Holistic approach to anal gland problems in dogs

by Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM

One would think that most vets learn about anal glands in vet school. This was not true in my case. It was our dachshund Gerda who initiated me in 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.

I remember taking Gerda to our cottage near the German border for the first time. I remember that all of us, the 4 kids, wanted to have her on our lap. For some reason, Gerda ended up sitting on me, looking out of the window with excitement. Suddenly a deer crossed the road right in front of the car and…. The whole car was filled with smell rotten fish, eggs and a can of anchovies. Yes, Gerda emptied her anal glands right on my lap.

This is how I learned that dogs had anal glands.

ANAL GLAND ANATOMY AND FUNCTION

Anal glands are little sacs that are located on either side of the anus with their openings at 9 and 3 o’clock. They are scent glands that have two functions:

  • To produce very strong and pungent scent for marking the territory
  • To help the body eliminate toxins and substances that are not needed

I see anal glands as the body’s garbage bin that empties automatically when they function well.

 

ANAL GLAND PROBLEMS

There are several kinds of anal gland issues that dogs suffer from

  1. Anal gland inflammation ( anal gland saculitis )
  2. Anal gland dysfunction – not emptying on their own
  3. Anal gland abscess – rupture of the anal gland due to obstruction of the opening (duct)
  4. Anal gland tumors

Here are the factors that cause anal gland issues:

  • Diet – especially processed and artificially flavoured and preserved food
  • Body toxin build up in general
  • Obesity due to carb based diet, overfeeding or lack of exercise
  • Liver imbalance which is also related to general toxicity
  • Lumbo-sacral spine and muscle injury that leads to decreased energy flow to the anal glands and lack of tone.
HOLISTIC APPROACH TO TREATMENT ANAL GLAND PROBLEMS

As in the case of many eye and ear problems, anal glands too are the ‘red light’ signal that something in the body is going on. Anal glands can’t be healthy without the rest of the body functioning well.

Conventional treatment focuses mainly on the issue locally – expressing the content, possibly a flush, antibiotics or surgery. Anal glands too are the ‘red light’ signal that something in the body is going on. However, this approach doesn’t address most of the causes mentioned above.

Here are the most important points of a holistic approach to anal gland treatment:

GIVE YOUR DOG A BONE

No matter what we do, order and clutter free environment works the best for most of us. In case of your dog, the same is true.  Anal glands are closely related to toxin levels and the liver, raw or cooked species appropriate diet is always much better.

I am glad that many people now know that processed pet food is far from what the flashy packaging says and it should be avoided.  The body eliminates toxins through the liver, bile and the anal glands which often become inflamed. Kibble also creates soft and sloppy stool.

Good anal gland function requires harder stool. Every time a dog has bowel movement, the anal glands get massaged and emptied. People are sometimes concerned about ‘too hard stool’ but that is quite normal in most dogs fed raw bones. Raw bones are fully digestible. It is only cooked bones that are not and can cause problems. Poultry bones and the bones of animals up to the size of sheep or deer are ideal. Large beef bones can cause tooth fractures.

REDUCE OBESITY

Processed food related obesity makes anal glands ‘sink’ in the fat tissue and the emptying processed can be diminished. No matter which way you take it, processed food is simply not good for anyone.

SQUEEZE OR NOT?

It is very common that people are recommended to get their dog’s anal glands emptied. Some vets and groomers simply believe that expressing them will prevent them from filling up. The more you squeeze, the more they fill up. It is much better to allow anal glands to empty naturally. To be safe, a semiannual physical exam is ideal. Most dogs would be either scooting their bum on the ground, licking under the tail or will present with swelling around the anus if there is a problem.

INJURIES TO LUMBAR SPINE

It may be a surprise to you but many high performance dogs and also dogs with lumbo-sacral injuries suffer from anal gland problems.

The lumbo-sacral area supplies the nerve and energy flow to the anus and anal glands. 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 raw diet continue having anal gland issues.

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.

 ANAL GLAND SURGERY

 

This is in my opinion one of the most barbaric treatment methods out there. With the exception of tumors and anal gland abscesses, in most cases there is no need to reach for such drastic measures and cause your dog pain. Anal gland amputation also severely affects the body’s detox cycle.

In most cases there is no need to reach for such drastic measures and cause your dog pain. 

Based on what you know about anal glands, removing them is like removing all trash bins from your home. It would not be long before the home (the body), would become a mess.

 

ANAL GLAND ABSCESS

may be caused by all the factors I have mentioned plus obstruction of the anal gland duct. In such cases veterinary care is usually needed. 

  • If the anal gland is already ruptured, use of a local anesthesia and flushing with undiluted Healing Solution may be all you need to do.
  • If the abscess has not ruptured, a flush with a catheter inserted in the anal gland duct may be sufficient. Your vet may need to repeat this a few times
  • Surgery and a drain placement is needed only in a small number of cases.
  • Antibiotics are only needed in fewer than 25% of all cases. Most of the time, a doggie diaper or pants padded with a compress soaked in Healing Solution is all you need. Change compress several times a day and leave on for 2 − 5 days as needed.
  • Use a buster collar or “pants” to prevent your dog from licking. It is not the right time to be “soft” with your dog because more trouble, pain and expense will follow if he or she licks.

Be aware that if some of the underlying causes persist, the healing process may be slower and sometimes complicated.

Be aware that if some of the underlying causes persist, the healing process may be slower and sometimes complicated. There is also a slight possibility of tumors in the anal gland area. Usually they are felt on palpation.

SUPPLEMENTS

There are two categories of supplements

  1. Specific for treatment of anal glands that are mentioned above on this page.
  2. Essential supplements of minerals, vitamins, omega oils and other nutrients.
1. ANAL GLAND SPECIFIC SUPPLEMENTS AND REMEDIES ARE:
  • Liver Detox to purify the liver (larger bottle is needed for large dogs).
  • Zyflamend to reduce inflammation.
  • Silicea 200 C 1 dose twice daily for 7 days (use this only if the abscess is open)  - homeopathic remedies can be obtained from a local homeopathic pharmacy or by contacting us here.
  • Probiotics especially if antibiotics have been used.
2. ESSENTIAL SUPPLEMENTS

are important for healthy functioning of the whole body. I recommend only all natural supplements. Most people do not realize that the conventional ones are made of ground up rock and chemicals that the body doesn’t process the same way as food. You can check the essentials here.

Virtual reality

Now when I am at the end of writing this article, I must share something with you. Currently I am at the local Starbucks and for some strange reason the smell of coffee has turned into the smell of anal glands. I guess it means that I am done writing for today.

I have only one more note.

If you smell the pungent anal gland smell once in a while and no other symptoms are present, it is just a sign that your dog’s anal glands are working well. There is no need to rush to the vet or a groomer to have them squeezed. Remember that less is better.

Anal glands are to dogs what sweat glands are to people; detoxing and emptying the garbage bin.

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