If your dog is showing signs of an itchy butt and you are wondering what is wrong with your dog’s rear end, the answer is simple – it has anal gland issues. 

According to a study, anal sac disease (ASD) is a widespread problem affecting 4.4% of dogs with certain breeds and age categories being at higher risk. Despite the non-life-threatening nature, managing ASD requires antibiotics in 20% of cases and pain relievers in 12%. 

In this article, we will talk about the most common butt-related problem in dogs – anal sac disease. We will briefly cover the anatomy and physiology of anal glands and then go through the causes, clinical manifestation, treatment, and prevention of ASD. 

How Does a Dog’s Anal Sac Function?

How Does a Dog's Anal Sac Function

The dog’s anal glands or are small grape-sized sacs located between the internal and external anal sphincter muscles and connected with the anus via small ducts. In simpler terms, they are located on either side of the anus at 4 and 8 o’clock positions.  

The role of the anal glands is to produce a scented fluid for territory marking (wild animals can voluntarily express their anal sacs when necessary). The anal gland secretions are the reason dogs sniff each other’s butts. 

Normally, the content of the anal sacs should be expressed when the dog poops. If the anal sac fluid accumulates instead of being expelled, it causes inflammation and infection of the local tissues. The next stage of anal gland disease includes anal sac abscess. Under pressure, the abscess will rupture, thus complicating the problem. 

Signs and Symptoms of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

If your see your dog scoot, there is an underlying condition beneath the behavior. Namely, scooting is the telltale sign of anal gland problems. 

In case you are wondering what does scooting looks like, imagine the following scenario – the dog drags its bottom along the ground (usually carpets or other hard-to-clean surfaces) with the hind legs pushed in the front and often leaving a stain and scent trail behind. 

In addition to scooting, other signs and symptoms linked with anal sac issues include: 

  • Excessive licking and chewing of the rear end area and the tail 
  • Distinct foul smell (often described as a mix of dog poop and rotten fish) 
  • Inability to pass stool, painful defecating and pronounced straining 
  • Greasy, smelly, tan to brown drops on the floor 
  • General discomfort, restlessness, and moodiness 
  • Aggression (growling, biting) when touching the rear end, tail, and legs 

Interestingly, most dogs with anal gland issues experience diarrhea and other GI tract issues just before the anal sacs problem. 

Causes of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

Causes of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

Anal gland problems occur when the poop is not strong enough to express the sacs or when the sacs are anatomically abnormal and incapable of emptying. 

In the first case, when the poop is not strong enough, underlying issues include all diarrhea causes – eating low-quality foods and leftovers, frequent dietary indiscretions, inflammatory bowel disease, and food allergies (including atopic dermatitis). Simply put, any health issue triggering diarrhea can eventually cause anal sac issues. 

In the second case, when the anal sacs have anatomical abnormalities, there are two options – either the sacs are abnormally positioned (too far or too low), or they have narrow ducts. 

Anal gland issues are more common among small breed dogs, especially Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih-Tzus, Bichon Frises, Cocker Spaniels, and Cockapoos. Interestingly, obese and brachycephalic dogs are also at higher risk of developing anal sac disease. 

Treatment of Anal Glands Disease in Dogs

The anal gland treatment for dogs varies among individuals and underlying issues (infection, rupture, abscess). However, these are the treatment basics. 

Expressing the Dog’s Anal Sacs. Treatment can include emptying your dog’s sacs through anal gland expression. The process is tricky and stinky, but if necessary, the vet will explain how it is done so you can repeat it at home. 

Lavaging the Dog’s Anal Glands. After removing the infected anal gland secretions, the veterinarian will perform a lavage. The goal of the lavage is to eliminate possible remnants and disinfect the sac, thus preventing re-infections. This is painful and usually requires sedation. 

Prescribing Oral Medications for Your Dog. Once the anal glands are empty and clean, the vet will prescribe medications – usually antibiotics and pain killers, depending on the severity of the case. 

Surgical Removal of the Dog’s Anal Sacs. The anal gland removal surgery is a delicate procedure and is recommended only as a last resort. The veterinarian will consider this radical method when management and prevention are impossible and in cases of anal gland tumors. 

