Holistic Health and Longevity Course for Dogs Chapter 16
How to keep your dog's anal glands healthy
Most vets learn about anal glands in vet school, but I had the pleasure of learning about them much earlier in life. It was our family dog - a dachshund named Gerda who taught me about the less pleasant part of living with a dog.
Dachshunds are very passionate when it comes to tracking and they love being in the forest and Gerda was no exception. She especially loved going to our cottage up in the mountains near the German border.
The first time we took Gerda up, my two sisters, brother and I all wanted to have her on our lap. To make things fair, we drew matches and I was the lucky winner.
As we were driving up to the mountains, on a windy, bumpy road, a deer suddenly crossed the road right in front of the car and Gerda lost it! The whole car filled with the smell of rotten fish, eggs and anchovies. Gerda emptied her anal glands right on my lap. That is how I learned dogs have anal glands.
Anal gland anatomy and function
Anal glands are little sacs located on either side of the anus. Their openings are at 9 and 3 o’clock. They are scent glands that have two functions:
• To produce a very strong and pungent scent for marking territory
• To help the body eliminate toxins and substances that are not needed. They can be compared to very large sweat glands.
The anal glands can be seen as the body’s garbage bin that empties automatically whenever the toxin levels reach a certain point.
How to recognize normal and problem anal glands
Some people worry when they smell the fishy smell of anal glands, but it is absolutely normal for healthy dogs to express the anal glands once in a while.
If your dog is happy, not licking and has no other symptoms, an occasional smell is part of normal anal gland function. In other words, there is no need to rush to the vet or a groomer to have the anal glands squeezed and cleaned, unless there are obvious inflammation and redness around the anus – then your dog may have a problem.
The four most common anal gland problems in dogs:
- Anal gland inflammation (anal sacculitis)
- Anal gland dysfunction – not emptying on their own
- Anal gland abscess – rupture of the anal gland due to obstruction of the opening (duct)
- Anal gland tumors
The main factors that cause anal gland issues:
• Diet – especially processed, preserved and artificially-flavored food
• Toxin build-up in the body
• Obesity due to a carb-based diet, overfeeding or lack of exercise
• Liver imbalance or disease, which is frequently related to general toxicity
• Lumbosacral spine and muscle injury that leads to decreased energy flow to the anal glands and lack of tone
Anal glands are the signal that something is wrong
Similar to eye disease and ear problems, which usually signify there are more serious underlying issues elsewhere in the body, anal glands problems are also a red flag that something else in the body is going on.
Conventional treatment often focuses mainly on the issue locally by expressing the content, possibly a flush, antibiotics or surgery. However, this approach doesn’t address most of the causes mentioned above and the problem usually reoccurs.
Toxins from kibble, treats and cheap supplements may be the cause
I am glad that many people now know processed pet food should be avoided. Such food taxes the liver and increases toxin levels.
The anal glands play an important role in the detox process of the body and when the toxic burden is high, they often become inflamed. If you have a dog with chronic anal gland problems, I suggest running a HairQ test to check your dog's level of arsenic, lead and mercury. You will also get an indication of your dog's endocrine balance and any mineral deficiencies or excess. Click here for more info.
Soft 'kibble stool' may also be the cause of anal gland problems
In general, anal glands benefit from harder stool. In nature dogs eat bones, which make the stool harder. Naturally, the anal glands of raw bone fed dogs get massaged and emptied, which is what you want.
I have seen some people concerned about stool that is too hard, but this is quite normal for dogs fed raw bones. For more information about raw bone feeding click here.
You must remember to never feed cooked bones as they are NOT digestible or large beef bones (raw or cooked) as they often cause tooth fractures.
The role of obesity in anal gland problems
Obesity related to processed food makes anal glands ‘sink’ in the fat tissue, which makes the natural anal gland evacuation incomplete. This naturally leads to toxin build up, anal gland congestion, inflammation and sometimes very painful infections.
Should anal glands be expressed manually or not?
Dog lovers are often misinformed because they are told they should get their dog’s anal glands emptied. Some veterinarians and groomers believe that expressing them will prevent them from filling up, which is not correct. In reality, the more frequently they are squeezed, the less toned they are. It almost seems that the canine glands get 'lazy' by having them squeezed too often.
