If you own a dog, you’ve probably noticed once or twice (if you are lucky) a funky smell coming from your furry friend’s behind. But “why does my dog smells 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.
In the following paragraphs, I will dig deeper into the anatomy of this unpleasant gland. I will help you assess the need for your dog to get his anal glands expressed and explain to you how it’s done. I will also help you detect the signs of anal gland infections to help you make sure your furry friend has a happy and healthy bottom.
Believe me, anal gland issues are very common, so better be informed than have to research : “How to get rid of anal gland smell from my couch?”. Because, to that question, I don’t have an answer.
WHY DOES MY DOG HAVE ANAL GLANDS
Anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are smalls 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. It’s a little bit like human fingerprints (lucky us). Dogs use anal gland liquid to communicate with each other and to identify one another. This is why dogs smell each other from behind when they meet. This fluid is made up of pheromones that dogs also use to mark their territory.
In a situation of stress, your dog might empty his anal glands by himself, but generally, this liquid is released while your dog is passing a stool. It actually helps him to do so as it lubricates the rectum.
Fun fact : Cats ALSO have anal glands! Issues with them are a little bit less common from my experience, but they definitely exist. So cat owners, this article is also for you!
ANAL GLANDS ISSUES
When 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 fluid to get expelled and results in the anal glands get very full.
At that point, if the glands are not manually drained, it will swell and become uncomfortable. A very full gland that is not treated can then become infected (see the next point for more details about infection).
If your dog shows discomfort around his rear end and expresses 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 :
Licking and biting at anal area
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-dependant. 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. Here are more reasons why a dog would be incapable of draining his anal glands naturally :
Trauma / Inflammation of the anal glands (common result from manually expressing the glands when it is not needed)
Poor muscle tone (in older dogs for example)
As mentioned, a very full gland will see its content thicken and the canal through which the liquid is usually secreted will get completely blocked. This impaction will give bacteria the perfect environment to reproduce and thrive. This is when we start talking about an anal gland infection.
If infected glands are expressed with care by a veterinarian, some chunks or blood might be observed (I really hope you are not eating while you are reading this!). At this stage, emptying the anal sacs won’t be enough to relieve the issue. An additional treatment will be required.
At the clinic where I work, we have infused a few dogs anal glands directly with a medication. Dogs need to be sedated for that treatment, unless they are unbelievably still. The doctor will insert the medication 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.
An untreated infection can lead to further complications. The anal gland can basically fill up with pus and build up pressure. It’s forming an abscess. In that case, your pet’s anal region will look swollen and very inflamed.
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 by your dog’s rectum by which the puss will drain. I am not even kidding, I treated a cat today with a ruptured anal gland and my heart stopped for a minute.
Ruptured anal gland abscess treatment: The veterinary team will clean the area with an antiseptic, shave around the area if needed (we needed to do that for the cat I mentioned above as all the fur around his bum was all matted from the pus). 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 THE ANAL GLANDS
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 expressed?
Refer to the above “Symptoms of impacted anal glands in dogs” to know when it’s time to express your dog’s anal glands. If your dog is showing any of those signs, 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.
If you are interested in emptying the glands yourself, I would recommend to have a veterinarian show you his preferred technique. 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 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 where you live, the views on anal glands expression can also vary. In some states of the USA, only a veterinarian can empty anal glands as it’s considered as practicing veterinary medicine. In some other states, it’s possible for groomers to empty anal glands, but only by using the external technique.
How to express the glands
There are two different ways to express the anal glands that are commonly used in the field ; the external and the internal way.
You will need a helper to hold your dog still while you proceed to the anal gland expression. You will need gloves, paper towels, cleansing and deodorising wipes, and lubricant if you go with 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 anus, at 4 and 8 o’ clock. Gently press with your fingers, adopting an upward motion. If done properly, the anal gland content, a brownish smelly liquid, should squirt out of the canal.
Keep your face away! You don’t want that stuff in your eyes… believe me. Some people will place a cloth on the anus to make sure that doesn’t happen, smart!
It is impossible to assess how full the glands are without palpation and the glands can rarely be emptied completely with this method. That can lead to complication (seeAnal Glands Issues / Infection).
For a quick relief though, this method is helpful.
Internal technique :
At the veterinary clinic where I work, we use this technique and we use it a lot. Just today, we emptied five dogs anal glands! Yummy!
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.
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.
This technique has to be used very carefully though. It can cause damage to the glands if not done properly.
HOW TO AVOID DEALING WITH ANAL GLANDS?
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 weight. You can alsohelp control your dog’s allergies.
To help, I will give you a few more tips to help the natural expression of your dog’s 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 (I know, not really…).
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. 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.
Some people will choose to add a fiber supplement to the regular diet to achieve the same goal.
OUR RECOMMENDATION... A NATURAL SOLUTION!
With natural products, we try to help the body function as it should, by itself. It’s always a good place to start, especially with 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 pets health.
First, we have theTONICPET #4 product. A great tool to add to any treatment. This homeopathic fortifier help in improving the circulation of oxygen in all parts of the body. This helps to accelerate the speed of treatment results. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory.
A second homeopathic fortifier for controlling water retention. TheTONICPET #9 product will 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. 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!
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