The anal glands are small sacs that are located inside your canine friend’s rectum on either side of his or her anus. These glands produce a greasy substance that can sometimes be foul-smelling and that serves as a territorial marker.
Needless to say, nowadays anal glands are less useful to dogs compared to the essential part they used to play when our canine friends used to live in the wild. Just like other organs that haven’t changed and don’t serve much purpose nowadays (such as the human appendix), anal glands still exist and can sometimes cause a variety of issues.
Normally, as the dog’s feces pass through the rectum, the anal glands should evacuate naturally. But many times, this fails to happen, and that’s when complications arise.
Let’s look at what causes anal gland problems in dogs, how you can prevent them, how (and if) you should express your dog’s anal glands, and everything else you need to know.
What Triggers Anal Gland Problems?
Anal glands can fill for a number of reasons. For example, if your dog’s stools are mostly soft, there isn’t any pressure applied on the glands, and that’s why the substance on the inside is not eliminated. There isn’t enough pressure exerted to empty the glands.
Anal gland impaction happens because of the blockage of the duct leading from the gland to the opening. Usually, the glands only become swollen but if they are not emptied sooner rather than later, bacteria can get in the picture and cause an infection, in which case the dog experiences pain, inflammation, and even fever.
A diet deficiency can be another issue that causes anal gland complications. The lack of enough fiber which, in turn, would harden (and yet regulate) your dog’s stools is the most commonly encountered reason for this medical issue, but the truth is that not all types of fiber are good. For example, wheat and corn are a no-go, because they usually cause upset tummies and a variety of digestive disorders. However, the fiber contained by pumpkin and pumpkin seeds is quite healthy, for example.
If your dog has no issue whatsoever with his or her anal glands, you aren’t going to notice anything in particular because they are being emptied without any interference on your part. Sometimes, though, you could notice clinical signs such as a change in your dog’s bedding in terms of color or a change in how your dog’s behind smells (it becomes foul-smelling).
Your dog might also strain when defecating or on the other hand, try to empty the anal glands by dragging or scooting his/her rear-end along the ground. This also happens if your dog has internal parasites, so it’s definitely a sign that you should take your canine companion to the vet.
Furthermore, you might also notice that your dog manifests a particular interest toward his anal area, sits uncomfortably, or chases his own tail.
Common Anal Gland Conditions
Impaction is one of the most common problems associated with your dog’s anal glands and this happens when the oily substance starts to build up, thickens, but it isn’t expressed. This causes the glands to be irritated and enlarged.
Anal gland infections are another cause for the inflammation and irritation experienced by your canine friend and they are typically of a bacterial nature. If the infection is not addressed in due time, an anal gland abscess could be developed, in which case your pet will experience fever and his general health will be affected, as well. This abscess will continue to grow until it ruptures and eliminates the pus.
Cancer is another anal gland condition, and although it is not diagnosed as often as tumors that grow in other organs, it can be an occurrence. Because most anal gland tumors are adenocarcinomas, that means that they are malignant.
Treating Anal Gland Issues
In many cases, the anal glands are expressed and that eliminates the cause of the problem (the pressure buildup). However, some dogs might also have to receive antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication, as well as repeated flushes of the glands.
If your dog is suffering from an anal gland adenocarcinoma, it can be surgically removed, but you need to know that the operation can have complications, so it should only be performed in exceptional cases.
The Anal Glands Can Be Injured
It can be very tempting to want to express your dog’s anal glands if he or she has had any issues with them in the past and you’ve seen the vet do the procedure. It’s not very complicated, indeed, but the truth is that the anal glands can sometimes even be placed differently due to anatomical differences from one dog to the next.
Most groomers will express a dog’s anal glands as part of the services they offer. However, many vets agree that doing so is not necessary. If you feed your dog the right things and you don’t notice any issues whatsoever such as any leakage, changes in smell, or discomfort, your dog’s anal glands are doing what they are supposed to by themselves. They don’t need any help.
Some pet parents feel like they have to express their canine friends’ anal sacs regularly. Expressing healthy anal glands can cause problems, and many of them can be chronic. The glands are made to empty naturally and pinching or squeezing them can produce damage such as swelling.
How to Prevent Anal Gland Problems in Dogs
They say prevention is better than cure and we couldn’t agree more. Correcting an anal gland dysfunction can be done by first finding out what’s wrong and what exactly has caused it. If there is no fecal bulk being created, the anal glands receive no pressure and as such, they won’t be emptied.
One of the reasons so many pets have this problem is that they don’t live in the wild anymore. If you’ve ever walked a puppy in the park, you know that the likelihood of Fido eating anything from pieces of wood to vegetation is quite high, and all of these things make the feces harder.
The fecal motions are stronger because the mass that has to go through the intestine is bigger. This causes the anal sphincter to be stretched and the anal glands to empty.
Processed diets do not have the consistency to create this type of fecal bulk, and many premium dog foods are in fact developed to reduce fecal volume. Switching to a raw diet can be a solution for many dogs and adding fiber from healthy sources such as pumpkin is a great idea.
While some say that feeding raw bones to dogs can also be beneficial (and while that might be true), it is also rather risky, especially when it comes to chicken or turkey bones. Feed your dog pork and lamb bones, at least, because they can’t be broken down into splinters as easily.