Ideally, you should let your dog’s anal glands do their job and allow them to empty naturally. Most dogs’ anal glands tend to be semi-full when examined, but that is not a reason to have them expressed.
However, it is a good practice to examine your dog’s anal glands once every six months or when there are signs of problems such as dragging their bum on the ground, licking under the tail or swelling around the anus.
Injuries to lumbar spine
It may be a surprise to you, but many high-performance dogs and dogs with lumbar-sacral injuries suffer from anal gland problems.
The lumbar-sacral area supplies the nerve and energy flow to the anus and anal glands. When the muscles become tight, the nerve flow decreases and the anal gland tone is diminished. That is why some seemingly healthy, but very active dogs on a raw diet continue having anal gland issues. For an article on energy flow in the body click here.
Doing less sprinting, frisbee and ball retrieving and engaging in more varied exercise often does the trick. I also recommend routine physio or chiro visits to address potential injuries before they become chronic. For more info on safe exercise for your dog, click here.
Is surgery to remove anal glands a reasonable option?
Unless there is a growth in the anal gland, inflammation and a tendency for chronic inflammation there is no requirement for drastic and traumatic measures like surgery.
Anal gland removal a very painful and difficult surgery and can also lead to fecal incontinence and other problems. The procedure severely disturbs the body’s detox processes and negatively effects the whole body.
Never let anyone convince you that your dog's health problems will get better by removing anal glands because they will likely get worse.
Removing anal glands is like removing all trash bins from your home. It would not be long before you generate an irreparable mess and damage.
What about anal gland abscess?
Swelling, redness, frequent licking or lethargy may be a sign of an anal gland abscess. In such cases, you should seek the help of a veterinarian.
• If the anal gland is already ruptured, use of a local anesthesia and flushing with undiluted herbal Skin Spray may be all you need to do. I have seen some dog guardians putting their dog through an unnecessary surgery because ‘the vet said so.’
• If the abscess has not ruptured, a flush with a catheter inserted in the anal gland duct may be sufficient. Your veterinarian may need to repeat this a few times.
• Surgery and a drain placement are needed only in a small number of cases.
• Antibiotics are not always required, but sometimes may be a necessary ‘crutch’ to prevent prolonged discomfort and swelling. Often a doggie diaper or pants padded with a compress soaked in HSkin Spray is all you need. Change the compress several times a day and leave on for two to five days as needed.
• Use a buster collar or ‘pants’ to prevent your dog from licking. Some soft cloth collars will do the job and are more comfortable than the firm plastic collars. More trouble, pain and expense will follow if he or she continues to lick.
A suggestion: Read this article carefully at least twice before you start the process
If you do not take all the steps described in this article, your dog’s healing may be slower and sometimes complicated. Make sure that your veterinarian examines your dog's anal area properly to rule out the slight possibility of tumors.
Beware of a common diagnostic error!
If a tumor is found, ensure that a proper histology examination is done. I have seen mistakes made between anala and perianal gland tumors. Perianal glands are very small and surround the anus at the boundary between the skin and the anus lining. Perianal glands are not anatomically related to the actual anal glands.
If a tumor is found, never agree to surgery without a proper diagnosis that has been determined by taking a sample with a needle or doing a biopsy.
Supplements for dogs with anal gland problems
A large majority of dogs do very well and their problems resolve with the use of the following plan:
STEP A – Specific for the treatment of anal glands:
• Livton to purify the liver (choose the right bottle based on the size of your dog and dosing instruction)
• GutSense - to provide dog-specific microflora. This is important no matter if antibiotics have or have not been used.
STEP B – Essential supplements of minerals, vitamins, omega oils and other nutrients.
• Soulfood - certified organic multi-vitamin
• GreenMin - minerals, greens, amino-acids, gentle detox
• Wholemega - omega oil
You can start these supplements gradually over a period of one to two weeks. If your dog is picky, mix these products in yogurt or something that he or she likes. For more information and reviews, click on the links above.
I wish you and your dog many pain-free years ahead.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM