Dog Anal Gland Infection: Anal Sac Disease Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Dog Health

WRITTEN BY:

Kelsey Leicht

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anal gland infections in dogs

Few aspects of canine care make owners as squirmy as anal glands. 

Most of the time, you don’t have to worry about them, but these tiny glands are responsible for big-time odor and pain when they become infected or simply irritated. 

We’ll explain the need-to-know information about dog anal glands below, including why they become infected, how to know if your dog’s anal glands are infected, and what types of treatments are available when anal gland problems arise in your pup.

Key Takeaways: Dog Anal Gland Infections & Impactions

  • Canine anal gland impactions differ from anal gland infections. The terms are sometimes confused, but there are important differences between the two that affect treatment.
  • Some dogs are more prone to anal gland issues than others. Everything from your dog’s weight to his breed to his eating habits can make him susceptible to anal gland problems.
  • A vet, not a groomer, should treat anal gland issues. While groomers often externally express canine anal glands, they cannot address the internal problems often at play
  • Changes to your dog’s routine can potentially avoid anal gland issues. You can work with your vet to make a plan to improve your dog’s condition by making changes like increasing fiber, helping him lose weight, and more.

What Are Dog Anal Glands?

Anal glands (also called anal sacs) are berry-sized glands near your dog’s anus that produce an important yet smelly fluid that gets deposited on his waste. 

This stinky secretion is unique to your dog and serves as a territory marker with every poop, letting other canines know the area is your doggo’s turf.

We might find it gross, but scent communication like this is standard in the animal world.

Poop-Sniffing Guidelines

While a quick poop sniff is usually harmless for our dogs, keeping your four-footer away from strange poop is always best. The risk of parasites and illness is high, with parvo, in particular, spreading easily, even via inhalation.

A short lead is highly recommended in areas where strange dogs’ stool may be present, especially if your pup is a poop eater.

Irritated Canine Anal Glands: Impaction Versus Infection

dog anal gland infection

Two main problems are seen in canine anal glands: impaction and infection. 

The conditions are somewhat similar and sometimes related but have key differences that affect treatment.

Impaction occurs when your dog’s anal glands aren’t releasing fluid, leading to painful buildup and inflammation in the glands.

Infection is an overgrowth of bacteria within the anal glands and is far more serious than impaction.

However, it is important to understand that impaction can lead to infection. Accordingly, both problems should be addressed promptly. 

Why Do Dog Anal Glands Become Infected?

remy anal glands
Meg’s dog Remy with swollen anal glands

Anal glands can become impacted and eventually infected if the impaction isn’t addressed.

Anal gland impaction is usually caused by inflammation of the ducts responsible for secreting anal gland fluid as your dog poops.

When the ducts don’t function properly, fluid gets trapped in the glands. The fluid then thickens, making the glands swell. 

The impacted fluid can quickly lead to an infection of the glands as bacteria multiply inside, leading to pus, blood, and increased swelling. This can cause your dog pain during bathroom breaks and beyond. 

Common culprits behind anal gland impaction and infection include:

  • Obesity: Obese dogs who don’t get enough exercise have more fat in the rear region, impacting the muscle pressure placed on the glands while pooping. This makes emptying the anal glands harder, potentially leading to impaction.  
  • Breed: Smaller breeds are more prone to anal gland issues than their larger canine counterparts. Breeds most commonly affected include Chihuahuas, toy poodles, and beagles.
  • Poor stool consistency: Dogs who frequently have soft stools or diarrhea are more at-risk of anal gland problems because there is less pressure placed on the organs during defecation. Loose stools may be caused by illness or dietary issues.
  • Skin issues: Dogs affected by chronic skin conditions — including things like dermatitis (inflammation of the skin around the anus) or the presence of harmful bacteria or fungi — are more susceptible to anal gland problems than others. These dogs are more likely to develop recurring issues if the underlying problem isn’t addressed. 
  • Anal disease: Obstructions caused by cysts or tumors can lead to glandular issues, as can poor muscle tone of the anal sphincter. This rear dysfunction can make releasing anal gland fluids much more difficult, causing buildup.
  • Diet: A diet lacking in fiber can make emptying anal glands harder, potentially leaving your dog susceptible to anal gland issues. Switching to high-fiber dog food or introducing high-fiber treats can help prevent recurring problems by firming up stools, making expressing anal gland fluid easier.
  • Age: Older canines have reduced muscle tone in their hind ends, leading to poor pressure on anal glands during pottying. They may also struggle to squat while pooping, putting even less pressure on the area.  
  • Allergies. A dog’s anal glands can also be affected by allergies, with more allergy-prone dogs often being more likely to suffer from anal gland issues. Note that it is typically environmental allergies as opposed to food allergies that typically lead to anal glad problems in dogs. If your dog tends to suffer from anal gland problems during a consistent type of year (for example, every spring), then you may want to ask your vet if allergies could be the root of the issue.
  • Grooming practices: Many groomers offer anal gland expression with regular groomings in dogs without glandular issues. These manual expressions only remove some anal gland fluid by squeezing the area externally, potentially causing swelling that can lead to impaction. Skipping this grooming step can save your pooch from unnecessary issues.

