The pet ownership gig comes with a few less-than-fun responsibilities.
You’ll have to clean up the occasional accident, wipe yeast and other foul-smelling gunk out of your dog’s ears from time to time, and even deal with doggo vomit if your pet gets sick.
But unfortunately, there’s at least one more unpleasant pooch protocol you’ll need to know how to do: “Express” your dog’s anal glands.
Doing so is about as much fun as you’d think, but it’s something every pup parent needs to understand. Don’t worry – it’s usually not that difficult (although really impacted anal glands may require you to solicit your vet’s help).
Let’s glove up and dive in.
How to Express a Dog’s Anal Glands: Key Takeaways
- Dogs have two sacs located near their rectum, which are colloquially called “anal glands.” These glands produce a fluid that is thought to play a role in proper elimination and canine communication.
- Sometimes, these sacs have trouble draining properly. This can cause pretty serious discomfort for your doggo, and it can even lead to a very foul odor.
- You can provide your dog with some relief by manually expressing (“squeezing”) these sacs. This will cause them to empty, thereby allowing your pup to feel better. Just be sure to get the green light from your vet first.
What Are Dog Anal Glands?
Anal glands aren’t actually glands at all – they’re better described as sacs, which collect and hold glandular secretions produced by sebaceous glands inside the sac walls. We’ll use the terms interchangeably, but just know that they aren’t technically “glands.”
The exact purpose of the secretions produced by anal sacs remains unclear, though they’re thought to help lubricate poop on its way out of the body. They probably also contain pheromones, which play a role in canine communication.
A dog’s anal glands are located near the anus. If you’re looking at your dog’s exit, the glands are located near the 4:00 and 8:00 positions. They vary in size, but River Road Veterinary Clinic describes them as being between the size of a pea and a plum. The glands themselves lie deep under the skin, but each has a small duct located inside the anus, which allows the secretions to escape.
The problem is these ducts sometimes get clogged or “impacted.” This prevents the anal sacs from draining properly, leading to swelling, discomfort, and pain.
Signs of Impacted Anal Glands
Thankfully, anal gland problems aren’t something that every owner has to worry about. Many dogs go their who life without ever experiencing impacted anal glands.
But some dogs do suffer from clogged anal glands, so you’ll want to know the signs and symptoms that can indicate a problem.
This way, you’ll know to speak with your vet about the issue and help give your doggo some relief.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of dog anal gland problems include:
- Butt scooting (dragging the rear across the floor or ground)
- Excessive licking or biting of the anal region
- A fishy smell
- Reduced tail wagging
- Tail sensitivity (your dog won’t like you raising his tail)
- Reddened skin or bleeding around the anus
Any of these symptoms should cause you to investigate, but butt scooting and a fishy odor are far and away the most common symptoms of anal gland issues.
Tools and Supplies: What Do You Need to Express Your Dog’s Anal Glands?
You don’t need a whole lot of gear to express your dog’s anal glands. Just gather the following:
- A pair of disposable latex or vinyl gloves
- Some paper towels or tissues
- A tub with some warm, soapy water
- A washcloth
If you’re particularly sensitive to bad odors, you may also want to wear a facemask.
You’ll also want to make sure you have a good place to perform the procedure. An outdoor porch would be ideal, as this will prevent the stuff from stinking up your home. Just be sure you have good light, so you can see what you’re doing.
It’s also helpful to have a friend around, who can help restrain your dog if necessary.
How to Express Your Dog’s Anal Glands: A Step-by-Step Guide
Now that you’ve got your gear at the ready, and you’re set up in a well-lit and ventilated space, you can get started.
- Glove up. Start by putting the disposable gloves on to keep your hands clean while working in your dog’s nether regions and cleaning up the resulting goo.
- Lift your dog’s tail and locate the glands. As mentioned earlier, they’re located slightly below and to the side of your dog’s anus. If you have a friend who’s helping, he or she can lift the tail for you, which will keep both of your hands free.
- Grab a paper towel and use it as a shield. This sounds like it’s a joke, but it’s not. Anal gland secretions usually come out pretty slowly (kinda like a zit), but at times, they can spurt out of a dog’s butt like a geyser. And you do not want that stuff getting on your face.
- Gently squeeze the gland on one side of your dog’s anus. Typically, gentle pressure is all that’s necessary to express healthy anal glands. So, if you feel like you’re having to squeeze pretty hard, stop and make an appointment with your vet. You’ll know you’re finished once you have trouble feeling the gland, as it’ll be empty at this point.
