Have you ever seen a dog scoot its bottom across the floor? Contrary to the old wives tale, the dog isn’t doing this because they have worms. More than likely it has to do with two small glands located near their rectum. These glands have the very original name of anal glands or anal sacs. These internal glands are approximately at the “4 O’clock” and “8 O’clock” position. All carnivora mammals (such as dogs, cats, opossums, skunks and beavers) have anal glands. These glands are filled with a mixture of a brownish/grey liquid and pheromones used as a territory marker. For dogs and cats, with no issues, they empty out these sacs when they defecate. You usually can’t see the liquid when they defecate. Occasionally, when a dog or cat is scared, they can release their anal glands. If you have ever been around a dog or cat that has expressed their anal glands, you know this foul, fishy smell is like nothing else in the world.
Besides, from scooting their bottoms across the floor, there are a few other actions your pet does to let you know there may be an issue with their anal glands. Here is a list of other actions to indicate anal gland issues: excessively licking at their rectum area, red skin around their anus, intermittently releasing some of the anal glands content at inappropriate times, sitting uncomfortably, having difficulty sitting or standing, or chasing its tail. A cat’s glands may become impacted, causing the cat to defecate outside the litterbox.
There are a few pets that are more prone to having anal gland issues. Pets with chronically soft stools tend to have a higher risk of problems. Many small dogs tend to have more issues expressing their anal glands than the larger guys. Some pets may be born with very narrow anal gland ducts that will not allow them to express the material on their own. Animals with any type of allergies can develop anal gland issues as well.
If your pet cannot express their anal glands on their own and you are noticing they are having some of the above issues, there are a few actions that can be done. The anal glands can be expressed externally or internally. I’m going to spare you the graphic details on the methods of how they are expressed. (If you really want to know, there are instructional videos out there). Due to the smell and the subject matter, a lot of people prefer to have their vet hospital or groomer express their pet’s anal glands.
Pets can develop health issues if the anal glands become blocked or infected. The liquid can become thicker and make it even more difficult to express when they defecate. If you notice blood in or around the feces after your pet defecates (especially bright red blood), you should definitely get your pet seen by a veterinarian. If you notice a lump or protruding mass close to the rectum, you should not wait, your pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian. They can develop a perianal abscess; which is a collection of pus in the tissue around the rectum. If the abscess is left untreated, it can rupture and cause a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal connection that forms between two tissues, organs or vessels that normally do not connect. Think of it as a draining tract that the infection “escapes” from the body of. These are usually very painful and will need medically treated. German Shepherds seem to be more prone to fistulas then other breeds. Dogs (and rarely cats) can also develop anal sac adenocarcinoma. This is a rare invasive cancer that quickly spreads to other parts of the body. So, if you notice anything abnormal about your pet’s backside or their pooping habits have changed or they are constipated, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
There are a few things you can do to help your pet express their anal glands on their own when they defecate. By feeding a diet rich in fiber can help create a firmer feces that will help express the glands when they defecate. Pumpkin and/or Sweet Potatoes added to their diet will increase higher fiber content. There are also prescription diets with higher fiber content. There is a product on the market called Glandex that is specifically designed as an anal gland support supplement. Just make sure you check with your veterinarian before giving your pet any new products. There is a surgical procedure that removes the anal glands but this can actually cause a lot more issues like a lack of sphincter control and it is usually not recommended.
You love your pet so much and will have other body parts checked – just don’t forget their backside!