If you suspect an anal gland issue in your dog, always seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Untreated infections can cause more severe problems, like anal gland abscesses. Left untreated, anal gland abscesses can rupture through the skin.

Anatomy and Anal Gland Problems

Our consulting veterinarian Jo de Klerk had some additional information to share with our readers about potential causes of anal gland problems:

I commonly find that the anatomical placement of the anal glands can also lead to impactions. For example, anal glands are normally at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions.

However, some dogs have slightly different anatomy and have anal glands that are located in slightly different places than they are in most dogs.

I’ve noticed that anal glands located a little higher – say, the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions – don’t seem to empty quite as well when there’s a bowel movement. And this, in turn, can lead to impactions.

Also, anal glands that are situated deeper in the body also seem to have more problems and become impacted more easily.

I should point out that these are simply anecdotal observations from my own experience. I don’t believe there’s any empirical data that examines the best positioning for canine anal glands. 

How Can You Tell If Your Dog’s Anal Glands Are Impacted?

As mentioned above, anal gland problems generally start with impaction. Helping your dog at this point is critical in preventing infection.

Signs of canine anal gland impaction include:

  • Scooting their rear against flooring or grass
  • Excessive licking at the base of the tail
  • Foul odor (often described as fishy)

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it’s time to give your vet a call to address the problem before it worsens.

How Can You Tell If Your Dog’s Anal Glands Are Infected?

dog anal gland issues

Anal gland infections occur when bacteria rapidly increase inside the gland and are far more dangerous than impactions alone. At this point, your dog’s body is facing an illness that can quickly become systemic and affect other organs. It’s also typically more painful than impaction.

Symptoms of an anal gland infection include:

  • Reluctance to sit
  • Whining or crying, especially while pooping
  • Swollen or reddened anal area
  • Pus drainage from the anal region
  • Blood on stool
  • Bloody anal area
  • Unexplained aggression when touched

A suspected anal gland infection is a serious problem that should be treated promptly by a veterinarian. You don’t need to drive over to the emergency clinic in the middle of the night, but you’ll definitely want to get the vet’s office on the phone first thing in the morning. 

How are Impacted Anal Glands Treated?

anal gland impaction treatment

Treating your dog’s impacted anal glands starts with your vet expressing and flushing out the trapped fluid to prevent bacterial overgrowth.

Some vets may also administer medication to your dog’s anal glands to ease swelling and prevent infection; other vets may just encourage you to monitor them and bring your pooch back in and have them expressed regularly. 

Impacted anal glands can be painful, so treatment might mean sedating your canine for his comfort.  

Afterward, you and your vet can work on preventing recurring impactions by adjusting your dog’s diet, ceasing grooming anal gland expressions, or treating underlying conditions. Monitoring is also recommended to spot future anal gland trouble.

How Can You Treat Infected Anal Glands?

treating anal gland infection

The exact treatment protocol for infected anal glands will differ a bit based on your specific pet and your vet’s preferences. 

Some vets may be inclined to sedate your pet to flush infected anal glands, whereas others may take a more conservative approach. In such cases, he or she will likely express them and then have you come back in a week to see how they’re responding. 

If flushing is necessary, the glands will be rinsed to remove bacteria and infected debris. Medication is also administered to the area, and local or oral dog antibiotics may be prescribed to extinguish any lingering bacterial infection.

Your vet may also prescribe pain medication or anti-inflammatories since swelling and pain can persist for a few days after expression.

Follow-up care is critical with anal gland infections, as your dog might need additional expressions and medications as his body heals.

Treatment may include surgery if your dog’s anal glands are severely infected, abscessed, or ruptured. This might involve lancing an abscess or removing the glands entirely.

Do Dogs Need Anal Sacs? Can You Remove a Dog’s Anal Glands?

Dogs don’t need anal glands, but they aren’t something you should have removed if your pup doesn’t have any issues with them. Removal is a complicated surgery that isn’t fun to recover from, so leave the glands alone if they’re healthy.

Your veterinarian might surgically remove a dog’s anal glands if he experiences recurrent issues, such as infections. Unfortunately, this is a complex surgery, so you may have to visit a specialty veterinary surgeon to complete the task.

Anal Gland Removal Is Serious Business

As Kelsey said, the removal of a dog’s anal glands is a very complicated surgery. Once again, our consulting veterinarian Jo de Klerk has some additional information to share:

The removal of a dog’s anal glands is not something veterinarians take lightly. Every surgery presents infection risks, and surgery near your dog’s anus presents additional bacterial concerns. 

But there’s another issue involving anal gland removal surgery vets and owners must consider: The nerves that provide motor signals to your dog’s anus are located right next to the anal glands. So, if the surgery doesn’t go exactly as planned, it can leave you with an incontinent dog. 

