Anal gland problems in dogs – signs and symptoms

Anal gland problems in dogs – signs and symptoms

Anal glands may not be the most glamorous topic when it comes to discussing our beloved furry friends, but they play a crucial role in a dog's overall health and well-being. These small, often overlooked glands can cause discomfort and even lead to serious health issues if not properly cared for. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of dog anal glands, exploring their purpose, common problems, and how to keep them in optimal condition.

Table of Contents

What are the anal glands and where are they located?

The anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are located on either side of a dog's anus. They are positioned at approximately the 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock positions, just below the surface of the skin surrounding the anal opening. The glands are small, pea-sized structures that contain a smelly, oily substance used for marking territory.
To locate the anal glands, you can gently lift your dog's tail and examine the area near the anus. You may notice two small openings or pores on either side of the anus. These are the openings of the anal glands, where the secretions are released.

Why do dog's anal glands fill up?

The anal glands can fill up for several reasons:

  1. Lack of Proper Expression: In some cases, the anal glands may not empty properly during bowel movements. This can happen if the stools are too soft, resulting in inadequate pressure on the glands. When the glands are not fully emptied, the secretions can build up over time, causing discomfort and potential issues.
  2. Diet and Stool Consistency: A dog's diet can affect the consistency of their stools. Soft or loose stools may not provide enough pressure to naturally express the anal glands during bowel movements. Additionally, a diet lacking in fibre can contribute to stool inconsistency, potentially leading to anal gland problems.
  3. Underlying Health Issues: Certain health conditions can impact the normal function of the anal glands. Allergies, infections, tumors, or anatomical abnormalities may interfere with the proper emptying of the glands, leading to buildup and potential inflammation.
  4. Stress or Anxiety: Dogs experiencing stress or anxiety may have changes in their bowel movements. These changes can impact the pressure exerted on the anal glands during defecation, potentially leading to inadequate expression and filling of the glands.
  5. Weight Problems: Overweight dogs tend to have weaker muscles around the anal gland which will make emptying them more difficult. Regular exercise is good to strengthen your dog’s rectal muscles, giving them more strength the put more pressure on the anal glands. Exercise also helps to stimulate bowel movements so your dog will poo more often.

    Healthy glands empty when your dog poos but if for some reason this doesn’t happen, they can over fill and block. This is quite a common problem which is fairly easy to fix however can become far more serious if left untreated.

    How do you know if your dog’s anal glands are blocked?

    Blocked or full anal glands will make your dog feel uncomfortable and symptoms often become apparent.

    • Scooting – dragging their bums along the ground
    • A strong fishy smell
    • Pain when pooing
    • Licking or biting their bums
    • Sitting uncomfortably
    • Having difficulty standing or sitting

    Can a raw food diet help anal gland problems in dogs?

    Diet plays a big part in anal gland problems. Poor quality food leads to soft and mushy poo which means the anal glands are not naturally expressed when your dog goes to the toilet.

    When dogs are fed a raw diet, their poo is smaller and firmer compared to when they are fed a processed diet. This change in stool characteristics can be attributed to several factors associated with a raw diet:

    1. Higher digestibility: Raw diets typically consist of fresh, unprocessed ingredients, such as raw meat, bones, and organs. These natural food components are generally easier for their digestive systems to break down and absorb. As a result, more of the nutrients are utilised by the body, leaving behind less waste material in the stool.

    2. Lower filler content: Raw diets have a lower content of fillers, such as grains and carbohydrates, which are commonly found in processed dog foods. These fillers can contribute to larger, softer stools .

    3. Natural bone content: Raw diets may include raw meaty bones, which provide a natural source of calcium and other minerals. These bones are typically consumed by dogs as part of a raw diet, and they can help firm up the stool due to their bone content.

    It's important to note that every dog is unique, and individual responses to different diets may vary. While a raw diet can lead to smaller and firmer stools for many dogs, so can a high quality dry dog food that is free from fillers and grains. It is essential to ensure your dog's diet diet is properly balanced and meets the specific nutritional needs of your dog.

    Can adding fibre to the diet help address issues with anal glands?

    Yes. The right amount of fibre is needed in a dog’s diet to give a good “push” when going to the toilet. A lot of processed foods can be too soft and so extra fibre is good for firming up their poo.

    There are several sources of fibre that can be beneficial to add to a dog's diet.

    1. Pumpkin: Canned or cooked plain pumpkin is a popular choice for adding fibre to a dog's diet. It is high in soluble fiber and can help regulate bowel movements.
    2. Sweet potatoes: Cooked and mashed sweet potatoes are another fibre-rich option. They provide both soluble and insoluble fiber, promoting healthy digestion. 
    3. Green leafy vegetables: Vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli are excellent sources of fibre. They can be steamed or lightly cooked before being added to your dog's meals.
    4. Psyllium husk: Psyllium husk is a natural fibre supplement that can be beneficial for dogs with constipation or irregular bowel movements. 
    5. Supplement: Adding a supplement such as HerbaCare Anal Glands powder to your dog’s food will assist in bulking out your dog's poo. With all natural ingredients such as psyllium husk, coconut powders, brewers yeast, fennel, pre & probiotics plus enzymes, this supplement is a safe and effective digestive support.

    When introducing additional fibre to your dog's diet, it's important to do so gradually. Start with small amounts and monitor your dog's response. Too much fiber too quickly can cause digestive upset. Additionally, always ensure your dog has access to fresh water when increasing their fibre intake.

    Can you have anal glands emptied?

    Some dogs are prone to their anal glands filling up regularly and if you are unable to get on top of the problem via diet, supplement and exercise you can choose to have their anal glands manually expressed.  This isn't recommended until other solutions have been tried and tested, anal glands don't need and shouldn't be emptied regularly for no good reason.

    Are vets the only people that can express anal glands?

    The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons clarifies: "In terms of internal expression of the para-anal sacs per rectum, it is correct that lay people such as dog groomers cannot undertake this task. This is because it amounts to the practise of veterinary surgery and therefore may only be undertaken by veterinary surgeons or registered veterinary nurses. Or student veterinary nurses working under the “direction” of their veterinary surgeon employer.

    Conversely, external expression of the para-anal sacs can be undertaken by competent lay people such as dog groomers or owners. However, the procedure should have been demonstrated and explained to them by a veterinary surgeon (and the frequency of emptying). If a para-anal sec problem is suspected, the animal should be seen by a veterinary surgeon for confirmation of diagnosis and advice regarding necessary treatment. Routine prophylactic expression should only be undertaken on the advice of a veterinary surgeon.

    Our in-house Clinician offers external anal gland expressing at our store in Huddersfield.  For more information or to book please click here.

    Can dogs have their anal glands removed?

    Yes, dogs can have their anal glands surgically removed, a procedure known as anal gland removal or anal gland excision. This procedure is usually considered as a last resort when other treatments for chronic anal gland problems have been unsuccessful.

    Anal gland removal may be recommended in cases where a dog experiences recurrent anal gland issues, such as chronic infections, abscesses, or tumors. It is typically performed by a veterinarian under general anaesthesia.

    It's important to note that anal gland removal is considered a major surgery and is not without risks. The anal glands serve a purpose in a dog's body, and their removal may have potential consequences, such as changes in bowel movements or increased risk of fecal incontinence. Therefore, the decision to proceed with anal gland removal should be made in consultation with a veterinarian, considering the individual dog's health, the severity of the anal gland problems, and potential risks and benefits of the procedure.

    Hope you found this useful.

    With Woofs and Wags,

    Laura, Dolly & Reggie

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