If you’re a dog owner, you’ve more than likely had to deal with the smelly result of a leaking anal sac. You might be in your living room when you suddenly notice the stench. Or, even worse, it could happen when you’re taking your dog in the car for a pleasant ride. You quickly find there’s no escape from the foul odor that comes from dog anal glands.
Here’s some information on why this happens, and some DIY advice for your dog’s stinky anal glands.
What’s an Anal Sac?
A dog’s anal sac is one of the two pouches that are located near the anus, one on each side. The sacs are lined with several modified sweat glands. These glands are the reason your dog emits such a stink when an anal sac leaks.1
What’s really frustrating, however, is that the sacs really serve no purpose from a health perspective. The foul secretion that comes from each anal sac is nothing more than a way for a dog to mark their territory.2 The odor produced by dog anal glands helps distinguish your dog from others.
It lets other dogs know what sex your dog is, and it even lets them know your pooch’s general age. This type of scent marking is sophisticated dog communication system.3
When a dog has a bowel movement, their anal glands naturally empty with their feces. If you’ve ever wondered why dogs are so interested in smelling each other’s poop, that’s why.4
Anal Sac Disease
Unfortunately, dog anal glands can become inflamed, or even impacted. This, in turn, can result in something called anal sac disease.5 When the stinky liquid inside an anal sac thickens, the sacs swell up, making it painful for your dog to have a bowel movement. Abscesses typically form within the sacs as well, causing swelling. These abscesses can burst, leading to a discharge of pus and, sometimes, blood.6
It will be extremely important that you get to a veterinarian as soon as possible if an abscess bursts. The reason is that it could lead to a potentially severe infection that could affect the rectum and anus.7
One of the most common signs of anal sac disease is when a dog scoots their rear on the floor. Your dog might also bite or lick the root of their tail constantly.8
Expressing an Anal Sac
If your dog’s anal sacs aren’t emptying regularly when they have a bowel movement, intervention may be needed.
Most veterinary offices will empty, or “express,” dog anal glands for a small charge. Some dog groomers will also perform the service as part of a regular grooming. But some people prefer saving money and doing this themselves. If this is the case, then you might just need to take matters into your own hands.
If you choose to clear your dog’s sacs on your own, however, you’ll need to brace yourself. This is going to be a putrid, nasty job so be prepared. There’s also a chance that your dog won’t necessarily appreciate this invasion of privacy. They might struggle quite a bit.
Here are the step-by-step directions how to express dog anal glands:
1. Put on some rubber gloves and some old clothes. You might even want to consider putting in some nose plugs.
2. Get someone to hold your dog just in case they decide to fight.
3. Make an absorbent pad to catch the liquid that will come out. You can use some folded paper towels, or a puppy pad.
4. Lift up your dog’s tail and look for the sacs. Think of the anus as the face of a clock. One anal sac will be at the 4 o’clock position in relation to the anus. The other will be at the 8 o’clock position.
5. The sacs will be full if they seem to bulge.
6. Position the paper towels, or the puppy pad, just underneath your dog’s anus. Gently squeeze the sacs toward each other in a slightly upward direction. This will stimulate the release of fluid. Again, remember that this will smell incredibly bad. Use about the amount of pressure you’d use to spray a can of room freshener. Don’t squeeze too hard!
7. Keep applying this gentle pressure until the sacs are no longer full.
8. Wash your dog’s bottom, and immediately discard the paper towels/puppy pad as well as the gloves.9
If you find that your pup won’t cooperate, don’t try to force the situation. Your novice attempts might end up hurting him instead.
Additional Tips from Dr. Marty
These sacs are intended to be on the full side NOT empty. They will refill after getting emptied. I am not in favor or routine expressing especially because I have seen way more anal gland problems in dogs that were having this done routinely. The squeezing process can cause inflammation itself and these lining cells can just become more over productive just from that.
My rule of thumb is: if it’s not a problem, let it be. At the first signs of a problem, it would be much better if your pooch can self-express and have he or she do this outside preferably in a grassy type area. If that’s not working, outside help, as mentioned above is warranted.
If you are attempting to do this on your own and appear to be running into any problem, stop and get an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. They will not only do it correctly —especially after properly assessing the situation— but will teach you how to do it in the future if the need arises.
One of, if not the prime underlying cause of an irritated anal sac, is allergies. And this is where feeding your pup the proper diet is crucial. Some proponents to add to your dog’s diet is fiber to make the stool bulkier, which is easier to expel. I am more in favor of feeding foods that nature intended them to eat: predominantly high-quality meat proteins, organ meats and other natural ingredients that they would eat if in the wild with nothing artificial or synthetic. The sacs won’t inflame if the underlying cause is never introduced.
Dog Anal Glands: In Conclusion
You should only have to do this rather unpleasant task occasionally throughout the year. However, if your dog’s sacs tend to fill up on a regular basis, take them to the vet. If your dog tends to have regular problems with their anal sacs, you might want to consider giving your pooch food that has more fiber. This will help firm the stools and make them larger, helping the sacs empty naturally.10 Again, though, talk to your vet before making any kind of dietary changes.