What are anal glands? Anal glands are small paired sacs that sit on the left and right of your dog/cat’s anus. The cells lining these glands produce an oily secretion with a distinct fishy, metallic smell. You can think of this smell as your pet’s signature smell. It’s for all the other animals in the area to know that your pet is in town!
What do they do?
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On their own, anal glands aren’t evil. When your pet defecates, the faeces pushes up again the glands and empties them, coating the faeces with anal gland secretions and giving it that distinct smell. That’s why your pet is so fascinated by poo!
What causes anal gland problems?
Anal gland problems start when the glands fail to empty on their own. The secretions continue to accumulate and, eventually, the anal gland becomes impacted. Anal gland impaction can then lead to anal gland infection which, in severe cases, results in anal gland abscessation. This is very, VERY painful and ABSOLUTELY requires veterinary intervention.
That’s why prevention is so important. How to prevent issues, however, depends on what is causing the anal gland issues in the first place.
Abnormal anatomical structure of the anal gland and/or duct
Some dogs are born with abnormal (narrow, kinked) ducts, obstructing the flow of the anal sac material. Other dogs with recurring anal gland issues can also develop narrow ducts due to all the trauma in the area and the subsequent formation of scar tissue.
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Obese animals are more prone to anal gland problems compared to slimmer dogs. While the exact mechanism is unknown, it is suggested that the extra body fat causes a “cushioning” effect which results in less pressure being applied on the gland during defecation.
Some dogs with underlying food/environmental allergies are more prone to anal gland issues. This could potentially be due to the inflammation resulting in a narrowed duct or in increase anal gland secretions, both of which can result in incomplete emptying of the anal glands.
Chronic soft stool/diarrhoea
Dogs with chronic diarrhoea often have impacted anal glands because their faeces is too soft to express the anal glands during defecation.
How do I know my pet has anal gland issue?
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All that additional pressure building up often causes discomfort, which usually causes pets to either drag their bums on the ground (namely, scooting) or lick at their bums constantly. You may also notice your pet “leaking” a foul-smelling liquid and leaving a trace where they’ve been sitting.
Dogs, for some reason, are much, much more likely to develop anal gland issues than cats.
Treating and managing anal gland problems
Treating anal gland problems starts with identifying the underlying issue. It’s very important to work with your veterinarian to identify the problem and help treat your dog appropriately. That’s why we like to treat your pet as an individual; there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Diet is usually the place to start. Some pets benefit from a high fibre diet that bulks up their poos – thereby emptying the anal glands more effectively – and causes them to defecate more regularly. Others benefit from a hypoallergenic diet to abate their chronic diarrhoea. However, others may need the help of anti-inflammatories to get all that inflammation under control.
In some extreme cases, some dogs may benefit from surgery, more specifically, an anal sacculectomy. This procedure means removing both anal glands, which will officially eliminate all anal gland issues because there won’t be any more anal glands! However, there are complications associated with this surgery, such as nerve damage, so we recommend the services of a specialist surgeon should this surgery be indicated.
Should I express my dog’s anal glands?
We can show you how to express your anal glands from the outside. However, we don’t recommend routine expression at home! We always advise to have your dog’s anal glands expressed professionally as it is possible to cause further inflammation in the area if you’re not careful.