Accordingly, many vets elect to do anal gland removal surgery in two phases. They’ll remove one gland and be sure that the dog is still able to control her sphincter muscles. If that goes well, the veterinarian will then schedule a second surgery, to remove the remaining gland. 

Home Remedies for Impacted Anal Glands

It’s always best to take your dog to the vet if you suspect he’s suffering from anal gland problems.

Don’t forget: Impacted anal glands can be excruciatingly painful for dogs and infected anal glands can present very serious health concerns.

However, there are a few things you may want to try if your dog has very minor anal gland issues (and you’re positive they’re not infected). The amount of evidence backing these strategies varies, but some pet parents feel they are worth trying.

  • Switch to a high-fiber dog food. Increased fiber consumption may help firm up your dog’s poops and give them more bulk. This can help encourage your pup’s anal glands to empty more regularly. Just be sure to make the switch slowly (abrupt food changes can cause intestinal upset) and only after speaking with your vet first.
  • Provide your pooch with fiber-rich supplements. There are a variety of dog supplements on the market intended to help promote anal gland emptying. Most are full of fiber and some — such as these soft chews from Vetnique — also contain probiotics. There are also fiber-rich supplements that contain real grass bits, which some owners may want to try.
  • Offer your dog a bit of pumpkin. Pumpkin is a fiber-rich food that is often helpful for dealing with an array of intestinal issues. In this case, it may firm up your dog’s poops, which will help encourage regular anal gland emptying. You can just use a standard pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) from the grocery store, but it’s usually easier to just mix in this powder from Native Pets with Fido’s food.
megan-round

Megan’s Hot Take

Remy has struggled a lot with anal gland issues, and I’ve found Native Pet’s Pumpkin Powder to be really helpful for quick relief. We ended up switching to Apoquel medication for a long-term solution, as Remy’s anal gland issues were due largely to his allergy issues (which Apoquel helps with).

  • Increase the amount of exercise your dog gets. Exercise may have two benefits for your pup. For starters, regular exercise promotes regular elimination, which may help empty your dog’s anal glands more often. But it may also help your portly pooch shed a few extra pounds. This is important as overweight dogs tend to suffer from impacted and infected anal glands more often than dogs with a healthy body weight.
  • Let your dog enjoy a nice warm bath. Soaking in a nice warm bath may help soothe your dog’s booty a bit and it may even help to clear impacted anal glands. Some owners like to put Epsom salts in the water, but there isn’t really any evidence that they provide benefits when used in this way. That said, it won’t hurt your pooch — just make sure he doesn’t drink it. That will cause pretty bad stomach upset (Epsom salts have been empirically demonstrated to act as a laxative when taken orally) and it may cause more serious problems in high doses.

Infected Dog Anal Glands: FAQ

Anal gland problems are one of those canine conundrums you don’t always expect to encounter, so you may still have questions surrounding the less-than-pleasant affliction. Let’s run through the most commonly asked questions surrounding the topic to nail down the basics.

Do anal gland infections recur? 

Unfortunately, anal gland infections can recur if the root issue isn’t addressed, whether it’s dietary, unnecessary expression during grooming, or something else. Infections can also recur if you stop your dog’s antibiotic prematurely. Always give your dog medications as directed by your vet, including completing the entire round of antibiotics.

How do I know if my dog’s anal glands are infected?

Symptoms of a canine anal gland infection include a reluctance to sit, crying or vocalizing while pooping, blood on the stool, an inflamed anal area, or drainage from your dog’s rear. This is usually preceded by your dog licking at his hind end or “scooting” across surfaces on his behind.

How do you treat an infected anal gland in dogs?

A veterinarian should always treat infected anal glands. The treatment will vary by case, with some dogs only requiring a sedating cleaning of the area and antibiotics, while others may need to have the glands removed entirely.

Can you squeeze your dog’s anal glands?

You can manually squeeze or “express” your dog’s anal glands yourself, but this is something most owners will want to leave to the professionals at the vet’s office. Not only is it pretty gross (and messy,) but it’s also risky, as externally squeezing the glands can lead to incomplete emptying or trauma to a very sensitive area.

Can you treat infected dog anal glands at home?

No. Infected anal glands should never be treated at home. The infection will need proper cleaning and most likely prescribed antibiotics by your vet. Improper care can lead to a worsening infection, including anal abscesses or ruptured glands.

What is the purpose of a dog’s anal glands?

Anal glands help scent-mark your dog’s stool with his unique scent, letting other animals in the area know he’s been there. This isn’t so important with today’s domesticated dogs, but with wild animals, communicating territory via scent is vital.

***

Dog anal glands aren’t everyone’s favorite health topic, but knowing their function and what to look for in case things go wrong is important. 

Remember: If you have any concerns about your dog’s health, give your vet a quick call. Anal glands aren’t the most pleasant area of canine health, but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

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Written by

Kelsey Leicht

Kelsey is a lover of words and woofs. She worked hands-on with dogs for several years at a boarding kennel as a shift runner and office manager before venturing into the world of writing. She lives in New Jersey with her crew of crazy canines.

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