Why you should start paying attention to your dog's anal glands
As a dog owner, the last thing you probably want to think about is your dog's anal glands, but you should.
Every dog has anal glands, which, according to practicing veterinarian and established veterinary medical journalist Dr. Jeff Werber, are "a vestige of scent glands (think skunk) and secrete a fluid that is used for marking territory."
The glands usually release their fluids during a firm bowel movement, but they sometimes also release during moments of anxiety, fear or stress. According to Werber, the fluids have a smell that is especially unpleasant to humans.
With many dogs, the fluids always release on their own and there is a never an issue. Those dog owners should consider themselves lucky.
Some dogs need help
Some dogs, on the other hand, get left with reserves of the pungent fluids and need a little bit of help to get them out.
"When the dog is unable to empty the sacs through normal defecation or through scooting, they require some assistance to have [them] drained," said Werber.
As much as you might like to ignore your dog's rear-end issues, this is one that just can't be overlooked. In fact, if ignored for too long, it can turn into a major issue.
"The dog can get an anal abscess, which can be very uncomfortable," Werber said. "It can develop an infection with pus that needs to be drained. Sometime a drain needs to placed in the gland itself. If so, the dog must wear an e-collar to prevent licking. They might have to be compressed and placed on antibiotics. It can be quite an ordeal."
What to watch for
So how do you know if your dog needs help expressing his anal glands? Werber says you'll get most of your clues just by watching your dog.
"If you see the dog being uncomfortable, scooting across the floor, licking and obsessing over his or her anus, and if her or his bowel [movements are] soft, it’s a good bet the anal glands need expressing," he said.
You can also examine your dog manually to decide if his glands need attention.
"If you gently feel the anatomy, you may feel two subtle bulges at the 4:30 and 7:35 positions. Do not palpate them firmly," he instructed, "but gently touch them. If you can feel them, they probably need to be expressed."
How to help
If you suspect your dog needs to have his anal glands expressed, you have two choices — take him to the vet, or do it yourself.
"An owner can do it. It certainly gets easier with practice, but most choose not to do it," said Werber.
In case you're a brave soul who wants to give it a try, Werber explained the process.
"When viewing the rectum as a clock face, the sacs are located at about 4:30 on the right side and 7:35 on the left side. To express the glands, place your thumb and index finger at the two positions, around the two glands, and squeeze together against each other. This will cause the openings, which are in the inside, to release, and the fluid will express."
He says that in more difficult cases, where the “expressor” is more experienced, some might chose to insert a gloved finger into the dog's rectum and squeeze each gland separately.
Whichever way you try, Werber gave one final warning: "Don’t stand behind the dog."
That mistake is what leads many dog owners to leave this dirty work to their vets.
"Once they’ve been squirted with that foul fluid, they decide to leave it to a professional," he said. "I’m not exaggerating when I say it is one of the worst smells one can experience coming from a dog or cat."
How often the anal glands need expressing varies from dog to dog.
There's no denying this process is uncomfortable, for both you and your dog. Once you've been through it once, you'll probably do whatever it takes to limit how often it needs to happen again.
Werber says the condition is common across all breeds, but a dog's diet does have an effect on how well its glands express on their own.
"Having sufficient fiber in your dog’s diet might keep the stool firm while maintaining ease of defecation. Fiber may also keep the material in the gland softer, thus making it easier for the glands to release," he said. "If your dog has difficulty, expressing him/her more frequently to prevent build-up might help."
Before you go, check out this hilarious video of the world's guiltiest dogs.