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Dog Glands:  Your Dog's Anal Sacs

Dog Glands? Anal Sacs? Anal Glands? What are these tiny dog glands and what do I need to know about them?

Have you ever seen your tiny dog trying to lick or scratch his butt? Or perhaps you’ve seen your cute little dog dragging his butt, or scooting around the floor on her bottom? It’s probably because her glands need to be emptied.  

The Low-Down on Dog Glands

Often referred to as scent glands in animals, the purpose of these little sacs is to allow a dog to mark his own territory and identify other dogs by their odor. 

Remember that the sense of smell is the most developed sense in the canine. Most mammals have these glands. 

Skunks, for example, use the contents of their anal glands to scare away predators (and people if they get too close). 

Ever heard of an opossum "playing possum"?  This is when they lie very still, trying to appear dead.  As they do this, the anal glands secrete foul smelling liquid scaring away predators. 

Sometimes stressed dogs will express these glands involuntarily creating a most disgusting smell. Normally, the contents of the sacs are trickle out when the dog has a bowel movement. 

If the dog has soft stools or long bouts of diarrhea, the stool is not hard enough to exert pressure on the glands and then they begin to fill up. Full anal glands are uncomfortable to dogs and this is when you might see the scooting behavior.

Location & Description of Dog Glands

These tiny dog glands are located on either side of the dog’s anus at about the 4 and 8 o’clock location if you are looking directly towards the back end of the dog. These glands fill up with a liquid that looks like dark yellow, tan colored oil.   

If nothing is done, the liquid turns to a dark brown thicker paste, making it very difficult to express. When it gets to this stage it is considered to be impacted and if blood or pus is present, it is also likely infected and could rupture.

If your dog is scooting, it probably means that the glands or anal sacs are impacted. If this happens, it is time to take your dog to the vet. Your dog may need to be given a sedative and a catheter will be placed into the duct of the gland.

The vet will inject water or a saline solution into the glands until the secretion is removed. Most veterinarians will then give your dog an antibiotic ointment to prevent a bacterial infection or oral antibiotics if the dog is too sensitive to be touched.  

This may need to be repeated daily. Oral antibiotics are often prescribed or the dog is given an antibiotic injection.  If this is beginning to sound expensive, it can be so therefore, take care to prevent this from happening by expressing these glands regularly.

D.I.Y. Expressing Dog Glands

You can prevent anal glands from becoming impacted by making it a habit of expressing them when you bathe your dog. This might not be the most pleasant of the grooming tasks, but it is very necessary.

If you are squeamish, or if the strong odor upsets you, it’s best to let your groomer or veterinarian do it for you. As a word of caution, the odor can be very strong and it can get messy.  The best place to express your dog's anal glands is in the bath. This way you have running water to wash away any fluids immediately.

You can also use a soft paper towel or tissue, moistened with a scented lotion if you are not planning to bathe the dog.

How To...

Dog Glands, Anal Glands, Anal Sacs
  • After your dog is bathed, work on his anal glands.  (I like to do it in that order because most dogs don't like this part of the bath and it's best done when you are almost finished.)
  • Have someone help hold your dog’s head, if he's a bit squeamish.
  • The use of gloves is a personal preference.  If you have cuts on your hands, I highly recommend you use gloves.
  • Lift his tail
  • Place your thumb and forefinger just below his anal opening, at the four and eight o’clock position.  Feel for the small round sacs.
  • If there is liquid in the sacs you should be able to feel the sac and know that it is time to express them. 
  • Squeeze gently inward and upward.  The yellow-brown liquid should be released.  Keep your head away as the liquid often comes out fast.
  •  Rinse any remaining substance off the dog and down the drain.
  • Apply a little shampoo and wash thoroughly. 
  • Rinse

Fluid will quirt quickly almost like projectile vomiting, or slowly ooze out if it is very thick.

Keep your face away as the liquid will have a foul odor

What if I can't express any liquid?

This can happen for three reasons.

  1. You are in the wrong place.
  2. There is no liquid to express.
  3. The liquid has thickened and the glands are impacted.

First check your location.  The glands are just slightly lower than the anal opening one either side at about four and eight o'clock.

Second, if you do not feel any swollen sacs, the chances are they are not full and you should be fine.  But...

If you feel the sacs but can not seem to express any liquid, AND, your dog is scooting or licking at himself, it's time to call the vet.

If you see blood or pus or a little sore that appears to be an abscess, do not touch the glands, but call your vet. 

Most dogs won’t find this the most pleasant experience, but it does not hurt them. You should probably do this at least once every couple of months or ask the groomer to do it during a regular grooming visit.

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