How to keep your dog's anal glands healthy
Most vets learn about anal glands in vet school, but 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. All of us four 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.
That is how I learned dogs have 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 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.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE NORMAL ANAL GLANDS FROM A PROBLEM
Anal glands are to dogs what skin glands are to people. If you smell the pungent anal gland smell once in a while, your dog is happy, not licking and has no other symptoms, it is likely just a sign of normal anal gland function. There is no need to rush to the vet or a groomer to have them squeezed. The fishy smell once in a while is a part of the normal cleansing process.
However, if your dog is not comfortable, if her or she is licking and there is obvious inflammation and redness around the anus, your dog may have a problem.
There are several kinds of anal gland issues that dogs suffer from
- Anal gland inflammation (anal gland saculitis)
- 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
Here are the main factors that cause anal gland issues:
- Diet – especially processed and artificially flavoured and preserved food
- Body toxin build-up in general
- Obesity due to a carb-based diet, overfeeding or lack of exercise
- Liver imbalance, which is also 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
As in the case of many eye and ear problems, anal glands problems too are the ‘red light’ signal that something 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 play an important role
I am glad that many people now know that processed pet food should be avoided. Such food taxes the liver and increases general 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 levels of arsenic, lead and mercury. You will also get an idea about your dog's endocrine balance and any mineral deficiencies or excess.
Soft stool caused by kibble is not good
In general good anal gland function requires harder stool. In nature, dogs eat bones which makes stool harder. If the stool is firm, every time a dog has bowel movement, the anal glands get massaged and emptied, which is as it should be.
People are sometimes concerned about stool that is too hard, but it is quite normal in most dogs fed raw bones. Raw bones are fully digestible. Poultry bones and the bones of animals up to the size of a sheep or deer are ideal. For more information on what bones to feed, click here.
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 and the emptying process can be diminished. Processed food is simply not good for anyone. If you wish to get raw natural diet recipe - you can get one free by joining our community here.
Express anal glands regularly or not?
It is very common that people are told that they should 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 lumbosacral injuries suffer from anal gland problems.
The lumbosacral 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.
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.
SURGERY TO REMOVE ANAL GLANDS OR NOT?
In most cases there is no need to reach for such drastic measures and cause your dog pain, with the exception of tumors and anal gland abscesses. Anal gland amputation also severely affects the body’s detox cycle and affects 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 them is like removing all trash bins from your home. It would not be long before the home, would become a mess.
What about anal gland abscess?
Large swelling, redness, frequent licking or lethargy may be a sign an anal gland abscess. 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 percent 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 two to five 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.
Read this article carefully at least twice before you start the process
If you do not take all the steps described in this article, the healing process may be slower and sometimes complicated. Make sure that your veterinarian examines your dogs anal area properly to rule out the slight possibility of tumours.
Beware of a common diagnostic error!
If a tumour is found, ensure that a proper histology examination is done. I have seen some vets mistaking perianal gland tumours, which are related to very small glands around the anus. These glands are not anatomically related to the actual anal glands. Never agree to a surgery without a proper diagnosis by taking a sample by 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 treatment of anal glands:
- Liver Detox 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
- 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. All the above products are food based, all natural supplements of top quality and have been used by many of our customers.