What are the anal glands?
The anal glands are marble-sized sacs that sit just inside the anus (around the 4 and 8 o’clock positions). They produce strong-smelling secretions that help with territory marking. They should empty when the dog defecates, but in some dogs this process does not happen effectively, and so the anal glands can become full and impacted.
Blocked anal glands are a relatively common in dogs, with some individuals being particularly affected. The problem is usually easy to deal with by manually expressing them – the vet or nurse can do this or can teach you how to do it yourself!
If the glands are not emptied then they can become impacted, which can lead to infection and an abscess forming – this is very painful for your dog and so it is best to look out for symptoms before infection starts developing.
Why do some dogs have problems with their anal glands?
The most common causes for blocked anal glands are:
- A narrowed duct opening, making it more difficult for the glands to empty. Some dogs are born with ducts that are too narrow, and so will always need manual expression of their anal glands to prevent them from blocking. The duct can also become narrowed due to previous infection, trauma or surgery.
- Persistent soft stools – this means that the glands are not naturally expressed by a firm stool as it passes, causing them to get full and impacted.
- Being overweight, as it can lead to weakening of the muscles around the back end.
What are the symptoms of a blocked anal gland?
The typical symptoms include:
- Scooting of the bottom along the floor
- Licking the bottom
- A fishy smell
- Suddenly sitting down or look around at the back end
- Wetness/discharge around the back end (when an abscess bursts)
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How is it diagnosed?
The vet will check your dog’s anal glands by gentle inserting their finger into their bottom – they will feel the anal glands on either side of the anus to check if they are very full.
Treatment of blocked anal glands
The treatment will depend on the severity of the problem. For glands that are simply too full, manual expression will solve the problem and provide instant relief for your dog. If the glands are infected, then they will need medication (antibiotics and anti-inflammatories) as well as anal gland expression.
If an abscess has burst, then the area will also need to be cleaned thoroughly and carefully and kept clean afterwards. Sometimes, abscesses may need to be flushed under general anaesthetic.
Occasionally, where there is a serious issue with the anal glands that cannot be treated medically, then your vet may recommend surgical removal of the gland(s). This is not undertaken lightly, as it can result in problems with faecal incontinence due to disruption to the anal sphincter muscle.
How can I help to prevent anal gland problems?
There are a few things that may help to reduce the chances of your dog suffering from anal gland problems. These include:
- Feeding sufficient fibre. The anal glands should empty when your dog defecates – if the stool is soft then this process does not happen very effectively. Increasing the fibre in your dog’s diet it can help to improve stool consistency, thereby helping to empty the anal glands naturally.
- Regular check-ups. If your dog is prone to anal gland problems, then they should have regular checks at the vets to empty them before they become impacted and infected.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Dogs that are overweight tend have weakened muscles around the back end, which can make it more difficult for their anal glands to empty naturally.