- Wipe away the secretions with a paper towel as they emerge. Try not to barf or pass out from the odor at this point in the process. Healthy anal gland fluid should be pretty thin in consistency and brown in color. If it is anywhere in the yellow-to-green portion of the spectrum, an infection may be at play, and you’ll want to make an appointment with your vet.
- Switch to the other anal sac and repeat the procedure. Note that the anal glands may produce different quantities of material, and they may require different amounts of pressure to express. Again, we recommend stopping and consulting your vet if you feel like you’re having to squeeze very hard.
- Clean up your pet and workspace. Using the washcloth and warm, soapy water, gently clean your pet’s butt area. Collect and discard the grody paper towels and your disposable gloves, and then wash your hands.
And, as always, give your pet plenty of scritches and perhaps a treat or two after you finish performing any kind of unpleasant procedure like this.
Do Some Dogs and Breeds Suffer Anal Gland Problems More Often Than Others?
It isn’t entirely clear why some dogs suffer more anal gland problems than others. That said, a few groups of dogs tend to experience them pretty frequently. This includes:
- Small and toy breeds
- Dogs who suffer from chronic allergies or inflammation
- Dogs who routinely produce soft stools
- Dogs with abnormally positioned anal glands, which may be deeper than normal or positioned farther toward the sides of the anus.
So, if your dog falls into any of these three groups, you may need to accept the fact that you’re going to be dealing with anal gland problems from time to time.
Preventing Canine Anal Gland Problems in the Future
Unfortunately, there aren’t any tried-and-true methods for preventing anal gland problems from happening. But there are two things you may want to try, which are high-upside, low-downside propositions.
Switch Your Dog to a Food with More Fiber
According to one line of thinking, firm stools help encourage the regular emptying of the anal glands. As the poop comes out, it creates pressure on the glands, which squeezes out some of the fluid. Soft stools, on the other hand, don’t create as much pressure on a dog’s anal sacs. This means the sacs are less likely to empty properly.
So, to address this issue, some owners try switching to a dog food with higher fiber content. This often firms up a dog’s stools, which may help encourage the glands to empty properly.
Again, we don’t know for sure that soft stools predispose a dog to anal gland problems. However, there’s usually little harm in providing more fiber to your dog’s diet, and some owners have found that this is an effective strategy for preventing these problems in the future.
Work with Your Vet to Address Your Dog’s Chronic Allergies
Chronic allergies are thought to increase a dog’s predisposition to suffering from clogged anal sacs. So, while chronic allergies aren’t always the easiest health problem to treat, this provides yet another reason to discuss the issue with your vet.
Dogs can suffer from a variety of different types of allergies. Some are sensitive to things in their environment (such as pollen, smoke, or the dander of other pets), while others can be allergic to proteins in their diet, in which case you may want to opt for a hypoallergenic dog food. Your vet can help you determine the source of your pet’s allergies and take steps to address the problem.
Have Your Vet or Groomer Routinely Express Your Dog’s Anal Glands
If you know your dog often suffers from frequent anal gland problems, you may want to just make a habit of visiting the vet or groomer to have them expressed regularly. This should help reduce the frequency of problems and help keep your pooch feeling his best.
Should You Always Express Your Dog’s Anal Glands?
In a word: no.
First of all, you should always speak to your vet about your dog’s anal glands before you go squeezing them. Some vets will discourage owners from doing the procedure at home, while others may want to demonstrate how to perform the procedure before signing off on you doing it yourself.
Secondly, veterinarians often discourage the unnecessary expression of anal glands. Squeezing anal sacs that aren’t experiencing problems may lead to inflammation, which can end up causing problems.
So, if your dog’s anal glands are working as they should, just leave them alone.
What If You Don’t Want to Express Your Dog’s Anal Glands?
Understandably, some owners are reticent to glove up and start fiddling with their dog’s booty. Particularly once they get a whiff of the bouquet associated with anal gland secretions.
Fortunately, you don’t have to express them yourself – your vet or groomer will likely do the deed for you. You may have to pay a nominal fee to your vet or groomer for this service, but that’s a fair trade for many owners.
Just speak with your vet or groomer about the issue and go from there. Just note that while all vets will be willing to perform the procedure (or have a veterinary technician do so), some groomers may pass. So, you may have to do a bit of searching to find a groomer willing to tackle the task (you might want to offer your dog groomer a nice tip as well).
Expressing your dog’s anal glands certainly isn’t the most enjoyable way to spend an evening (for you or your pooch), but it’s just something that must be done on occasion. But remember, you can always take your dog to the vet or a groomer to have the procedure performed if you’d rather not do it yourself.
Have you ever needed to express your dog’s anal glands? How’d it go? Was it as much fun as we made it sound like? Was the odor better or worse than you imagined?
Let us know in the comments below!