Health and Longevity Course for Dogs Chapter 16
Anal Gland Problems in Dogs: How to Keep Your Dog’s Anal Glands Healthy
If you have noticed that your dog’s anal glands smell, the anus is swollen and your dog is incessantly licking it's anal area, this may be related to anal gland disease.
Watch the full course video below:
The four most common anal gland problems in dogs
- Anal gland inflammation or infection (anal sacculitis)
- Anal gland dysfunction / paralysis – not emptying on their own
- Anal gland abscess / rupture of the anal gland due to an obstruction of the anal gland duct (the opening)
- Anal gland tumors
The main factors in anal gland issues
• Diet – especially dry or canned processed food, poor quality species-inappropriate ingredients, preservatives and other chemical agents.
• Toxin build-up in the body.
• Obesity due to a carb-based diet, overfeeding or lack of exercise.
• Liver disease or imbalance, 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.
Should anal glands be expressed manually?
There is a general misperception that a dog's anal glands should be manually emptied on a regular basis. In fact, expressing your dog's glands too often may lead to decreased tone, delayed emptying and anal gland disease. It almost seems that canine anal glands get 'lazy' by having them squeezed and expressed too often.
The best approach is to let your dog’s anal glands empty naturally and intervene only if your dog has swelling in this area, is scooting (dragging his rear) or appears to be licking more than normal. Ideally you should have your dog’s anal glands examined 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.
An eye-opening (or maybe NOSE-OPENING) discovery!
Most vets learn about anal glands in vet school, but I had the pleasure of learning about that particular part of canine anatomy much earlier in life from our family dog - a dachshund named Gerda. Dachshunds are obsessed with being in the forest and Gerda was no exception.
The first time we took her to our cottage up in the mountains near the German border, 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 bumpy and winding 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 had emptied her anal glands with explosive force right on my lap. That is how I discovered that dogs have anal glands. I will never forget the smell! Even winning can sometimes turn into losing!
Anal gland anatomy and function
Your dog's anal glands are little sacs located on either side of the anus. Their openings are at eight and four o’clock. They have two functions:
• To produce a very strong and pungent scent for marking territory or finding a way back home when hunting.
• To help the body eliminate toxins and substances. Anal glands can be seen as large sweat glands; a waste and toxin elimination system that empties automatically as needed.
How to differentiate between healthy and diseased anal glands
People are often concerned about the fishy smell of anal gland discharge when their dog expresses his anal glands. If your dog is happy, not licking and has no swelling or redness in the area, occasional anal gland emptying is normal. In other words, there is no need to rush to the vet or a groomer to have the anal glands expressed unless there are obvious signs of anal gland problems.
Unhealthy anal glands signal system problems
Similar to eye disease and ear problems, which usually signify there are more serious underlying issues elsewhere in the body, anal gland problems are also a red flag of deeper underlying concerns. Most common conventional treatment focuses on local anal gland treatment by expressing the glands, 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
If your dog suffers from anal gland problems, processed pet food should be avoided. Such food taxes the liver and increases toxin levels. To learn more about how to formulate natural cooked or raw diet for your dog, click here.
Your dog's 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 indication of your dog's endocrine balance and any mineral deficiencies or excesses. Click here for more info.
Soft 'kibble stool' may also be the culprit!
Are you wondering how you can help express your dog's anal glands? In nature, dogs eat bones, which make the stool harder and the anal glands get naturally massaged and emptied.
I've seen some people concerned about stool that is too hard, but this is quite normal for dogs especially when they’re fed raw bones. For more information about raw bone feeding, click here.
IMPORTANT: NEVER feed your dog cooked bones as they are NOT digestible. Large beef bones (raw or cooked) can also cause dental 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 leads to toxin build up, anal gland congestion, inflammation and sometimes very painful infections.
Injuries to lumbar spine
It may surprise 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's why some seemingly healthy and very active dogs on a raw diet continue having anal gland issues.
Reducing sprinting, Frisbee and ball retrieving and engaging in more varied exercise often do 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's a growth in the anal gland, inflammation and a tendency for chronic inflammation ARE NOT an indication for drastic and traumatic measures such as surgery.
Anal gland removal is a very painful and difficult surgery which can in some cases lead to fecal incontinence. The procedure also severely disturbs the body’s detox processes and negatively affects the whole body. Please do not let anyone convince you that your dog's health problems will get better by removing anal glands because they will likely get worse. Removing your dog's anal glands is like removing all the trash bins from your home. It would not be long before you generate an irreparable mess and damage!
What about an anal gland abscess?
Swelling, redness, frequent licking or lethargy may be signs of an anal gland abscess. In such cases, you should seek the help of a veterinarian.
• If your dog's anal gland is already ruptured, use of a local anesthetic and flushing with undiluted herbal Skin Spray may be all you need to do. I've seen some dog guardians putting their dogs through unnecessary surgeries 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 may be 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 herbal Skin 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 ones. 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 don't take all the steps described in this article, your dog’s healing may be slower and sometimes complicated. Make sure 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've seen perianal gland tumors (a tumour that is UNRELATED to the anal glands themselves) mistaken for anal gland tumors. Perianal glands are very small and surround the anus at the boundary between the skin and the anus lining. They are not anatomically related to the actual anal glands.
IMPORTANT! Even if your dog has a tumor, never agree to surgery without a proper diagnosis that has been determined by taking a sample with a needle or doing a biopsy.
Here is a visual chart summary of this article:
Supplements for dogs with anal gland problems
Most dogs do very well and their problems resolve with the use of the following plan:
PHASE 1 – Specific for the treatment of anal glands:
• LiverTune - to purify the liver
• GutSense - to provide dog-specific microflora. This is important whether or not antibiotics have been used.
PHASE 2 – Essential supplements of minerals, vitamins, omega oils and other nutrients.
• SoulFood - certified organic multi-vitamin
• GreenMin - minerals, greens, amino acids, gentle detox
• FeelGood Omega - omega-3 oil supplement
You can start these supplements gradually over a period of one to two weeks. If your dog is fussy, mix these products in plain 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