Often we get phone calls from people whose dogs are scooting their butts across the carpet. This problem behavior is often caused by anal gland problems, in particular impacted anal glands and anal gland infections or even abscesses. Other signs of irritations around the anal area are chewing or licking under the tail, and sometimes staining of carpet or furniture with anal contents.
It’s not a pleasant issue to deal with. We’re here to help! First, a little more background information.
What are anal glands?
Anal glands, also called anal sacs, are a pair of small scent glands situated on either side of your dog’s (or cat’s) anus, just under the skin, between the internal and external sphincter muscles. They produce a very fishy smelling substance, which gets excreted via a little duct opening out on the edge of the anal mucosa.
When a dog defecates, a little bit of this smelly substance is excreted onto the faeces as well, this serves as a way of communicating between dogs. That’s why your dog is so interested in sniffing other dog’s feces and bottom when they meet.
These glands can also empty when the dog suddenly contracts the anal sphincter, for example, when they’re afraid or upset. We even have had people mention smelling an awful fishy smell after the dog rolled over while asleep on the couch and accidentally fell off!
What are the main anal gland problems we see?
The main anal gland problems we see at our vet clinic are anal gland impaction, infections and abscesses.
Anal gland impaction occurs when the anal sacs don’t empty properly, and become overfilled. This can be very itchy and irritating and the anal glands need to be expressed manually. These impactions are painful, and the anal gland material may include pus or blood. This condition needs to be treated by a vet.
An anal gland abscess will present as a red swollen area near the anal area on the left or right side. It can burst and owners can find a bloody smelly discharge where their pet is sitting. This condition requires veterinary care as well.
Less common problems in this area are perianal fistulas (open painful sores), perianal adenomas, and other growths around the anal area. Worms, especially tapeworms, can also cause an “itchy bottom”.
If you notice any unusual problems around the anal area of your pets, please contact your vet as soon as possible!
What can be the cause of anal gland problems?
It is still not fully understood why some dogs never have problems with their anal glands and other dogs need regular care. But a few possible causes will be discussed here.
- Problems with defecation: During defecation the pressure of the faeces massages the anal glands to help express them. The contraction of the anal muscles further helps to empty the glands. If the stool is smaller, softer or even diarrhoea, the pressure is not enough to empty the anal glands, and they can become impacted or even infected.
- Allergies: many dogs in this area suffer from allergies and often the symptoms involve itchy and inflamed skin. If this includes the area around the anus it may even cause swelling around the anal gland opening/duct area which can trap the contents of the anal glands. This can exacerbate the itchy feeling around the anus and cause scooting or licking/chewing under the tail.
- Anatomy: Anal gland problems seem to occur more often in smaller breeds. Breeding may contribute to a less ideal anatomical positioning of the anal glands, causing more difficulty in emptying them, and resulting in impaction or even infection and abscesses.
- Obesity can influence the anatomy of the anal glands, making them more internally placed and more difficult to empty. It can also influence the muscle strength so there are less forceful contraction during defecation, again reducing the ability to empty the anal glands.
What treatment options are there?
Anal gland impactions can sometimes be resolved at home, by expressing the anal glands yourself. This is best done with 2 people, as most dogs don’t like it much. You can also get your vet to do this for you. Usually if there are no complications, you’ll just need a short appointment for it.
If you would like to try to express the anal glands at home, first wear gloves. Then, lift the tail and cover the anus with either paper towels or cotton wool to catch the contents. Position your thumb and forefinger at 5 and 7 o’clock near the anus, push in and massage the fingers towards the anal opening to empty the anal glands. If you can’t empty them enough, or if it is very painful or swollen, or if pus or blood is seen, it is wise to seek veterinary attention.
Infected anal glands may need antibiotics and maybe pain relief, and anal gland abscesses may need lancing and draining. Some dogs may need recurring treatments to avoid complications.
In general, depending on the underlying causes of the anal gland problem, dogs may benefit from fibre added to the food (for example pumpkin or Metamucil) to create bulkier faeces, weight control, and control of underlying allergies. Speak to your vet about the need for anti-inflammatory medication, or routine emptying of anal glands before impaction causes problems.
If your pet is having problems, please don’t hesitate to contact Cronulla Vet today!