However much we love our dogs, anal glands probably aren’t high on the list of things we think about when it comes to man’s best friend. Dogs don’t expose them to show vulnerability, and it’s not the part of the dog you’re likely to seek out for scratches.
All true. But anal glands have a surprising role to play in your dog’s health.
What Exactly Are Dog Anal Glands?
If you’ve never treated a dog for anal gland-related health problems, then you may not be familiar with this particular piece of doggy anatomy.
Dog anal glands or anal sacs sit on either side of the dog’s anus. They’re hard to spot if you’re not looking for them because they sit between a dog’s internal and external sphincter muscles.
The anal glands are important to dogs because they use them to mark territory. Dogs do this when they defecate, and it’s your dog’s way of claiming ‘ownership’ of their stool.
What Happens When a Dog’s Anal Glands Won’t Express?
However, sometimes a dog can’t express the fluid in the anal glands. When this happens, fluid builds up in the anal sacs, making them painful and uncomfortable for your dog.
The longer the liquid remains in the anal glands, the thicker it becomes, and as it thickens, dogs have an increasingly difficult time expressing it.
Anal gland problems are likely if you notice your dog:
- Scooting/dragging their bottom along the floor
- Straining to poop
- Compulsively licking their bum
In extreme cases, the anal glands can rupture from increased fluid buildup. When this happens, you may notice:
- Foul odor
What Causes Anal Gland Problems For Dogs?
So, now you know why your dog’s anal glands are more important than previously suspected. And you understand why they need to be regularly expressed for your dog to be comfortable.
But what causes anal gland problems in the first place?
Obesity or Weight Gain
Your dog’s weight is one of the vet’s first considerations when determining the cause of anal gland problems.
Dogs who weigh more than their peers have more bulk around the anus. This factor makes it harder for the colon to put the kind of consistent pressure on the colon wall that it needs to when your dog poops to help express the anal glands. Learn about the different types of dog poop and what each type means about the health of your dog.
Another reason your dog might experience anal gland problems is genetics. No one’s sure why, but certain dog breeds are more prone to anal gland inflammation or impaction than other dog types.
These breeds can include:
- Toy/miniature poodles
- Lhasa Apso
You also see recurring anal gland problems in:
- Cocker spaniels
- Basset hounds
You’ll notice these are primarily small to medium-sized dogs. Vets believe this is because their anal glands are proportionate to their small size. The smaller-sized anal glands are more likely to be impacted or go unexpressed than the larger anal glands of bigger dogs.
However, while smaller dogs are more prone to anal gland problems, it’s an equal-opportunity health problem. Neither age nor gender affects the likelihood of a dog developing inflamed or impacted glands.
Food and Diet
Anyone who’s kept a dog for any length of time knows they’ll eat almost anything. That dried-up gum on the sidewalk is likely just as tasty to your dog as yesterday’s roast chicken or kibble.
Unsurprisingly, the nutrients your dog receives do affect their stool, and that, in turn, can affect the anal glands.
Dogs who are prone to diarrhea, for instance, may experience anal gland inflammation because the soft, watery stool can get impacted and cause blockages. It makes pooping challenging for your dog, and you may notice them straining.
To minimize anal gland problems, it can help to feed your dog a fiber-rich diet. Good sources of fiber include:
- Beet pulp
- Ground flaxseed
As your dog begins to pass firmer, bulkier stool, it puts pressure on the colon wall. This pressure helps ensure the anal glands get expressed successfully.
Other Causes of Anal Gland Problems
While an inflamed or irritated anal gland is the most common problem dogs experience, they aren’t the only health problems that affect your dog’s anal glands. Other causes of anal gland problems include:
Anal Sphincter Muscle Disfunction
Dogs with anal sphincter muscle dysfunction sometimes express feces or anal fluid inappropriately because the muscles contract involuntarily.
The resulting stool is often liquid and can become impacted, causing anal problems for your dog.
Overproduction of Anal Gland Material
Sometimes a dog produces too much fluid in the anal sac. Consequently, when the dog tries to express that fluid, as usual, some of it stays behind. The residual anal gland material thickens as the fluid replenishes, and your dog may experience anal gland problems.
How to Treat Anal Gland Problems
If a fiber diet doesn’t work, you can try expressing your dog’s anal glands yourself. However, the process is painful for your dog and might be hard to watch.
It’s also challenging to undertake, so inexperienced owners may be reluctant to try the do-it-yourself approach if it’s the first time their dog has had problems.
Personally, whenever our dogs suffer a flare-up of anal gland difficulty, we call the vet. They’re experts at expressing the glands and can take care of the problem in a way that keeps your dog safe and as comfortable as possible.
Do You Need to Express Your Dog’s Anal Glands Routinely?
This question is a source of ongoing debate between dog owners, veterinarians, and groomers alike.
The fact is that it varies from dog to dog. For some dogs, regularly expressing their anal glands can prevent future problems. But for other dogs, it can be like fixing up a car engine that already works.
Most groomers routinely express anal glands. So, if you don’t want this done, you need to request it specifically.
Conversely, many vets say there’s no reason to express anal glands unless your dog is exhibiting signs of an anal gland that is inflamed or impacted.
Keeping Your Dog Healthy
Dogs’ anal sacs help them mark feces and territory as theirs. But when they can’t adequately express the fluid in the anal glands, it poses various problems.
There are various ways of treating dog anal gland problems, but the best and safest thing to do for your dog is to have the veterinarian express the glands.
And if the anal gland problems recur, try making alterations to your dog’s diet and see if it clears up their health problems.