What Are Anal Glands For?
Anal glands add a bit of unique scent to a dog’s droppings, turning them into a message board. That’s why your dog always seems to save up their poo for the walk, and why they like to smell other dogs’ droppings.
Why Do Dogs Have Anal Gland Problems?
It’s probably a combination of:
- Genetic factors: certain breeds such as spaniels are more at risk
- Faecal consistency: domestic dogs tend to pass softer poo than their wolf cousins.
- Bad luck
Anal glands are given a natural squeeze every time a dog defaecates. It’s likely that harder faeces help the process.
Rarely, anal gland problems can be caused by anal sac adenocarcinoma. Follow the link to learn more.
How Do We Empty Anal Glands?
If your dog is scooting (bum rubbing) or licking at the anal region please see a vet; there are many reasons a dog will rub his bottom.
If a vet thinks the anal glands are the cause, we will usually trial emptying or expressing the anal glands. A gloved finger is inserted in the anus and the anal gland is squeezed between the finger on the inside and a thumb on the outside of the anus. If done by an experienced practitioner this should cause minimal discomfort.
What If Emptying Anal Glands Doesn’t Work?
If a dog is still experiencing discomfort there may be several reasons. The anal glands may not be the cause of the problem (visit this page for other causes) or the anal glands could be infected (called anal sacculitis).
Infection usually causes fever, lethargy and a large swelling over one of the anal glands. It will eventually burst and weep a red or yellow discharge. The cause of infection is usually a blocked or ‘impacted’ anal gland, so regular emptying usually helps.
If these two situations are ruled out, and the glands continue to cause problems, anal gland removal is often recommended.
Anal Gland Removal Surgery
Surgery to remove a dog’s anal glands is not something we rush into. It’s tricky and expensive surgery, and so if a dog only needs the glands squeezed 3 or 4 times a year we might leave it that way.
Anal sacculectomy surgery has also been linked with a high risk of permanent faecal incontinence (dropping faeces without control) in early studies (Hill & Smeak, 2002).
Thankfully, even in Hill & Smeak complications were worse prior to 1980, and recent studies have shown that such problems have almost disappeared with improved techniques (Charlesworth, 2014). Here at Walkerville Vet we have never seen long-term incontinence (or anything else) after anal gland removal.
The surgery is in a sensitive area and good pain control is essential.
Charlesworth, T. M. (2014). Risk factors for postoperative complications following bilateral closed anal sacculectomy in the dog. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 55(7), 350-354.
Hill, L. N., & Smeak, D. D. (2002). Open versus closed bilateral anal sacculectomy for treatment of non-neoplastic anal sac disease in dogs: 95 cases (1969-1994). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association,221(5), 662-665.