Anal glands? What are those? 

Every dog has anal glands, or sacs, filled with liquid. They sit between the muscles of your dog’s rectum. No one knows for sure why they have them, but there are several theories. Some say it is territorial and has to do with leaving signals behind when they poop, while others believe they provide a kind of lubricant to help ease tough bowel movements for your pup. Either way, anal glands expressing, or emptying, are a normal part of your dog’s health.

What can go wrong with anal glands?

If anal glands aren’t emptied, they can become impacted, which can lead to infection. These can lead to serious complications for your dog’s health. But how do you know if something is wrong, or if your dog’s anal glands need expressing? 

 How can I tell if my dog has an anal gland problem?

There are some signs you can watch for. You can generally tell if a dog is experiencing impacted anal glands because they engage in “scooting” which usually looks like the animal dragging their bum along a carpet. A strong foul odour may come from your dog’s anus and brown residue may be left in spots where your dog has sat. They may also lick the anal area obsessively. Any odd appearance of the anus not looking its regular self is also a warning sign of impaction or infection.

 Knowing whether or not your dog’s anal glands need emptying is a question that can best be answered by your veterinarian.

Anal gland expression … How does that work?

There is a stinky liquid inside the anal sac of every dog, and it needs to have somewhere to go. When these liquids pass, it is called anal gland expression. There are two ways in which this must occur for the health of your dog.

 Most dogs express on their own! This is called “natural expression”.

Most dogs should express their anal glands naturally, all on their own if everything is working right. This happens when your dog goes poop and is a painless and natural process. In other words, if your dog is behaving normally, your dog is very likely naturally emptying their anal glands just fine on their own!

 Some dogs need help by undergoing “manual expression”.

Unfortunately, the manual expression is sometimes needed to allow the anal glands to be emptied. This involves a person physically expressing the anal glands of a dog themselves in order to avoid the complications of an anal gland that isn’t emptying naturally. There are a few methods to achieve this:

External anal gland expression: this involves squeezing the anal area to work the fluid out from inside the anal sacs. This generally doesn’t completely empty the anal glands and is a practice that some groomers may try to perform. It can possibly risk the future health of your dog.

Internal anal gland expression: this method involves inserting a finger into the anus of your dog and squeezing each anal sac individually with the forefinger and the thumb. It is a safer, more thorough and effective method but it is also more complicated. It can cause some dogs mild discomfort, so distracting your dog while it is performed can help ease the process.

Some smaller dog breeds are more likely to need a manual expression of their anal glands. You should talk to your veterinarian if you don’t know whether or not your dog needs manual expression. While anal gland expression can technically be performed by an owner at home, veterinarians are experienced to perform this procedure with as little discomfort to your dog as possible. This is especially important if your dog is showing any obvious signs of pain or if the anus appears red, inflamed or generally not normal.

Should I have my dog’s anal glands expressed manually on a regular basis?

This is a question your veterinarian can answer best, but the general consensus is unless instructed to do so by your vet, the answer is no! Regularly having a groomer empty your dog’s anal glands can lead to inflammation and possible scar tissue formation which actually heightens your dog’s risk of having problems with their anal glands in the future! 

Who is best suited to assess and address the health of my dog’s anal glands?

Veterinarians have professional training and experience with detailed knowledge of your dog’s anatomy and needs. Manual gland expression can irritate the anal area or even harm your dog if done haphazardly.

Veterinarians can diagnose any underlying problems that impacted or infected anal glands are associated with. Leaving any signs of a problem unchecked could result in abscesses forming, which can rupture and seriously harm your dog, causing them significant distress and you costly vet bills that can all be avoided with regular checkups with your veterinarian.