What You Can do At-Home for Dog Anal Gland Disease

Dealing with dog anal glands is a messy and stinky job that most pet owners prefer leaving to professionals. However, depending on the exact anal sac disease, sometimes the vet might give homework or, in other words, instruct the owner to empty the glands

We are not going to lie, expressing your dog’s anal glands is a yucky job – but it has to be done. Here is the rundown on how to express the anal glands: 

  • Wear thick latex gloves and old clothes as the fluid is extremely stinky 
  • Fold several paper towels together to absorb the fluid
  • Lift your dog’s tail and place the towels over their anus 
  • Remember the anal gland anatomy and try to visualize their location 
  • Use your thumb and index finger to squeeze the anal glands 
  • If it has worked, there will be brownish liquid or paste on the paper 
  • Put the paper towels in a plastic disposing bag (throw them in the outside garbage) 
  • Wipe your dog’s butt (pet-friendly wipes) and then rinse with water and mild antibacterial soap

We should note that many groomers include anal sac emptying as a regular service. Please, do not accept such services – not all dogs need to have their anal glands manually expressed, and frequent emptying may lead to infections.

When to Seek Veterinary Help for Dog Anal Gland Disease?

You should seek veterinary help as soon as you notice the telltale signs of anal gland disease. If your dog scoots, call the vet – the tissues around the anus are fragile and can get damaged.

As mentioned, you can empty the glands at home to provide relief but only when instructed to do so by the veterinarian. Plus, simple mechanical emptying is not always enough. 

More often than not, getting to the bottom of anal gland problems requires anal sac lavages and prescription medications like antibiotics and pain relievers

How to Prevent Anal Gland Problems in Dogs?

Small changes to the dog’s diet and exercise regimen can go a long way to prevent anal gland problems. 

Adding Pumpkin to the Dog’s Diet. One of the best fiber-rich human foods that are safe for dogs is the old-fashioned pumpkin. Mixing a few spoonfuls of pumpkin into your dog’s food will introduce the necessary fiber and absorb moisture, thus preventing diarrhea. Just make sure you are using xylitol-free canned pumpkin puree (xylitol is highly toxic to pets). 

Anal Gland Supplements for Dogs. Despite the fancy name, anal gland supplements are made of simple ingredients – natural anti-inflammatory properties (quercetin, bromelain), probiotics, fibre-rich foods (apple pectin, pumpkin seeds), and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil, flaxseed oil). Plus, the anal gland supplements feature dog-friendly flavors and are easy to give.  

Probiotics and Prebiotics for Dogs. Probiotics (good bacteria) and prebiotics (dietary fiber) are critical for digestive health and prevent anal gland issues. Although there are natural sources, most dogs need an additional boost. We highly recommend the Honest Paws Pre + Probiotic Supplement as it contains the right bacteria and fiber and in the right amounts. 

Honest Paws Pre+ Probiotics
  • Honest Paws Pre+ Probiotics- Supports healthy digestion
  • Helps maintain proper gut flora
  • Increases immunity and increases long-term health

Fish Oil Supplements for Dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids are efficient in preventing inflammatory processes – a feature that can be used to prevent anal gland infections and problems. An EPA and DHA-rich fish oil can also be used for the treatment of anal sac disease. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish oil made of cold-water, naturally-caught fish (salmon, mackerel). 

Keep Your Dog Active and Moving. Based on anecdotal reports, there is a connection between anal sac problems and insufficient exercise. Although there is no strong evidence confirming this link, we know that physical activity supports regular bowel movements. Plus, being active prevents obesity (which is a known risk factor for anal sac disease). 

Finally, if you have done everything to prevent anal gland issues, and they are still present, talk with the vet about having them surgically removed. Surgery seems like a radical approach, but it is a long-term solution and definitely worth considering in some cases. 

Our Final Thoughts on Dog Anal Glands

How to Prevent Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

Whether your dog has anal gland problems or not, it is a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about possible prevention and treatment options. Considering the high incidence of anal sac disease in dogs, knowing some “anal glands 101” is part of being a responsible pet owner. 

With that being said, listed below are the takeaway messages from this article:

  1. The anal sacs are not visible on the outside (nor should they be) unless there is an issue
  2. Anal gland problems are more common in brachycephalic and small breed dogs 
  3. Expressing the anal glands too frequently can do more harm than good 
  4. The telltale sign of anal sac disease is the annoying scooting on the carpet/ground 
  5. The anal sacs produce scent markers, but they are not vital (can be removed if necessary).