ANAL GLANDS IN DOGS : A STINKY DUO

Authored byVeronic Fournier - Nov 15, 2023

If you have a dog, you’ve probably noticed a funky smell coming from your pet’s behind. But “why does my pooch smell like fish,” you ask? The answer is easy: his anal glands are probably full. 

For your dog, anal gland issues are always very stressful and painful to deal with. For me, as a veterinary technician, they are never fun cases to attend to, particularly just before lunch.

 

Demystifying a dog's anal glands

Make sure you follow along because aside from helping you assess the need for your dog to get his anal glands expressed or "squeezed out," I will also explain how it’s properly done.

I will get you in on the signs of dog anal gland infections—and similar conditions like anal sac disease—to help you make sure your furry friend has a happy and healthy bottom as well.

Always remember that helping your dog have healthy anal glands is important in giving him the quality of life he deserves.

 

Why Does My Dog Have Anal Glands?

Dog staring at the camera.

Anal glands, also known as "anal sacs," are small glands located just inside your dog’s anus. They have two of them and they are located at roughly 4 and 8 o’clock around the anus. 

These glands fill up with a smelly brownish liquid. Its consistency may vary. This liquid has a smell specific to your dog.

Dogs use this liquid from the anal sacs to identify and communicate with each other. This is why dogs smell other dogs from behind when they meet. The anal gland also releases pheromones for marking its territory. 

When your dog poops, he may be actually emptying his anal glands by himself during bowel movement.

But there will be times when an anal gland problem (like anal sac abscess or recurrent anal sac disease) gets in the picture. Hence, the fishy smell.

 

Anal Gland Issues 

dog taking a rest outside

Impaction

If the fluid is not expressed naturally when passing stools and accumulates in the anal sac, it thickens with time. This makes it even harder for the foul-smelling fluid to get expelled and results in the anal glands getting very full. 

This is called "impaction" in your dog's glands. While this issue is common in many dogs, the risk is higher among small breeds, female dogs, and obese dogs.

Overweight dogs tend to suffer from the same more due to stool consistency and possible erratic bowel movements.

At that point, if the dog's anal glands are not manually drained, it will swell and become uncomfortable. This is the time you should express your dog's anal gland to prevent anal gland problems.

Just a quick reminder, pet parents! A very full gland that is left untreated can make the affected sac infected (see the next point for more details about infection). 

If your dog shows discomfort around his rear end and displays some of the following symptoms, he should be seen by a veterinarian. He’s possibly experiencing impacted anal glands.  

 

Symptoms of Impacted Anal Glands in Dogs

dog playing on the beach
  • Licking and biting at the anal area

  • Scooting

  • Chasing his tail

  • Persistent anal gland smell

  • Struggling to defecate / painful defecation

  • Red/swollen anal area

  • Discharge from anal area (brownish and smelly)

  • Abscess near the rectum

  • Signs of pain such as increased aggressiveness or difficulty settling down. 

But why would your dog not secrete this liquid with his stools, like a brave boy? This secretion of the gland fluid is pressure-dependent. If the volume of feces is too small or if the consistency is liquid or soft, the glands won’t be stimulated enough to do their job.

 

Causes of Anal Sacs/Glands Impactions in Dogs 

dog on a hike

Here are more reasons why a dog would be incapable of draining his anal glands naturally: 

  • Poor gut health

  • Lack of high-quality diet or healthy digestion

  • Episodes of diarrhea/loose stools

  • Underlying allergies/skin disorders (super common!)

  • Low dietary fiber diet (affects dog's bowel movements and quality of dog's stool)

  • Obesity/incapable of grooming

  • Trauma/inflammation of the anal glands

  • Anal sac tumors/malignant tumors (or even anal gland cancer) that cause elevated calcium levels

  • Poor muscle tone (in older dogs for example)

Infection

A very full gland will have very thick contents and the canal through which the liquid is usually secreted will get completely blocked. This will give bacteria the perfect environment to reproduce and thrive. This is when we start talking about dog anal gland infection.

If an infected dog gland is expressed with care by a veterinarian, some chunks or blood might be seen. At this stage, emptying the anal sacs won’t be enough to relieve the issue. An additional treatment will be required, usually involving pain relief medications and oral antibiotics.

