For most dogs the anal glands (also known as anal sacs) will empty a small amount of anal gland fluid each time the dog toilets. But sometimes the anal glands do not empty naturally or do not empty enough and this can lead to the glands filling up and becoming uncomfortable, leaking at inconvenient times or even becoming impacted and infected if left untreated.
Why anal glands do not always empty
The dog’s diet may be to blame for anal sacs that do not empty on their own. A large firm stool will usually trigger the anal glands into releasing. A small or soft stool may not activate the anal sacs and if this continues the sacs will continue to fill up.
Signs that anal glands may need emptying
Does your dog drag his bottom along the floor (scoot)? Does he try to scratch or bite at his bottom? Do you sometimes notice a strong fishy smell on your soft furnishings or coming from your dog? Does your dog lick his bottom and then have fishy smelling breath? Has he stopped wagging his tail, does he seem depressed, does he object to his tail being handled or lifted? If yes, it could be that your dog’s anal glands are not emptying on their own.
The dog will try to solve the situation by rubbing his bottom along the ground, licking or biting. He needs your help.
There is a common misconception that a dog will drag his bottom along the floor when he has worms. In reality, it is most likely to be because of full anal sacs. The dog is trying to release the fluid build-up. If the anal sacs are emptied and the dog still scoots even a few days later, then investigate other causes such as worms.
Who should empty them?
If it is an infrequent problem or you do not fancy trying to empty the anal glands yourself, your vet or your local dog groomer can empty your dog’s anal glands. It is a relatively simple 5 minute procedure. Alternatively, you can empty your dog’s anal sacs yourself, with a little patience and know-how. But for the first time it is best to visit your vet just so the vet can check your dog for any underlying problems or infections. Once this is ruled out or treated, the vet will usually agree that in future you can empty your dog’s anal sacs yourself. A good vet will be happy to give you some instructions on how to do this.
Emptying the anal sacs yourself
The key is to relax (you and the dog) and to take it slowly. Do not rush or panic or go at it with too much vigour. Be gentle. Be patient. Let’s begin.
To help you successfully empty the anal glands you need to be aware of where they are and where they drain from. The image shows where the anal glands are situated and where the openings are.
You will need a latex glove (a household rubber glove is alright to use but they are less sensitive for you to be able to feel through), some kitchen roll and preferably another person to help. Stand your dog on a safe, easy to clean surface. Have the other person gently hold your dog still in a standing position so your dog doesn’t walk off or sit down. But try not to frighten or panic your dog. Ensure they are relaxed. This makes the dog less likely to squirm or clench their bottom.
You must be as level with the dog’s bottom as you can and try to be a comfortable position yourself. Do not sit or crouch in a way that is going to have you jumping up after a few minutes.
Emptying a dog’s anal glands is easy once you get used to it but, especially to begin with, it can take time and patience. If you don’t succeed the first time, take a break and come back to it another day.
The external method is as follows. With your ungloved hand gently hold your dog’s tail up and out of the way. With your gloved hand, gently place two fingers (thumb and forefinger) either side of and slightly below your dog’s bottom (see second image).
Full anal glands will feel like two large peas. Sometimes only one sac will be full rather than both. This can indicate that the glands were generally emptying alright on their own but for some reason one has become impacted and maybe also infected. A course of antibiotics and some pain relief may be required. Seek advice from your vet.
Now that you can feel the anal glands, gently milk the glands in a slightly upward motion. Review the first image again so you can see exactly where the anal glands open. That is the direction to milk the sacs. Do not continually squeeze or apply too much pressure. The key here is to gently milk. Watch the dog’s bottom and if nothing comes out, adjust your fingers slightly and adjust the angle of the ‘milking’ and try again. Be patient and keep trying a few times until you see a drip of fluid escape. You can now keep your fingers in that position and continue to milk the glands in and up until they are emptied. You will know when you are finished because the sacs will feel deflated and the fluid will stop coming out.
The anal gland fluid usually smells potently of fish and can be anything from a clear or white smooth consistency to more of a brown grainy substance. Gently wipe your dog’s bottom to remove any dribbled fluids and give him a nice treat.
However, if after a few tries you are unsuccessful, stop and try again another day. Repeated milking of the glands can cause pain and bruising. This can make the problem even worse. If you still do not have success please ask your vet for advice.
Another method of expressing a dog’s anal glands, often used by vets, is to insert one lubricated gloved finger gently into your dog’s bottom to feel the sacs and empty them one at a time. This is the internal method. I find it more intrusive for the dog and trickier to do so I always use the external method.
Schedule in your diary a reminder to check your dog’s anal glands regularly (say once a month) and empty them whenever they feel full.
Removal of anal glands
This operation can be performed in certain circumstances but due to complications it is not recommended as a general solution. Faecal incontinence is a recognised side effect of anal gland surgery.
As mentioned above, check your dog’s stools for size and firmness and adjust their diet to a high residue (cereal based) diet if the stools are too small or soft. You could try adding bran to firm up the stools and bulk them out. A couple of teaspoons a day for a medium sized dog should suffice. Reduce your dog’s weight if he is overweight. These solutions aim to aid natural anal gland emptying.