- Dr. Susan Baker Special to The Palm Beach Post
Question: My dog has had issues with her anal glands on and off for a while. She scoots her bottom on the carpet and licks and cries. I take her to the vet and they squeeze them, and then she is OK for a while, but it eventually starts all over again in a month or two. I don’t really know what is going on and what anal glands are and why this happens. Will she always have problems?
Answer: Anal glands, or anal sacs, are little round structures under the skin at the opening of the anus. They are under the dog’s tail at 4 and 8 o’clock to the anal opening.
The anal sac holds a strong smelling musky fluid that can be used to mark territory, or in some cases, used as self-defense to spray attackers. It can be just as effective as mace!
Most domesticated dogs have no longer needed the anal glands and many have lost the ability to control expressing the gland. Many dogs naturally express a little fluid with every bowel movement and this can keep the gland to a normal size. Dogs unable to express the glands can have glands that are very large and overfull. This can be a painful experience and the dog may lick the area, chew at the tail, or scoot their rear on the ground attempting to get some relief. Some dogs will even scratch at unusual places like their ears if they can’t reach their backside.
If your dog has been having issues on a regular basis she will probably always need some help in expressing her glands. Some owners can learn to express their dog’s glands but it is often uncomfortable for the dog and they are squirmy and upset about letting you attempt to do it at home. It may be best to let a professional handle this stinky job. I have managed to teach a few owners how to do it at home, but many veterinary technicians and veterinarians that do it many times a day for other dogs and cats will not do their own pets at home.
If the glands stay overfull for a long time, there is a chance they can become infected or impacted. The fluid tends to dry out and get very difficult to express. If it gets infected, it may bust open. This can cause scar tissue to form and surgery may be necessary to drain the fluid and clean out the area.
Dogs or cats that are prone to recurrent infections may be candidates for anal gland removal. This is a surgery that removes the gland entirely. It is usually curative and the glands will never need to be expressed again. Unfortunately, this is a very sensitive area filled with nerves and special muscles that control the anal sphincter. When you cut through this delicate tissue to remove the glands, it can disrupt the normal ability to keep the sphincter muscles tightly closed between bowel movements. Some dogs may have fecal incontinence after the surgery.
It is often worthwhile to try a high fiber diet with your dog. A diet high in fiber can cause a larger bowel movement that can help to massage the fluid out of the anal sacs when the dog goes to the bathroom. There are also many high fiber supplements that are available to help with the problem.
It can take a while for a new high fiber diet to work so it would be best to schedule your dog to have her anal glands expressed every couple weeks until the supplement kicks in.