At the clinic where I work, most dogs with an infected anal gland are directly infused with medication. Dogs need to be sedated for that treatment unless they are unbelievably still.

The doctor will gently insert the medication using a gloved index finger via the tiny duct with a catheter. It’s a work of great precision, but sometimes this procedure is necessary to treat bad cases of anal gland infections.  

 

Abscess

An untreated dog anal gland infection can lead to further complications. The anal gland can basically fill up with pus and build up pressure. It’s forming an abscess, which can affect the anal opening and its surrounding areas.

In that case, your pet’s anal region will look swollen and very inflamed. Frequent hind end straining will often be observed by dog owners.

Just to emphasize, ignoring issues like infections and abscesses can potentially lead to more serious health problems, including anal gland cancer in some cases.

 

Rupture

You don’t even want to go there. It’s gross, terribly painful and it stinks!  When the abscess ruptures, it may form an abnormal opening in your dog’s rectum by which the pus will drain.

Ruptured anal gland abscess treatment: the veterinary team will clean the area with an antiseptic, and shave around the area if needed.

Once the area is "clean," the veterinarian will prescribe some pain medication and some antibiotics to control the infection. A follow-up is recommended to make sure the infection is resolved after a few days. 

 

Expression of a Dog's Anal Glands

A person playing its dog.

Now that have I convinced you that full anal glands are unpleasant, read on to learn how to express or "clean" your dog’s anal glands.

 

How do you know if your dog needs his anal glands "cleaned?"

If your dog is showing any of the signs, I've pointed out previously, bring him in for a check-up at the vet to make sure an anal gland expression is appropriate for him.

Generally, a dog will show signs of discomfort if his glands need to be emptied. Although, this is not a golden rule.

Scooting is the most common thing that dogs will do and to look out for. Excessive licking of the rear end is also another indicator.

If you are interested in emptying the glands yourself, I would recommend having a veterinarian show you his preferred technique, particularly in maneuvering your index finger as you go along.

Wrong or unnecessary manipulation of these glands can lead to inflammation or worse, rupture if there is infection. Having the supervision of a professional for your first try would not be a bad idea. 

The process of taking care of your dog's anal glands is delicate and quite stressful for the animal. It can be painful and it’s definitely very smelly and messy.

My personal advice: it’s okay to have someone else do it for you as we don’t want you to become the ‘bad guy’ for your beloved companion and have your house smell like rotten fish.

Depending on where you live, the views on anal glands expression can also vary. In some states in the US, only a veterinarian can empty anal glands as it’s considered as practicing veterinary medicine. In other states, it’s possible for groomers to empty anal glands, but only by using the external technique. 

  

How to Express Dog Anal Glands

dog lying on a chair.

There are two different ways to express the anal glands that are commonly used in the field: the external and the internal technique. 

You will need a helper to hold your dog still while you proceed to express your dog's anal glands. You will need gloves, paper towels, cleansing and deodorizing wipes, as well as a lubricant if you go for the internal technique.

 

External technique:

This technique is probably quicker as you can empty both glands at once. 

With one hand, lift your dog’s tail and keep it up. Place your index and thumb just below your dog's anus, at 4 and 8 o’clock. Gently squeeze with your fingers using an upward motion. If done properly, the anal gland content, a brownish smelly liquid, should squirt out of the canal. 

You can also use a paper towel as a "shield" to protect your face from smelly squirts as you go along.

It is impossible to assess how full the glands are without palpation and the glands can rarely be naturally expressed with this method. That can lead to complications (see Anal Glands Issues/Infection). 

For quick relief though, this method is helpful.

 

Internal technique:

With this method, the glands are emptied one at a time, by inserting a lubricated gloved finger into the anus. The gland is squeezed in between the thumb and the inserted finger by gently pressing on the gland doing an upward motion again. 

This stimulates a more natural emptying action.

I find this way of expressing the glands more efficient as you can feel them directly in between your fingers and better assess their content. Therefore, the chances of emptying them completely are greater.

A word of caution, though! This technique has to be used very carefully. It can cause damage to the glands if not done properly. 

 

How to Avoid Dealing With Anal Gland Problems

dog taking a walk outside

Anal gland issues are common for dogs, but they don’t need to be! Basically, remind yourself of the list “Causes of anal glands impactions” and try to limit them in your pet’s life.

