quickly to remedy them. Anal gland disease is a warning sign that your dog’s system isn’t working quite right.