(IMAGE: The Dog Dish)
It’s not a pleasant topic, but it’s one that most dog owners will be all too familiar with: Anal Glands. Blockage of these glands is a common issue in domestic dogs, and even cats can occasionally have issues with them as well. As a dog owner, you need to know what they are, what can happen with them, and what to do about it.
What are the Anal Glands?
The anal glands aren’t strictly glands at all, but rather anal sacs. They are small, pea- to grape-sized pouches which sit under the skin between the sphincter muscles by the dog’s anus at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. They are present in cats as well as dogs (plus skunks, ferrets, and some other mammals), and exist to provide scent being comprised of oil and sweat glands. Two small ducts connect them to the dog’s inner rectum, and they are designed by Nature to be stimulated to secrete a small amount of scent when the dog empties his bowel. They may also provide lubrication for passing stools (interestingly, dogs and cats don’t get haemorrhoids like humans do, and we don’t have anal sacs).
The unique scent emitted by these sacs works to mark territory and is as unique to a dog as a fingerprint is to a human. It is an incredibly powerful smell to a dog, and the substance that carries the scent is semi-oily and brownish in colour. It smells bad to humans.
Twelve percent of dogs have anal sac disease. Sometimes the anal sacs can become blocked, impacted, inflamed, or infected. It is very common for this to happen in pet dogs and scooting along the ground or floor is a common sign of early issues. Many of us think it’s a sure sign of worms, but it’s far more likely to be caused by irritation to the anal sacs. The dog may also lick at and chew the base of the tail.
If the sac becomes blocked, the secretions it produces will build up so that it swells and becomes painful. It will become infected and potentially bleed; worst cases will see an anal gland abscess form if the sac bursts.
What to Do
Any obvious issues with anal sacs need to be assessed by your vet. Antibiotics and pain killers may be required, and the anal sacs will need to be expressed by the vet (NOT a pleasant job). An abscess will need prompt treatment and possibly surgery.
Causes of this issue aren’t necessarily clear, but some dogs seem to be born with very narrow ducts. Smaller breeds are more affected, with Miniature Poodles, Chihuahuas, Beagles and Basset Hounds more affected than most.
Some dog grooming professionals express anal sacs as a routine part of the grooming process; ask your groomer if they do this and if you prefer they didn’t, mention it to them. You can also ask your vet to show you how to do it yourself at home to keep your dog more comfortable.