For starters, regulate his diet and have him exercise daily to help him maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight. You can also help control your dog’s allergies.

To help, I will give you a few more tips to help the natural expression of dogs anal glands, so you never have to deal with them yourself.

 

High fiber dog food for anal gland problems

As we discussed previously, loose stools are the main reason why anal glands would not empty themselves.

In order to help your dog’s behind to do its job properly, you want to have him produce big, formed feces. The more poop the better and this involves healthy bowel movements. 

A good way to achieve that is to add fiber to your dog’s diet, insoluble fiber especially. Those fibers are found in beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Most anal gland supplements are loaded with fiber.

Because they are not digestible, they will travel through the whole digestive tract and become part of the feces. So the more fibers your dog will eat, the bulkier his stools will be. 

In our article The Best Foods & Supplements For These 10 Common Pet Health Issues, you will learn that pumpkin is a great source of fiber that provides relief for anal gland problems in pets. 

Some people will choose to add a fiber supplement to their regular diet to achieve the same goal. 

 

Our Recommendation: A Natural Solution

Natural products are always a good place to start when it comes to anal gland discomfort. Once we start draining the glands manually, they can become “lazy” and this procedure might become regularly required in your dog’s future. 

Have a look at our natural products. They could benefit your pet's health.

First, we have the TONICPET #4. A great tool to add to any treatment. TONICPET #4 not only helps in improving the circulation of oxygen in all parts of the body but also accelerates the speed of treatment results. It acts as an anti-inflammatory as well. 

TONICPET #9 is our second homeopathic fortifier for controlling water retention. TONICPET #9 is designed to promote the hardening of the stools, which will directly help the natural expression of the anal glands. 

If this recommendation is not enough to relieve your dog’s discomfort, please visit your veterinarian for further treatment. A manual expression treatment might be needed at that point. 

Anal glands are nobody’s favorite topic. They are gross and we all wish we could pretend they don’t exist. You can say they're at the "rear end" of our pet checklist!

But they do, and many of our furry companions suffer from those full little sacs. Now, you are fully equipped to notice when your dog needs his anal glands expressed. 

You can thank me later for saving your couch from that outrageous smell!

 


About the author

Veronic Fournier
Veronic Fournier

ANIMAL HEALTH TECHNICIAN

Véronique Fournier shares her extensive pet health know-how on Zumalka through her articles.

Véronique’s background as an animal wellness advocate began in Cégep La Pocatière in Quebec, which led to comprehensive internships and training with respect to the breeding, rehabilitation, and monitoring of various types of animals. The institutions she has worked with include the Quebec Aquarium and the SOS Miss Dolittle shelter, just to name a few.

Her immersion with various veterinary clinics in British Columbia and other places has made Veronique not just knowledgeable, but also quite perceptive in zeroing in on the right strategy to help keep pets in the best of health.

And can we get you in on a secret? Veronique shares that she has already made a lot of canine pals due to her stint as a foster mom in several shelters. Isn’t that cool?


2 comments


  • HOMEOANIMAL March 2, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Khyati,

    Thank you so much for your comment and details on Arlo’s situation. We have opened a file for him for analysis from our Health Advisor who can help guide you through this and help him feel and smell much better. We will be sending you a personal email shortly with tips and recommendations for him.

    Regards,
    Homeoanimal


  • Khyati Dave March 2, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Veronique

    Hope you are well. My name is Khyati and I live in South Australia with my family which includes 4 year old Golden Retriever Arlo. He is a 42 kilo vegan boy who loves playing with his 11 year human brother. I came across your article about anal glands, since lately Arlo has this really pungent smell coming from him. He has had ear infections in the past but his ears are clean now. Took him to his groomer last week and she suspected that it could be his anal glands. Next day took him to the vet who confirmed that that was the case and that she expressed really bad smelling brown liquid more from the right hand side gland. She suggested that I add 1/2 teaspoon psyllium husk paste to his food and look at loosing his weight.

    What I’m finding on all websites about anal gland issues in dogs is that the stool is loose but in Arlo’s case it is not so. His stools are firm!!!Is it possible to have anal glands issues if this is the case?

    I am really concerned about him and I am praying that he is not in any pain

    I am eagerly awaiting your reply in regards to this as I strongly believe in Alternate medicines.

    Kindest regards

    Khyati


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