If you’ve seen your dog racing along your rug on their rear end, or caught a whiff of an incredibly foul, fishy odor, you’re likely already acquainted with anal glands in pets. While these two small sacs smell unpleasant to you, they can cause your pet a great deal of discomfort, and may indicate an underlying systemic health issue. Let’s glove up and dive into the mysteries of your pet’s anal glands, and why those smelly sacs exist.

What are anal glands in pets?

Anal glands are found on both sides of a pet’s anus, roughly at the five and seven o’clock positions. This pair of small glands is filled with foul-smelling, oily fluid that should be naturally expressed during defecation. While the exact purpose of anal glands remains under debate, it’s thought that the fluid lubricates a pet’s stool, and serves as a scent marker. The fluid, which contains pheromones, also reveals such information as territory boundaries, and the health, sex, and approximate age of the pet. So, while these stinky sacs may be an inconvenience to pet owners, they likely have a useful purpose for cats and dogs. 

What are signs of anal gland problems in pets?

Anal glands should naturally empty when a pet defecates, but they occasionally become impacted or clogged. The fluid can thicken as it builds up inside the sac, and become more difficult to express, potentially leading to an infection or abscess without prompt resolution. If your furry pal is experiencing anal gland issues, you may notice the following problems:

  • Scooting along the ground — Scooting is the most common complaint we hear about anal gland issues. A pet will typically drag their hind end along the ground in an attempt to relieve the pressure created by impacted anal glands.
  • Chewing or licking at the hind end — Pets will generally lick or chew at a painful area, whether it’s a joint, bony prominence, or impacted anal gland. If your pet is licking at their hind end more frequently than standard hygiene warrants, they may be experiencing anal gland problems.
  • Foul odor — Pets may occasionally express their anal glands outside of defecation, such as when they’re scared. However, if you notice a particularly foul odor coming from your pet’s rear end, despite a bath, they may have developed an anal gland abscess.
  • Redness and swelling — You will not notice healthy anal glands when looking at your pet’s hind end, but if they become impacted, you can spot swelling and redness, especially if your furry pal is scooting, licking, or chewing.
  • Drainage and anal gland abscesses — If your four-legged friend is leaving smelly droplets on your furniture, they are likely from an abscessed anal gland, which requires immediate attention.

Impacted anal glands can rupture without prompt treatment, and cause a great deal of pain for your best friend. At the first sign of scooting, licking, or chewing, call us to schedule an appointment. 

What causes anal gland problems in pets?

Pets routinely run into anal gland problems for a variety of reasons, most stemming from inflammation. The common causes of anal gland issues include:

  • Allergies — Since pets’ allergies generally manifest in their skin, allergic inflammation—whether caused by the environment, fleas, or food—can create swollen anal gland ducts, leading to impaction.
  • Breed — Small dog breeds are more likely to develop anal gland issues compared with larger breeds, with Chihuahuas, dachshunds, and poodles topping the list as most susceptible.
  • Age — Older pets are more prone to anal gland issues.
  • Defecation issues — Soft stool from diarrhea may not exert enough pressure to empty the anal glands, while the lack of stool from constipation also prevents anal gland emptying.
  • Skin infections — Skin infections are typically inflamed to some degree, which can obstruct the anal gland ducts.

Although we can regularly express your pet’s glands, diagnosing the underlying cause of anal gland issues can help offer them permanent relief. For example, with allergy testing, we can find your pet’s inflammatory triggers responsible for anal gland obstruction.

How are anal gland problems in pets treated?

Treatment of anal gland issues depends on the severity, and the underlying cause. Impacted anal gland treatment entails emptying the glands with gentle manual expression. If infection is present or the fluid has become too thick to easily express, flushing the gland may be necessary, along with completing an antibiotic prescription before returning for another expression. Inflammation and swelling may also warrant steroids, to reduce the inflammation, and allow natural expression. Depending on the cause of impaction, allergy treatment, diet change, or an exercise regimen for weight loss may be necessary to prevent reoccurrence. 

Is your furry pal scooting along your carpet, or rubbing their hind end on any kind of surface? They may have an anal gland issue, despite not having a previous problem. Call us to schedule an appointment to get to the “bottom” of your pet’s scooting.