The classic symptom of an inflammation or infection of anal sacs in dogs is ‘scooting.’
A dog will sit and drag or scoot his rear across the ground (grass and carpet are favorite surfaces) in an effort to alleviate the itching and irritation caused by an inflamed, infected or impacted anal gland.
Scooting can signal another problem like a perianal tumor, parasites or irritation caused by diarrhea, but most often the reason is an anal gland problem.
If your pup is doing the dreaded scoot across the grass or your favorite Oriental rug, take heed. Chances are she’s trying to solve a problem with one or both anal glands.
She may resolve the problem herself if it’s a once in awhile thing, but if she can’t or the problem is recurrent, a trip to the vet is in order.
What are Anal Glands?
Anal glands or sacs sit just inside the rectum of dogs and cats (and other animals), one on either side of the anus at about 8:00 and 4:00 o’clock. The glands secrete a very smelly, oily substance thought to be a territorial marker.
Anal glands are part of the natural design of your dog or cat, and as such, they should do their thing without any assistance from your pet, her groomer, her vet or you. After all, canines and felines in the wild have anal glands and no one around to squeeze them!
A bowel movement of normal consistency should be sufficient to empty the contents of the sacs. But in the case of domesticated dogs and cats, there is often interference caused by stool that is too loose and doesn’t press against the glands during evacuation. This action is necessary to trigger expression of the contents of the sacs.
Overweight pets can have anal gland problems due to insufficient muscle tone and too much fatty tissue.
Certain skin disorders and infections can also affect sac emptying.
In my experience, there are three main reasons anal glands develop problems:
- Gland trauma
- Position of the glands
Cause #1: Diet
Without question, the most common cause of anal gland problems is the food you feed your pet.
Since your dog’s or cat’s anal sacs are at the very end of his digestive tract, anything that irritates or causes inflammation of the GI tract can do the same to the anal glands.
The grains in commercial pet food are known allergens and inflammatory agents. If your pet is having recurrent anal gland issues, the first step you should take is to eliminate all grains from his diet.
Read the labels on the food you’re feeding your pet. Stop feeding any formula that contains corn, potato, oatmeal, wheat, rice or soy.
Also change the protein source. A steady diet of just one or two types of protein can trigger an allergic inflammatory response in many animals. Unaddressed food allergies are a very common reason for chronic anal sac issues.
If your dog, for example, has been eating exclusively beef and chicken, transition him over to bison, venison or fish.
You’ll also need to address stool inconsistencies. If your dog’s stool is frequently soft or watery, his anal sacs may not be getting the firm pressure they need to empty properly.
Feeding your pet a species-appropriate diet will address both food allergies and poor stool consistency. My cookbook, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, contains recipes for both raw and cooked meals plus loads of tips for how to get started providing an optimum diet for your pet.
Many health concerns disappear as if by magic – including chronic anal gland problems — once your pet is eating the type and quality of food nature intended him to eat.
Cause #2: Gland trauma
Trauma to an animal’s anal sacs is usually caused by a well-meaning but misguided vet, groomer or pet owner.
Some groomers express every set of anal glands they encounter as a part of the service they provide. This is overkill, so make sure your pet’s groomer isn’t doing anal sac expression on your animal.
Some vets assume every scoot is cause for manual anal gland expression. This approach treats the symptom but not the cause – so the symptom will quite likely return.
Some pet owners with no aversion to the process decide it’s in their animal’s best interest to express their anal sacs for them. This is also overkill, especially if you don't know what's causing your pet's anal glands not to empty on their own.
Your pet’s anal sacs are delicate little glands. In a healthy pet, they should empty themselves as nature intended without outside ‘help.’
Unnecessary squeezing and pinching can quickly cause trauma to these tender little sacs.
Trauma causes inflammation. Inflammation causes swelling, and swelling can close up the exit duct in the gland that allows the smelly, oily secretion to be expressed during normal bowel activity.
The trapped secretions accumulate and thicken in the injured glands, sometimes leading to impaction.
Routine manual emptying of the glands will ultimately diminish the body’s own ability to do its job. The condition of the glands becomes compromised, and eventually they become completely ineffective.
Cause #3: Position of the anal glands
Some dogs’ anal sacs are situated very deep inside their rectums.
As feces fill the large intestine, the pressure should cause the glands to release their contents onto the stool.
If your dog’s anal glands aren’t located where the greatest amount of pressure builds in her colon, they won’t express properly. Unfortunately, this situation usually requires corrective surgery, which should always be the option of last resort.
Get Help from a Holistic Vet
A holistically-oriented practitioner will determine the cause of your pet’s anal gland problem and work to resolve the situation at its root, rather than symptomatically.
He or she will work with you to try to re-establish the tone and health of the glands, if necessary, using a combination of dietary adjustments, homeopathic remedies and natural GI anti-inflammatories.
The goal should be to fix the underlying cause and bring your pet’s anal glands back to a healthy, self-sufficient condition.