Sometimes veterinary medicine is all about cute kittens and doggie kisses. At the opposite end of the spectrum is caring for anal glands. Brooklyn Bark caught up with Dr. Chris of North Slope Veterinary who had just finished expressing a pup's anal glands.
Brooklyn Bark: Does my dog have anal glands? Dr. Chris: Yes, all dogs have anal glands. They are actually anal “sacs” but most people call them glands, so we will use that terminology. They are two small pouches that collect glandular secretions within the sphincter muscles of the anus. Their normal function is not entirely clear; it has been proposed that the anal gland secretions help to lubricate the stool, but that is only a theory.
It is also believed that pheromones are released which allows the dog to mark their territory with their unique “signature.”
BBark: Sometimes my dog releases a “fishy” smell from her hind end, is that coming from her anal glands? Dr. Chris: Yes, most likely. Anal gland secretion is often described as fishy smelling. Alternate descriptions include: foul, disgusting, nauseating, and horrific. Dogs normally express (empty) a small amount of anal gland secretion when they defecate. Some dogs will also express their anal glands when they are nervous or excited. Some dogs have a problem expressing their anal glands normally and need to have them expressed for them.
BBark: What are signs of anal gland problems? Dr. Chris: Problems with the anal glands generally involve an inability of a dog to properly express them on her own. Scooting (when a dog puts her weight on her forelimbs and drags her butt across the ground) can be a sign of anal gland sacculitis, an inflammation. Constant licking or attention to the hind end is also a sign of an anal gland problem.
BBark: Are certain dogs prone to anal gland problems? Dr. Chris: Small dogs and toy breeds tend to have more problems with their anal glands.
Dogs with allergies have more issues probably due to chronic inflammation and irritation, as do dogs with persistently soft stool.
BBark: Who should express a dog’s anal glands. Can I do it myself? Dr. Chris: Many well-meaning groomers express dogs’ anal glands at every appointment, although I do not believe this should be done unless routine expression is recommended by a veterinarian. Expressing the anal glands when there is not a problem can potentially lead to inflammation and anal gland sacculitis in an otherwise healthy dog.
In other words, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
If your dog does need to have their anal glands expressed, veterinarians and most groomers offer this service. Some brave owners learn to express their dogs’ anal glands themselves. This is fine but it is always best to do this on the advice of your vet, as there could be something more serious going on. They can also show you the proper way to do this unpleasant task.
BBark: What are some other problems dogs can have with their anal glands? Dr. Chris: By far the most common anal gland issue is anal gland sacculutis, or inflammation of the glands. Sacculitis can lead to impacted or infected anal glands. These often result in an anal gland abscess. These abscesses can rupture and require antibiotics and more extensive long term treatment. Dogs can also develop a form of cancer known as anal gland adenocarcinoma. It is important to have your veterinarian check your dog’s anal glands to rule out any of these more serious problems.
BBark: If my dog seems like he always needs his glands expressed is there anything preventative that can be done? Dr. Chris: It has been suggested that increasing the amount of fiber in the diet can be helpful in reducing the frequency of anal gland sacculitis. This is recommended and it doesn’t tend to do any harm, but in reality there is no known “cure”. At times this seems to help, but some dogs do not show improvement even with dietary modification.
BBark: Wow, that’s a lot of information. What is the take home message? Dr. Chris: If your dog is not scooting or excessively attending to his hind end, then there is probably nothing to worry about. At your next veterinarian appointment, you can ask them to take a look at your dog’s anal glands to ensure everything looks normal.
If you do notice signs that your dog could have an anal gland problem, see a veterinarian first, before having the groomer express them or trying to do it yourself. This way your vet can rule out more serious medical issues and advise you on the best way to proceed.
Christopher Gaylord, DVM, is the practice owner of North Slope Veterinary, 207 6th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217. A graduate of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Gaylord practiced in Manhattan and Jersey City before opening his practice in Park Slope. He can be reached at info@NorthSlopeVet.com To make an appointment with Dr. Gaylord, call 718-789-7170, M-F:9am-7pm or Sat: 9am-3pm. House calls available on request.