By Dr. Becker
If you’re a dog parent, you’re probably aware that your pet came equipped with a couple of lovely little body parts known as anal glands. You might also be aware that anal glands in dogs are often problematic.
The anal glands, or sacs, are small and oval-shaped, and sit just inside your dog’s rectum on either side of the anus. They reside in the muscle of the anal sphincter and aren’t easily visible. The glands produce a smelly, oily substance that collects in tiny ducts. This fluid probably serves as a territorial marker, relaying biochemical information to other dogs.
When your dog poops, if the stool is of normal consistency, the fluid-filled ducts in the anal glands will empty with the pressure of the feces as it passes through the rectum and anus. This is how nature designed things to work, but modern day pets often have loose stools or irregular bowel movements that don’t press against the anal glands during evacuation.
Other contributors to anal gland problems can include obesity where there is insufficient muscle tone and excess fatty tissue, certain skin disorders, and infections. But in my experience, there are three main causes of anal gland problems: diet, trauma to the glands, and the position of the glands.
How Your Pet's Diet Can Contribute to Anal Gland Problems
The grains in commercial pet food are allergenic and inflammatory. If your dog is experiencing recurrent anal gland issues, the first thing you should do is eliminate all grains from her diet. Stop feeding any food that contains corn, potato, oatmeal, wheat, rice or soy.
I also recommend you switch to a novel protein for your dog. If, for example, he’s been eating only beef and chicken, make a transition to bison or rabbit. A constant diet of just one or two types of protein can trigger an allergic inflammatory response. Unaddressed food allergies are a quite common cause of chronic anal sac issues.
If your dog’s poop is frequently unformed, soft or watery, his anal sacs aren’t getting the firm pressure they need to empty. Feeding your pet a balanced, species-appropriate diet will address both food allergies and poor stool consistency. Many health concerns – including chronic anal sac problems -- resolve naturally over time once an animal is eating a biologically appropriate diet. Adding probiotics and digestive enzymes to your pet’s diet can also assist in creating consistently firm stools.
How Injuries Can Occur to Your Pet's Anal Glands
Many injuries to an animal’s anal sacs are caused by well-meaning but misguided groomers, veterinarians, and pet owners.
Many groomers are in the habit of expressing the anal glands of every dog they groom, as a part of “included services,” along with cleaning ears and trimming nails. Routine expression of healthy anal glands is simply unnecessary, so if you take your pet to a groomer, make sure he or she isn’t performing this “service” on your dog, which will weaken well-functioning, self sufficient gland musculature over time.
Many veterinarians, unfortunately, immediately express an animal’s anal glands if the owner mentions the dog “scoots” occasionally. This approach doesn’t identify or resolve the cause of the problem, only the symptom.
And believe it or not, many dog guardians decide it’s in their pet’s best interest to express their anal sacs on a regular basis. Again, just as manually draining other glands in your pet’s body is unnecessary, expressing healthy anal glands can stir up problems. If a dog is having recurrent or chronic anal sac issues, it’s important to identify the root cause.
The anal sacs are delicate little organs that can be easily injured with unnecessary squeezing and pinching. Trauma to the glands causes inflammation, which in turn causes swelling. Swollen glands can obstruct the exit duct through which the fluid is expressed. If blocked secretions build up and thicken in the glands, it can lead to impaction.
Routine manual expression will reduce the ability of the anal glands to work on their own. The condition of the glands becomes compromised, and ultimately they become completely ineffective.
Poorly Positioned Anal Glands
For some reason, certain dogs have anal sacs that are located very deep inside their rectums. As poop collects in the colon, the pressure should cause the glands to empty. But if a dog’s anal glands aren’t adjacent to where the greatest amount of pressure builds in her large intestine, they won’t express properly.
This is a situation that may require surgery to correct.
Common Anal Gland Conditions
Impaction is the most common problem associated with anal glands. This occurs when the oily substance builds up in the glands and thickens, and isn’t expressed, resulting in enlargement and irritation of the glands.
Anal gland infections are usually bacterial in nature and cause irritation and inflammation. An anal gland abscess is the result of an unaddressed anal gland infection. As the infection progresses, pus accumulates within the anal gland. The abscess will continue to grow in size until it eventually ruptures.
Anal gland tumors, classified as adenocarcinomas, are usually malignant. Occasionally anal gland tumors can result in elevated blood calcium levels, which can result in significant organ damage, including kidney failure.
It's Important to Determine the Cause of Anal Gland Problems
If your pet is having anal gland issues, your veterinarian should work to determine the cause of the problem rather than only treating it symptomatically by manually expressing the glands.
It’s important to try to re-establish the tone and health of malfunctioning glands, using a combination of dietary adjustments, homeopathic remedies, and natural GI anti-inflammatories. Sometimes manually infusing the glands with natural lubricants or herbal preparations can help return them to normal function.
The goal should be to resolve the underlying cause and return your pet’s anal glands to self-sufficiency.