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Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

“Harry” was a lovely, friendly, eight-year-old Labrador. He was overweight and a regular patient at our Vet nurse clinics, as he was in every month to have his weight checked, and his anal glands expressed. He loved the Vet nurses and was always very forgiving about having to have his “bottom squeezed” at every visit.  

The vet nurses had advised his owner that “Harry” should lose weight and have an advised fibre supplement added to his diet daily. 

Anal gland problems are a common health issue that affects many dogs.  

These small glands, also known as "anal sacs", are located on either side of the anus, situated just inside the anus at 4 o’ clock and 8 o’ clock. They secret a brownish liquid with a strong-smelling scent that helps dogs identify one another, and this can be used for marking territory. 

Healthy anal glands empty naturally when a dog passes faeces, but if this doesn’t happen, they can over fill and block. Blocked anal glands can be irritating and painful, and in some cases, these glands can become infected or impacted, leading to anal gland abscesses, or a condition known as “anal sacculitis”.  

Symptoms of anal gland problems can vary from dog to dog, but some of the most common signs include rubbing, "scooting", licking, or biting the anus or surrounding skin area, a strong, foul, fishy odour coming from the anus, looking round suddenly at their back end, and some discomfort when sitting or defaecating. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, it's important to schedule an appointment with your vet for a check-up. 

One of the most common causes of anal gland problems in dogs is a lack of proper drainage. In some cases, the glands may become impacted with anal gland discharge, leading to a blocked gland, infection, or inflammation. Other potential causes can include a low fibre diet, allergies, or any underlying health conditions that would cause soft faeces or diarrhoea. Any dog can develop blocked anal glands, but it can be more common in overweight dogs with lax muscles around the anus, and in dogs that have a predisposition to having diarrhoea or soft faeces, as anal glands rely on firm, bulky stools to push past and empty the anal sacs. Also, dogs with recurrent anal gland infections and tissue scarring can and have a narrow anal gland opening, which makes natural emptying difficult, and they then can be more predisposed to blocked anal glands. 

To diagnose an anal gland issue, your vet will perform a physical exam of your dog's anal region. They will perform a rectal examination to check for any abnormalities or signs of infection. In some cases, your vet may recommend anal gland flushing, and a tissue biopsy for a cytology examination, or other diagnostic laboratory tests of the anal gland discharge to determine the cause of the problem. In severe, recurrent cases the offending anal sacs can be surgically removed. 

Completely preventing anal gland issues can be tricky, but there are some steps you can take to help reduce your dog's risk. Ensure that your dog stays trim and has a healthy, balanced diet, which can also help to promote proper gland function and prevent diarrhoea or constipation, and regular exercise can help encourage regular normal bowel movements. Additionally, keeping your dog's anal area clean and well-groomed can help reduce the risk of peri-anal skin inflammation and infection.  

Treatment for anal gland issues can vary depending on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, your vet may recommend increasing your dog's daily fibre intake and advise regular gland expression to help prevent future issues. In more severe cases, antibiotics or other medications may be necessary to treat the infection or inflammation. In severe cases anal gland flushing, or surgery to remove the glands may be advised. 

There are a few simple precautions you can take to reduce your dog’s chance of anal gland problems: 

Keep your dog slim. Overweight dogs generally have weaker muscles around their bottom which makes gland emptying more difficult. Keep your dog at a healthy weight, and feed them a good quality, well researched, complete dog food measured and weighed out carefully at each meal, to ensure that your pet is not being overfed; Regular checks: If your dog frequently suffers with blocked anal glands, they may require regular vet, or veterinary nurse visits to have them checked and emptied; And adding extra fibre to your dog’s diet can help to firm-up and bulk-out their faeces. As a result, when your dog goes to the toilet their stool will press on the anal glands and help to empty them. There are good, researched veterinary fibre supplement products available, with added probiotics to encourage a healthy firmer stool.  

Anal gland problems are a common issue that affects many breeds of dogs. If you notice any symptoms of an anal gland issue in your dog, it's important to schedule an appointment with your vet. Leaving blocked anal glands untreated can lead to infections and abscesses, and this can be a very uncomfortable problem. 


Alison Laurie-Chalmers, 

Senior Consultant, 

Crown Vets. 

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