Saturday, September 15, 2012

Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Anal Glands

by Dr. Greg Magnusson, DVM

Anal glands are gross, but every dog has ‘em.

Today, we’re going to get all up in your dog’s business. I’m sorry, but it’s gotta be done.

So, dogs and cats have scent glands on either side of the anus, the same ones that skunks use to spray nasty-smelling stuff on predators, just slightly (and only slightly) less gross.

Here is a picture of where they’re located
(the red circles indicate approximate location)

These glands produce foul-smelling brownish-yellowish fishy-smelling grossness that gets squeezed out every time your dog strains to poop. We think it’s a marking mechanism, perhaps a way dogs and cats identify themselves to each other.

Each anal gland has a tiny little duct that empties it at the anal opening. 

These ducts can become obstructed, leaving the gland unable to empty itself, causing discomfort. Your dog may then plant her butt on the ground and “scoot” across the floor in an attempt to relieve the obstruction.

Contrary to popular belief, if you smell your dog’s fishy-smelling nasty on the couch, they may NOT need to see the vet. If the anal glands have emptied themselves on your furniture, believe it or not, that’s a problem solved.

Any time the anal glands CAN’T empty themselves, is when you should call the vet. 

If Fido is scooting and/or licking and/or scratching and/or suddenly turning around and looking at her butt all the time, to the vet she goes!

If the anal glands become clogged and impacted full of thick goo, your veterinarian can slip on a rubber glove and stick a finger up their butt to squeeze out the anal glands. Some dogs need to have this done monthly, some need it done never. Some groomers will do a “from the outside” version of emptying the anal glands as part of their routine groom, but this is not an appropriate treatment for problem glands, only good for maintenance.

Anal Gland Impaction

If the glands stay impacted for a long time, they can become infected and abscess out the back the end. This dog’s abscessed anal gland is about to rupture.

Anal Gland Abscess

When the abscess ruptures, it can look like this:

Ouchy! To the vet you go!

Scooting means anal glands might need veterinary attention.

Reprinted with permission from Leo's Pet Care, 10598 N College Ave # 200, Indianapolis, IN 46280 | |

Greg Magnusson, DVM describes himself as Leo's daddy. Public educator, mender of wounded bodies, healer of troubled souls, veterinarian in Indianapolis at Leo's Pet Care - out to change the world for one little boy...
Contact Dr. Magnusson via his Leo's Pet Care Facebook Fan Page or @IndianapolisVet on twitter.

Articles by Dr. Magnusson:
What's In The Blood? Blood Testing And Interpretation 

Related articles:
The Always-At-Hand Diagnostic Tool: Whoa, Girl Dogs Have Anal Glands Too! 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Odor


  1. A topic close to my heart.

    Georgia gets squeezed once a week. No warning scoot even, before she leaks. The vet taught my hubby how to do it since she needs such regular maintenance. Woe betide if we're late! I've never heard or read of another dog (especially a big dog) that needs to be squeezed that frequently :(

    1. Sorry about Georgia, that is no fun.

      You know, what is interesting, that according to my course, problematic anal sacs are directly related to suboptimally functioning liver. Not a liver disease, liver that is under-performing/not keeping up.

      Curious whether Georgia is having any other of the following symptoms:

      increased shedding
      food sensitivities
      ocular discharge
      red eyes or ears
      swollen puffy eyes
      itching or squinting eyes
      rubs at ears or face
      licks or chews at feet or anus
      crusty lip sores
      red tummy
      general itchiness
      sporadic vomit/diarrhea

  2. My golden retriever 's anul glands fill up frequently. How can I empty them mysel save going to vet? he is nearly 10 but very fit except for this.

    1. Linda, your vet could teach you how to do this. However, I'd ask myself a question of WHY they're getting filled up frequently. It is the WHY that is a way to a solution.

      How are the stools? (consistency) What food do you give? How is the liver functioning? (my nutrition course states that there is a direct connection between liver function and anal glands)