Has your dog ever suddenly sat his or her bum flat and dragged it across the floor using only the front legs? Witnessing this ridiculous phenomenon in action can be downright hilarious! However, did you know that this could actually be a sign of illness?
That’s right, as funny as it is to see your pooch scooting across the floor, this can actually mean that your pup is experiencing an illness involving his or her anal glands.
What are anal glands?
Anal glands are two glands located just inside of the rectum in dogs, at the 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock positions. Dogs regularly release, or express, a strong and fishy-smelling fluid from their anal glands as a means of expression when marking territory, getting to know each other, or as a diversion tactic when scared.
In a normal healthy dog, the glands are also expressed during the act of defecation, when rectal muscles and fecal matter work together to squeeze out their contents.
What are the signs of an anal gland problem?
If you start to notice any of the following, then your dog may be experiencing an anal gland related illness:
- Licking at the rectum excessively
- Straining to defecate
- Bleeding or swelling around the rectum
- Pain or discomfort around the rectum
- Foul odor coming from the butt area
What causes anal gland illnesses?
There are many different causes for anal gland illnesses. Often, the sacs can become impacted, meaning the gland cannot be emptied due to the duct being blocked, which can lead to inflammation and infection, or even a ruptured gland. Infection tends to occur after an impacted anal gland has become so severely swollen and infected from bacterial overgrowth that the anal sac forms an abscess and eventually ruptures. A visit and some diagnostic tests by a veterinarian are necessary in order to find the root cause, especially if this is a new problem for your dog. However, in many dogs, an anal gland illness can be a chronic and ongoing issue. Here are some of the more common causes for anal gland illnesses:
- Anatomy: Many dogs are born with poor anatomy that makes naturally expressing the anal glands more difficult. Overbreeding of purebreds, especially smaller breeds, is to blame.
- Obesity: Can also affect a pets anatomy, making expressing the glands more difficult as important muscles are overlapped by fat.
- Diarrhea: Dogs who are experiencing diarrhea may have concurrent anal gland illness because diarrhea is not firm or formed enough to help squeeze out the anal gland fluid.
- Infection: Anal gland infections can lead to thickening, or impaction, of the anal gland fluid that impedes their ability to get expressed easily.
- Parasites: Certain parasites, such as dog tapeworms, can lead to rectal irritation and licking or scooting, which can then segway into an anal gland infection.
- Allergies: Allergies to fleas, food, or something in the environment can lead to irritation of the rectum, and just like with parasites, can progress further into an anal gland infection.
- Tumors: Tumor growth on the anal glands is a rare, but serious cause for anal gland illness in older dogs.
At-home care and prevention
For most of the above causes, at-home care and prevention can be effective at preventing anal gland illnesses. Here are some things you can start at home:
- Regular anal gland expression: Have your dog’s anal glands expressed regularly. This can be done yourself, by a groomer, or by a veterinarian. How often varies from dog to dog, so the most accurate way is to monitor how long it takes for your dog to show signs of anal gland illness after his or her last expression. Having the anal glands expressed prior to signs of illness is the best preventative.
- Parasite and flea preventatives: Safe anti-parasitic medications can be purchased over the counter or from a veterinarian. Many prescription heartworm preventatives also work to kill and prevent intestinal parasitic infections. Flea preventatives help to kill or prevent flea infestations, which is extremely important because fleas harbor and transmit dog tapeworm.
- Diet: Feeding your dog a diet high in fiber and probiotics helps keep stools firm and prevents diarrhea or infection. My favorite probiotic supplements to give my dogs are Wellnergy Pets Probiotic, by keeping stools firm, it can mechanically help to relieve anal glands during defecation, preventing buildup and impaction.
Veterinarians can help dog parents determine whether there is an allergic or other cause for having anal gland illnesses. If any signs of anal gland illnesses are seen, it’s best to consult your veterinarian first. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Wellenergy team with any non-urgent thoughts, questions, or concerns in the comments section, on our Facebook page, Instagram, or e-mail!
About the Author:
Dr. Debra Chen, D.V.M. has been a practicing companion animal veterinarian for over three years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to moving to the Bay, she received both her veterinary and undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota. After spending a third of her life in Taiwan, she is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Her veterinary interests include preventative medicine, animal behavior, and surgery. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Chen can be found camping, hiking, eating, or traveling with her husband and Formosan Mountain Dog, Tuna. They also share a home with their two feline overlords, brown tabby cats Cairo and Khaleesi.