How to Treat Anal Gland Disease in Dogs


There are so many things that your dog does for you, whether it's keeping you warm at night, playing games with you in the park, or just being a loyal companion. And he needs you for many things, too, such as food, water, shelter, and companionship. However, dogs may rely the most on their owners when it comes to health conditions. One common and possibly serious problem that dogs can develop and need human help with is anal gland disease. Anal gland disease is a term that refers to a number of conditions that affect the canine anal glands at various stages of severity. If you own a dog, you should know the warning signs of this condition and how to treat it.

What is an anal gland? 

Anal glands, or anal sacs, are located on either side of your dog's anus. These glands, similarly to skunk anal sacs, are built to release an odor. However, unlike skunks, which release the odor as a defensive mechanism, dogs use their anal glands to mark their feces as their own - it marks their territory with a unique smell. This is one reason why your dog may sniff other dogs' anuses when they interact. The glands are under the skin and release the yellow-brown scented liquid when pressure is applied through the excretion of feces or when the anus is contracted, such as when scared. What is anal gland disease? Healthy anal glands release their fluid regularly. Anal gland problems usually occur when the glands' ducts are impacted, and the fluid can't release. Impactions that are left untreated can lead to infection, which can eventually create abscesses and anal sac ruptures. Each stage of this disease is progressively more painful and makes passing stool difficult. Impaction of the glands can occur for a variety of reasons, including stool being too small or soft to exert the necessary pressure, blockages of the ducts, or weakness of the muscles surrounding the anus. Bacteria thrive in this area and can easily develop infection.

Look out for the warning signs 

The top evidence of anal gland disease in dogs involves your dog paying too much attention to his anus. Scooting or rubbing his behind against the floor or carpet is a common warning sign. Biting, licking, or excessive sensitivity around the anus are also signals your dog has an anal gland issue. Difficulty defecating is another red flag. Keep an eye out for visible redness, swelling, or inflammation. If you suspect an abscess, take your dog to the veterinarian immediately. Blood or pus around or from the anus are indications that the anal gland may have ruptured. Small and obese dogs are particularly susceptible to this condition.

How is anal gland disease treated? 

The earlier the issue is addressed, the better. If your dog has impacted anal glands, you, your veterinarian, or another professional can express or empty your dog's anal glands. This process involves releasing the fluid in the glands manually to prevent buildup and issues that can lead to infections or diseases. Infected anal sacs require a two-pronged approach that uses expression as well as medication to kill the infection and prevent its immediate return. Animax ointment is an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory drug that's used for topical skin infections and anal gland disease. 

Dermalone ointment is another common medication that works to treat a number of infections in dogs, particularly anal gland and skin infections. Some dogs who have repeated infections require anal gland removal surgery. Abscesses need to be treated by a veterinarian who can lance the sac before it ruptures on its own, tearing a hole through your dog's skin. Keep an eye out for the warning signs of anal gland disease to make sure your dog gets the help he needs.

What happens when a dog's glands are full?

If your dog’s anal glands are full, you may notice some unusual signs. You may see your furry friend scooting on the carpet, licking its bottom a lot, and straining to poop. Full glands may also leak out a stinky, pungent smell. Additionally, your pet may leave spots of brownish material in places where it sits, such as your lap, the carpet, or furniture. According to Barri J. Morrison, DVM, a graduate of Ross University School of Vet Medicine, dogs suffering from full anal glands may also show some behavioral issues. These include crying or whimpering, loss of appetite, and becoming withdrawn. There could also be swelling or redness in the anal area. You should not ignore these warning signs and take your pet to a specialist sooner rather than later. You should do it before it experiences major issues like anal gland impactions, infections, or abscesses.

Are full glands painful for dogs?

Healthy anal glands in dogs empty naturally with pooping. However, the glands may overfill and block if this does not happen. The condition is more common than you imagine. Studies show that the incidence of canine non-neoplastic anal sac disease is 15.7%, a significantly high number. Over time, blocked anal sacs may become irritating and painful. If this situation persists, they may even become impacted, infected, and inflamed. Even worse, the gland can abscess and rupture, causing pain to your canine companion. Fortunately, blocked anal glands are simple to treat, and prompt action can save your pet from pain and trouble. The best piece of advice is to schedule a vet visit and seek expert advice. While emptying anal glands resolves the issue, you should not try doing it yourself because this may be painful. Moreover, a vet will recommend medication to heal the infected and inflamed area after expressing the glands. 

Can food cause anal gland issues in dogs?

Anal glands collect and discharge waste from a dog’s body. Therefore, what you feed your pet is important. Poor-quality food with unsuitable ingredients and chemical additives can be harmful. Similarly, feeding more food than your pet requires can cause a problem. Anal sac disease is common in dogs having too hard or too soft bowel movements as they fail to trigger the release of fluid. Although a dog's diet can cause their anal glands to get infected or impacted, this is not the sole reason for the problem. Dr. Dara Johns, DVM and veterinarian at Wynn Haven Animal Hospital notes that smaller breeds, such as the Chihuahua or Shih Tzu, are prone to the condition. Also, obesity and trauma to anal glands are potential causes of inflammation and infection in the area. 

How to relieve dog anal glands?

The best way to help a dog suffering from anal gland disease naturally is by ensuring firm, bulky stools. Expert veterinary specialists recommend a high-fiber diet to kickstart digestion in dogs prone to trouble with their anal glands. You can find several prescription diet options to promote the digestive health of your canine companion. Some dietary supplements are also available to support good digestion. Besides switching to high-fiber foods, promote good hydration to help your pet. Applying a warm compress can reduce the pressure and pain in the affected area. Visit a vet to express the anal glands if they appear inflamed or infected. Some dog parents may try it at home, but you should avoid it unless you are absolutely confident.

Do dogs feel relief after glands are expressed?

Manually expressing your pet dog’s anal glands may be the best solution when they are full and uncomfortable. This has to be done to prevent infection, inflammation and abscesses over time. Expressing anal glands can provide immediate relief from discomfort, but it may not be easy if you try doing it at home. It can be messy and smelly and requires expertise. If you are not confident about the process, consider seeking help from a groomer. You must visit the vet clinic if the problem looks more serious. However, you may try expressing your dog’s anal glands regularly to prevent the problem from building up. With patience and practice, the process appears simple and doable, provided your pet does not have an infection.  Georgia Bence, a veterinary assistant and volunteer at SPCA Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, states that some dogs never need their anal glands expressed, while others may require it every couple of weeks or every month. Watch out for warning signs and help your pet when it needs to be expressed. 

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