Anal glands in dogs: what is it and why can it become a problem?
Rácz Brigitta, 2023. May 14 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary
The first sign of problem with the anal gland is sledging, i.e. rubbing the bottom against the ground, and later the unpleasant smell completely reveal the problem. But what can cause the functioning of the paired organ to stop, and what is its function at all?
The anal gland – actually two small tissue sacs, which size adapts to the dog’s size – is located along the sphincters of the anus. The inside of the sacs is lined with special cells, their job is to produce the typical smelling secretion, which leaves the end of the rectum through the outlet tube starting from the gland. Normally, a watery, slightly yellowish fluid is found in the gland. Every time the dog defecates, it is partly squeezed out and smeared on the excrement, but spontaneous emptying can also be caused by shock, strong fright, or serious exertion.
What is its function?
The secretion of the scent gland has a unique combination of scents in each animal’s body. No two odor patterns are alike, they are essentially as distinctive as human fingerprints. It serves as a business card: it is used to mark their territory and to identify each other. That’s why dogs sniff each other’s bottom as a greeting.
There is trouble when these glands become inflamed and blocked due to lifestyle, infection or genetic predisposition.
Why is the anal gland acting up?
The symptoms are common in obese dogs, whose muscles are basically weaker, including their internal and sphincter muscles. In the case of small dogs, it can also be a recurring problem that the gland is not always emptied naturally, which can cause stagnation and later inflammation. Those breeds are also prone to the pathological condition, whose feces – as a result of illness or improper feeding – are not hard enough to push out the secretions of the anal gland. In such cases, the gland bursts, the liquid inside thickens due to the proliferation of bacteria, and in more severe cases, an abscess may even form.
At the beginning of the process, the outlet tube is blocked, the secretion accumulates inside the bags, and then it becomes more and more dense over time. Finally, bacteria and microorganisms multiply in the stagnant glandular contents, and an abscess forms. This is initially indicated by skin redness, sensitivity, later painful inflammation, and palpable lumps around the rectum.
What is an indication that the anal gland is full and cannot empty?
In the beginning, the dog licks the base of the tail and the anus, which is often accompanied by the above-mentioned sledging symptom. It indicates an increase in irritation if it starts to bite the area, chases its tail helplessly and compulsively, and its hair may start to fall out. Defecation disorders – alternating diarrhea and constipation –, bowel obstruction, i.e. lack of defecation, are also cause for suspicion. In some cases, when the inflammation has already reached the spine, the dog moves hunched over with its back pulled up.
Stagnant secretions can also trigger an allergic reaction, in which case a noticeable amount of scratching compared to usual is a common accompanying phenomenon. It can also be a sign of this if the dog’s ears are inflamed, or if your nose is red or sore.
Squeeze or not to squeeze?
The anal gland is basically emptied naturally, there is no need to squeeze it. If your dog’s constitution does require help, it is only then important to regularly rid of the stagnant secretions. Many conscientious dog groomer consider this to be part of the service, in addition to bathing and trimming. Therefore, it is worth discussing with them the first time whether it should be the part of the grooming routine.
Veterinarian Dr. Bálint Talpag explains why it’s important to empty the anal gland regularly and shows how to squeeze it professionally:
Countless videos are circulating on the Internet, which show in detail the techniques you can use to squeeze out the anal gland at home. However, for the first time, be sure to visit the veterinarian, who will teach you how to perform the task professionally. If you can, always have the condition of the glands checked by an expert. One wrong move and the delicate, tissue-covered pouch can be damaged, causing even more pain and complications for the dog.
How can you fix the problem?
Before you do anything, observe and write down how often the symptom occurs, what the underlying cause might be, and whether the problem can be linked to any history. It may happen that your dog have eaten spicy and hot food several times, they do not exercise enough, or their stool are often soft and shapeless. Certain medications can also have a bad effect on the functioning of the gland, but it could also be that your dog has little contact with other dogs and therefore lacks adequate gland activity.
If your dog’s anal gland regularly bursts due to lifestyle reasons rather than genetics, it is worth introducing more fiber into its diet. Oats, barley and bran made from them, sweet potatoes, flaxseeds and psyllium husks, as well as insoluble fibers in general, contribute to the formation of healthy stools. There is a food supplement specially made for dogs that serves the same function and simplifies the special diet a little. Be sure to discuss changes in eating habits with your veterinarian, and do not accidentally give your pet food that could cause an allergic reaction.
If the disorder arises again and again, it is likely to be due to genetic causes. Do not under any circumstances start treatment at home, be sure to consult a veterinarian. It doesn’t hurt if you know exactly how often you have to take your dog to the groomer because of this, and at what rate the rest periods in between are decreasing. Unfortunately, pushing out the gland more and more often is not a solution, as it produces even more secretions, the vicious circle will never end.
The outlet tube can narrow due to regular pressure, and there is a high chance that it will be damaged, so it becomes more and more difficult for stagnant secretions to escape. If the scent gland fills up every month or three weeks and irritates the dog, it is worth thinking about definitive surgical intervention, i.e. removing the glands. It does not cause a negative change in your pet’s quality of life, as the marking instinct is not important for domesticated dogs. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about surgical options and their risks.
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