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Anal Sacs (Anal Glands): Their Function and How to Properly Express Them

Q: My dog drags his butt on our carpet, outside and everywhere. He seems to be very uncomfortable. Is there anything I can buy that might give him relief ?

A: Many people own dogs for years without ever knowing about anal sacs until it becomes quite obvious that their dog is having a problem and requires a visit to the vet or groomer. Anal sac problems are extremely common and can cause tremendous pain for your pet.

Anal sacs are two small glands just inside your dog's anus. They are positioned at about five and seven o’clock in reference to the anus.

Tiny ducts lead to the tissue just inside the rectum. They appear to be used for territorial marking thus allowing dogs to identify one another by means of the 'scent' left behind after defecating. As the pet defecates, the anal sphincter squeezes the sacs against the hard passing feces causing the anal secretion to discharge onto the fecal mass.

You have no doubt seen dogs new to one another, try and sniff the other's rear end. An annoying habit to us humans, it is their natural way of getting to know that dog and it's particular 'scent'. Again, this serves as a sign post used to communicate with the other dogs and cats.

When walking about the area and again finding that scent, many dogs will either urinate beside it (as a manner of acceptance of that dog) or urinate directly on it (showing dominance or rejection of the dog).

Most dogs are able to empty these glands voluntarily but certain breeds may need a little help. It also seems that smaller dogs or obese dogs are predisposed to this problem. In particular, small Poodles, Chihuahuas and Pomeranians have a high incidence of anal gland problems. If your dog is under 20 lbs., be sure to keep a close eye on this region.

A dog's lifestyle and diet (sedentary or confined for long periods without the ability to defecate outside when needing to and little or no fiber in the diet) may contribute to the dog being unable to empty their glands on their own.

If your pet has a history of scooting, you can rest assured the anal sacs need attention. The emptying or 'expressing' of these sacs is done in one of two ways:

  1. EXTERNALLY:  A rag or tissue is held up to the anus and both sides of the anal area are squeezed. If the secretion is very pasty, this method may be inadequate to empty the sacs.

  2. INTERNALLY: A lubricated gloved finger is inserted in the anus and the sac is squeezed between thumb & forefinger into a tissue held externally. The procedure is repeated on the opposite side. If the sacs have been emptied adequately, the scooting should resolve in a couple of days.

You can learn to empty these sacs yourself (a disgusting task akin to changing a really 'ripe' diaper). The secretion that comes from these glands is brown in color and about the consistency of water or oil. But remember, you are doing it for your dogs comfort, hygiene and overall well being and your dog will be truly grateful for the relief given.

If left untreated, an abscess can form and rupture out through the anus. This is why the anal sacs should always be checked by the veterinarian or groomer whenever working with the pet. If the secretion stays in the sacs for very long it begins to thicken and becomes like peanut butter in consistency.

At this point it is very difficult to be expressed and subject to bacterial invasion and abscessation. Once an abscess forms and there is no route of escape for the secretion and pus, it may rupture through the skin causing an unsightly mess and a good deal of pain for the pet (See image below).

This is often mistaken for rectal bleeding. If an anal sac abscess forms, it must be properly treated by your veterinarian and a follow-up with antibiotics will be needed.

How Often Should Anal Sacs Be Emptied? This varies from dog to dog. The best recommendation is to watch your dog's behaviour, if he starts scooting again, it is time to have a look at the sacs. If the scooting continues for more than a few days after sac emptying, the sacs should be re-checked. For some dogs, the sacs may be emptied several times in a row before they stay emptied. If you are certain the sacs have been properly emptied yet your dog continues scooting, another cause may be present such as itchy skin, tapeworms, or even lower back pain.

What If My Pet's Sacs Seem to Require Emptying All the Time? To avoid the expense of having the sacs emptied by your vet or groomer, a non-invasive technique that helps some dogs is a change to a high fiber diet. Give him fresh few baby carrots (two or three times a week). This may harden his stools and help to express the anal glands naturally and reduce the likelihood of impaction and subsequent infection.

How Do You Treat This Disease?
Once your dog has had one occurring episode of anal gland disease, it is more than likely it will develop more episodes. As an owner, you can help prevent this problem by manually expressing the glands yourself (or asking if your dog groomer provides this service), every couple of months. You can also take your dog into your veterinarian's office and have them do it.

Surgical Removal Of The Glands
If it seems that your dog is having reoccurring problems with anal gland disease, you can have these glands surgically removed. Because dogs no longer have a need for these glands, it doesn't hurt to have them removed and it is the only way to permanently solve the problem.

See Also: Worms and Parasites