As a responsible dog owner, you already know that caring for a dog involves some less enjoyable jobs. One of these is expressing a dog’s anal glands.
While some dogs never need to have their anal glands manually expressed, others need help from their owners, a groomer or a vet to empty their anal glands. If unable to drain completely, these glands can become infected or develop abscesses.
What Does Expressing a Dog's Anal Glands Mean?
In short, expressing a dog’s anal glands means squeezing the fluid from the glands. While not the most appealing of jobs as a dog owner, it’s still a very important one. Failing to get your dog’s anal glands expressed can lead to painful infections and dangerous abscesses.
The anal glands are small glands on either side of a dog’s anal canal. These glands contain sebaceous glands, meaning that they secrete a substance that is used for identification within the species. The inability to express this substance can lead to anal sacculitis.
Anal sacculitis is the build-up of fluid within the anal glands which causes itching and pain. To relieve these symptoms, the affected dog might strain to go to the toilet, lick their hind region, or scratch their backside on the ground or furniture. If this impaction isn’t treated, an infection can quickly set in. To treat impacted and infected anal glands, a vet or experienced dog groomer needs to express the dog’s anal glands.
Signs Your Dog Needs Its Anal Glands Expressed
When your dog has full anal glands, the signs can be vague and nonspecific if you don’t know what to look for. The three most obvious signs are scooting, licking, and biting with focus on the rear end. Other symptoms can arise if your dog’s anal glands aren’t expressed soon enough. These include redness and bleeding around the bottom, hair loss from biting and itching, and defensiveness of the rear end.
Scooting is the word to describe the action of a dog sitting down and dragging their bottom across the floor. While this behavior might seem amusing, it’s actually often a sign of discomfort, pain, or an itch. This action can be due to a simple reason, like having something stuck around the bottom. However, if consistent, this behavior can indicate a more serious issue with your dog’s health. A dog who frequently scoots might have blocked anal glands, an anal gland abscess, worms, or atopic dermatitis.
Dogs with impacted and infected anal glands might try to lick their backsides more often. Your dog will try to relieve their discomfort by licking the itchy and inflamed area. Other reasons why your dog might lick their backside include worms, fleas, or atopic dermatitis. If the anal glands aren’t emptied quickly, your dog can lick so much that they lose hair around their bottom or tail. This can lead to skin infections and further discomfort.
Dogs might bite and chew at their bottoms when suffering from anal sacculitis. If scooting and licking isn’t enough to relieve the pain, some dogs will resort to chewing at their skin to alleviate the discomfort. If severe, chewing and biting can cause hair loss and soreness.
How to Express a Dog's Anal Glands
There are two ways in which you can express your dog’s anal glands – externally, or internally. Both methods are effective, but one may be more suitable than another for your dog depending on their temperament, the severity of their discomfort, and your own confidence carrying out the expression.
The external method is less intrusive and easier to do than the internal method. If you use the external method, you don’t have to put your finger in your dog’s anus. However, on the downside, external expression requires a lot of pressure and can cause bruising to your dog’s skin. Multiple attempts may be needed to release all the fluid from the glands, and it can be unclear if the glands are completely empty or not. In addition, some older and overweight dogs’ anal glands recede deeper into their anus, making external expression impossible.
To express anal glands externally, you’ll need your dog to stand on all fours in front of you. To prepare, you need latex gloves and tissue. It also helps to have a helper to gently restrain your dog if they get nervous. Place your index finger and thumb on either side of the anus and slightly below it. If you’re in the right position, you might be able to feel the full anal glands. One or both might be full. Once you’ve found them, squeeze your finger and thumb upwards and inwards. The contents of the anal glands should appear at your dog’s anus.
The internal method requires you to insert your finger into your dog’s anus. This method is more intrusive and can be uncomfortable, especially if your pet has any other conditions that might cause pain around the anus. However, this method is highly effective. For starters, it’s quicker to carry out, which may mean more cooperation from your dog. You’ll also be able to feel the glands empty as you apply pressure.
