What the Heck are Anal Glands?

 This topic stinks! πŸ’© But it's a good thing for dog owners to know about.

What Are Anal Glands?

Anal glands are located near the rectum and add scent markings to feces. Now doesn't that make you want to learn more? πŸ˜œ

Where Are They?

Anal glands (also called anal sacs) are small sacs just inside the rectum of dogs. There are two of them at around the 4 and 8 o'clock positions (one on the right side; one on the left side). Each sac has a single small opening just inside the anus. 
Diagram of Anal Glands

What Do They Do?

Inside the anal gland, dogs produce anal gland secretions. The secretions are stored in the glands and released when a dog defecates (poops). (Hope you're not eating dinner while you read this πŸ½️)

That Stinks!

Harry Wormwood
Yes! Because it's supposed to! Anal gland secretions are the consistency of ketchup, typically light brown in colour, and have a very distinct smell... That's really unpleasant! ...Which is the point: Anal gland secretions are used as a "calling card" on feces. With their powerful smell, they tell other dogs, "I was here" and "This is my turf". Like a revolting business card (or a sales pitch from Harry Wormwood...).

Why Do I Care About Anal Glands??

The reason I'm blogging about this, other than to ruin your dinner, is that many dogs have problems with their anal glands. Read on to learn the signs of anal gland issues and whether your dog should see us.

Signs of Anal Gland Issues

Madonna
The classic sign of anal gland issues is scooting. This is when your dog rubs/drags it's bum across the along the floor. 

Your dog is doing this to try to get it's anal glands to express themselves (as in empty, not as in Madonna). Dogs usually find carpet ideal for this. Especially white carpet...

Why Scooting?

Scooting
As dogs were domesticated, their anatomy changed in many ways - just look at a Chihuahua vs a Great Dane vs. a wolf. Some dogs seem to have lost the ability to empty their anal glands properly when they defecate. As a result, their anal glands continue to fill over time and become uncomfortable. 

To relieve the discomfort, some dogs discover that scooting applies pressure in just the right way to allow their anal glands to empty. (Somewhat like teenagers popping pimples. This is a lovely topic, isn't it?)

Impaction and Abscessing

If your dog isn't able to express their anal glands (either naturally or by scooting), they can become impacted (the anal glands, not your dog hopefully). This means that the anal gland secretions become too old and thick to pass out of the duct that empties the gland. As more secretions are produced, the gland swells and often becomes infected (bacteria love impacted anal glands, and there's lots of bacteria in that area). This is very uncomfortable for your dog and often quite painful.

If not treated, eventually the anal glands can rupture (burst), usually through the skin to the outside, and owners often see blood (usually we see ruptured anal glands presented to us as "bleeding from the bum").

Prevention and Treatment of Anal Gland Problems

Prevention

Prevention is fairly simple: If you identify that your dog has issues with their anal glands (usually because they are scooting), regular manual expression of their anal glands is often all that's needed. 

This is a procedure we do in the clinic regularly for the life of your dog. The frequency is unique to each dog, and is usually every 2-3 months, varying between about every 6 weeks to every 6 months.

Finger in glove
Manual Anal Gland Expression (Do NOT Do This at Home. Please)

Is exactly what it sounds like: We gently insert a finger into the anus and squeeze the affected anal gland in such a way that it expresses it's contents (which we try hard to catch in paper towel - the secretions can shoot amazingly far, and all vets have stories of some unlucky soul who walked behind a dog at exactly the wrong time...*). Our job is a glamourous one πŸ˜€

We do this on both sides and we characterize how full the glands are and how easy they are to express, which helps us determine how often to express them.

Fun Anal Gland Facts

Skunk
"Fun" and "anal gland" aren't traditionally used together, however we'll buck the trend here with these facts about anal glands:
  • Fear and/or surprise can cause dogs to express their anal glands spontaneously. A bit surprising for their humans too...
  • Cats have anal glands too! Occasionally they have issues as well, but it's far less common
  • So do skunks! Skunks have evolved to be able to willingly express their anal glands: This is how skunks spray. They have also "upgraded" the smell to make it incredibly noxious
  • But humans don't! Thank goodness...

The "End"

I thought this would be a short post, but apparently not! Who knew there was so much to say? In the end I hope your not bummed out by this post (or at least don't think it stinks!). Ha ha...

See More About Anal Glands

To see our video on anal glands (Academy Awards, here we come!), head over to our YouTube channel (and don't forget to subscribe!).
https://youtu.be/ay3CKGVWbmQ

With Care, Dr. Hans Christoffersen

* As an aside, these poor souls also get reminded of their "experience" for the rest of day - not just from the rest of the team (who often find this very funny), but because the smell lingers. All. Day. No matter how much they wash.

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