Both dogs and cats have anal glands, which are typically the size of a small grape.
They normally release a few drops of thick, foul-smelling, oily marking fluid whenever your pet defecates, as a way of ‘marking their territory’.
It is why many dogs will sniff other dog’s rears when they meet, often standing erect and trying to swap the smells.
But these glands can become overfilled, blocked or irritated. They are internal, so can’t be viewed, but cause a lot of discomfort for your pet.
It is most common in canines but can occur in cats too.
How Do Dogs Empty Their Anal Sacs?
Usually, your dog can deal with this fluid naturally. When they pass ordinary, firm and easy to pass stools, the glands can contract and empty along with the stools.
This fluid can actually act as a natural lubricant for your dog’s anal opening, making it easier to pass their waste.
Most mammals have long lost the ability to express the sacs at their own will, but the most famous who still has this ability is the skunk
When they are stressed, they may also empty, which can create a pungent smell – of course, however, it is recommended you keep your dog’s stress levels to a minimum.
How To Tell If There Is An Issue With Your Dog’s Anal Sacs
You may have noticed your dog scooting along the floor as though they were cleaning their back end after going to the toilet. They are also commonly found to lick the area. This behaviour is meant to try and relieve pressure on the area.
You may also notice a slightly fishy or foul odour coming from your dog as they walk past, or after having been sat down if they have left a mark.
Scooting can be a sign of worms, allergies or they could simply just have an itchy bottom. But those with anal issues will usually scoot more than twice in a short period and may leave blood behind.
Other signals include struggling to defecate, discomfort when walking or standing, or redness around their rear end.
These can often be a signal of something else as well, so if there is no scooting or licking but they are showing one of these three symptoms, you should still get them checked out.
Causes Of Dog Anal Gland Problems
The most common reason why your dog may suffer from anal sac issues is because of a poor diet.
If they are not able to go to the toilet regularly because they are not getting the correct nutrition to produce hard, easy to pass stools, then their glands will not empty naturally.
Soft stools and diarrhoea do not place enough pressure on the rectum walls, so the sacs cannot empty of their own accord. If this continues for a few days, it can start to cause issues.
If your dog has any allergies, they may also struggle with this. Atopy is a common cause, which is red and inflamed skin which can often manifest around your dog’s anus as well as on ears, their belly and paws.
Any allergies from food can also cause an upset digestive system, which again will mean irregular stools. Low thyroid issues and obesity may also cause this.
If your dog’s anal sacs have regularly been emptied unnecessarily, it could cause thick scar tissue to develop as a way to heal the gland if it has been damaged in any way.
Ensure your groomer knows not to empty anal sacs with every visit
Unfortunately, some dogs are simply biologically prone to problematic anal sacs too. If they are positioned abnormally, such as too low or too far in, they can struggle to empty naturally. Smaller dogs are often more prone to problems too.
What You Can Do At Home
The main way you can improve your dog’s anal gland situation is by giving them a good, balanced diet. High-quality ingredients, with the right amount of nutrients, should produce regular, hard stools.
Fibre is essential for healthy digestion – just like humans
There are anal gland supplements out there, which can improve your dog’s daily intake of fibre. Keep an eye on their toilet habits at all times, so you can spot any issues (which includes worms or diarrhoea).
Talk to your vet if you are concerned about your dog’s diet. They can recommend high-quality food with good fibre content, specifically created for top digestive performance.
Secreting your dog’s anal sacs at home is not recommended. It can be messy, is uncomfortable and possibly painful for them, and can be hard to get the right place.
Plus, placing pressure on these sacs when it isn’t actually needed could cause a rupture or bleeding, and lead to difficulties in future as mentioned above.
You are best left to spotting the issue, and then taking them to the vet.
When To Take Your Dog To The Vet
Scooting may seem funny at first, with videos of dogs seemingly dancing to pop music going viral. But actually, at the first sign of scooting or discomfort, reach for your phone to ring your vet rather than recording it.
Your vet will have to express their glands manually if the issue persists. Make them aware of the issue, and they will give you a timeline and other signs to look out for based on your dog’s breed, size and age.
An expression can be painful for a dog, so they may have to be anaesthetised or placed on pain relief in order to carry this out.
If left untreated, swollen anal sacs can lead to infections such as an Anal Gland Abscess. This will require a subscription, and possibly a minor operation to drain the abscess.
This abscess could be on the outside of your pet, in which case you will be able to see it. Through regular behaviour, if left untreated, this could burst and produce blood and puss.
Anal Gland Issues In Cats
As mentioned, cats also have anal glands. While issues with these are less common, it can be hard to spot.
Cats are very good at masking any symptoms of illness, so you will usually not get the scooting and uncomfortable behaviour as with dogs.
The most common way to spot if there is an issue is if your cat usually uses a litterbox, but starts going outside of the litter box or straining when going to the toilet. If they go to the toilet outside, this could prove difficult.
Any signs your cat is in discomfort and you should take them to the vet.