Similarly to the external method, you’ll need latex gloves and tissue for the internal expression method. In addition, you will need to lubricate your finger before expressing the anal glands. To begin, lift up your dog’s tail with one hand, and use the other to insert your index finger about one inch into your dog’s anus. Place your thumb on the outside of the anus and bring your thumb and index finger together. You should be able to feel the anal glands at the 4 or 5 o’clock position, and the other at the 7 or 8 o’clock position. A full anal gland will feel like a pea or plum-sized protrusion. Once you’ve found the glands, apply a light amount of pressure to them until you can barely feel the glands.
Expressing Your Dog's Anal Sacs at Home vs At the Vet
Expressing your dog’s anal glands is a procedure that can be safely done at home. However, it’s important to be prepared so that you cause the least amount of discomfort to your beloved pet. If you are unsure of how to express your dog’s anal glands or lack the confidence to try it on your own, it’s reasonable to ask your vet or even an experienced dog groomer to show you how it’s done.
It’s important to be sure that your dog’s anal glands are just full before expressing them, and not infected or damaged. Never attempt to empty infected anal glands by yourself. It’s very difficult to empty infected glands due to the pain and inflammation involved, and it must be done carefully so as to not rupture them. If the anal glands are infected they become swollen and distended. It becomes painful for your dog to go to the toilet. If the infection isn’t caught early, it can quickly lead to anal gland abscesses. The abscesses appear as hot, painful swellings on either side of your dog’s anus. A burst abscess releases bloody or greenish-yellow pus, which drains from the rectum.
Expressing a Dog's Anal Glands – FAQs
Have any more questions or concerns about expressing a dog’s anal glands? Our Frequently Asked Questions should address your worries. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.
If impacted anal glands aren’t expressed, they can quickly become infected. This is because anal sac fluid is an ideal medium for bacterial growth. Bacteria in feces travel into the gland ducts and can enter the anal glands easily, but due to the impaction, it doesn’t leave once inside. In response, your dog’s immune system sends infection-fighting white blood cells to the anal glands to attack the bacteria. In the process, nearby tissue can die, leaving a hole behind. This hole becomes filled with pus and blood, forming an abscess.
Abscesses are defensive reactions of the tissue to prevent infection spreading to other parts of the body. While this may sound useful, abscesses can come with major complications. These include spreading of the abscess to remote tissues and gangrene. In addition, internal abscesses rarely heal by themselves and veterinary attention must be sought to treat the problem.
Your dog will show physical signs when her anal glands need expressing. The most noticeable signs include scooting their bottom on the floor, licking their hindquarters, and biting their tail. If allowed to progress, anal gland impaction can lead to hair loss around the anal region as well as bleeding and soreness. Your dog might also give off a foul odor from their anal region.
It’s important to note that these symptoms can resemble other problems in dogs. Other reasons why your dog might show these symptoms include intestinal parasites, fleas, diarrhea, and atopic dermatitis.
The number of times your dog needs to have their anal glands expressed depends on the individual. Some dogs never have an issue with their anal glands and are able to express them naturally.
Conversely, other dogs need their anal glands to be expressed a couple of times each year. Dogs who need manual expression more than once a month may need antibiotics, probiotics, or a change of diet to help prevent anal gland problems.
Under normal circumstances, feces apply enough pressure to the anal glands when your dog goes to the toilet. When your dog defecates, the anal gland secretions are expelled along with their poop. The fluid is only secreted in small amounts, so it’s often not noticeable in your dog’s stool.
While some dogs may be able to express their glands naturally, this doesn’t mean that impacted glands will just drain themselves. If your dog’s anal glands are impacted no amount of defecation will help to release the trapped fluid. This is where the manual expression comes in. You will need to express your dog’s glands either externally or internally. If you’re unsure or don’t feel confident enough to do this at home, a vet will be able to express them in the clinic.
Any dog breed can get anal gland impaction. However, smaller breeds seem to be the most commonly affected. Among these breeds are Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos, Toy Poodles, and Bassett Hounds. This could be due to them having narrower ducts which can affect the flow of anal sac fluids.
Conversely, larger breeds are the least affected. This does not mean that large breeds are completely unaffected by anal sac impaction, however, and owners of large dogs should be sure to monitor their pooch for signs of discomfort. Larger breeds are less often affected due to having wider gland ducts.
Expressing a dog’s anal glands is a necessary part of keeping some dogs happy and healthy. If your dog frequently scoots their bottom on the floor or licks and chews at their hindquarters, anal sacculitis could be to blame.