- When anal glands don’t empty properly, they can become blocked or impacted.
- Small-breed and adult dogs have a higher risk of anal gland impaction.
- Symptoms of anal gland problems usually include scooting, licking the anal region, and a strong, fishy odor.
- The main treatment options for blocked anal glands include manual expression, treating underlying causes, flushing, and surgical removal
When anal glands fail to empty properly, the oily liquid may thicken and clog the ducts. This condition is called an anal gland impaction or blockage, and it can be extremely uncomfortable or painful for your pooch.
One day, a concerned owner called about their dog’s behavior. He was scooting across the floor and constantly licking around the anus. I recommended she bring him in for an appointment. My examination confirmed my suspicions. Her furbaby had blocked anal glands.
In this article, I’ll explain what you need to know about your dog’s anal glands and which dogs are more at risk. I’ll also give you a list of symptoms and possible causes of anal gland problems. Finally, I’ll go over when to go to the vet, how clogged anal glands are diagnosed, the treatment options, and possible preventative measures.
What are blocked anal glands in dogs?
Dogs have two anal glands on either side of the anus around the 7-8 o’clock and 4-5 o’clock positions. Typically, the oily liquid in these sacs is squeezed out when your dog poops. However, if your pooch has a chronic soft stool or certain other conditions, the oily secretions may collect and thicken in the glands. Usually, both sides are equally affected, but sometimes the blockage is unilateral.
The most common cause of impaction is inflammation of the ducts. When this happens, it’s harder for your dog to naturally express the sacs and evacuate the liquid. The problem is that the body continues to manufacture oily secretions, so the sacs fill up until they’re uncomfortable.
Dogs at risk of anal gland issues
A 2021 cross-sectional study of anal sac disease in dogs and cats suggested that certain dogs are more predisposed to developing anal gland problems. While gender did not appear to be a predisposing factor, the researchers noted that:
- Anal sac disease was more common in adult dogs than in puppies.
- Small breed dogs are more likely to develop blocked anal sacs than larger breeds, possibly due to a narrower duct size
- Some larger breeds have a higher predisposition to developing anal sac disease
The breeds found to be at higher risk of developing blocked anal glands are:
- Lhasa Apso
- Jack Russel Terrier
- Labrador Retriever
- French Bulldog
- German Shepherd
Some dog breeds that are less likely to develop anal gland impaction include:
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- Finnish Spitz
- English Springer Spaniel
- Border Collie
- Australian Shepherd
Dogs have a pair of anal glands. When the sacs become inflamed or another condition causes a blockage, the fluid builds up and thickens. Some dogs are at a higher risk of developing blocked anal glands, including adult dogs vs. puppies and smaller breed dogs.
Symptoms of blocked anal glands
If your dog develops blocked anal glands, there are tell-tale signs that point to discomfort in the rear end:
- Scooting or dragging the butt across the floor or yard
- Continually licking or biting at the anal area
- Straining to poop/discomfort when pooping
- Stong, fishy odor coming from the rear end even after a bath
- Blood or pus on the stool or around the anus
- Resistance to sitting down
- Swollen or reddened bulges at the base of the anus
- Brown spotting where your dog sleeps or naps (also known as leaking glands)
If you notice signs of impacted anal glands, contact your veterinarian. The condition is usually uncomfortable for dogs, so you want to help them find relief quickly. Prolonged impaction can also lead to other diseases like abscesses and ruptured glands.
Dogs with blocked anal glands often have symptoms that include scooting, excessive licking, a foul odor, swelling by the anus, and straining to poop. When you notice clogged anal sacs, call your vet to help relieve your dog’s discomfort and prevent other issues.
Causes of blocked anal glands
In addition to breed predispositions, there are several causes of blocked anal glands in dogs. The three most common causes are chronic skin infections, obesity, and insufficient dietary fiber, but there are other culprits.
- Chronic bacterial or yeast infections in the skin – Dogs with chronic skin infections are prone to inflammation that can restrict the duct and cause impaction.
- Skin mites – These parasites cause inflammation and can block the ducts.
- Food allergies or other sensitivities – When dogs have food allergies, the poop is usually softer, so the anal glands aren’t effectively expressed. Over time, the liquid thickens and clogs the ducts.
- Atopic dermatitis – Similar to bacterial infections, atopic dermatitis causes skin inflammation which can impinge on the ducts so the liquid can’t escape.
- Obesity – Obese dogs have extra fat padding around the anus. When they poop, the feces doesn’t get as much pressure on the glands to fully express them.
- Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism in dogs often leads to weight gain and food sensitivities that may cause soft stools or diarrhea. These effects can reduce your dog’s ability to naturally express his glands.
- Congenitally narrow anal gland ducts – Some dogs may be born with narrow ducts. Because of this, more pressure is needed to express the sacs, and impactions are more likely.
- Gastrointestinal disease causing chronically soft stools – inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal disorders that lead to softer stools make it harder for your pooch to naturally express his anal glands when he poops.
- Insufficient dietary fiber – A lack of dietary fiber can lead to softer stools that won’t press against the anal glands enough to properly express them.
- Anal tumor – Tumors around the anus and rectom can impinge on or occlude the duct so that the secretions can’t get out.
There are various causes of anal gland impaction in dogs. Many are related to allergies or conditions that can cause inflammation. Others relate to diet or digestive health.
How would a vet diagnose blocked anal glands in my dog?
Fortunately, the diagnosis of anal gland blockage in dogs tends to be straightforward. Chances are your veterinarian has seen multiple cases of impaction and will be able to recognize the condition upon physical examination.
When you bring your dog to the vet, he will ask you about the symptoms you noticed such as scooting and excessive licking. The doctor may also ask about your pooch’s diet. Once he collects background information, your vet will conduct a physical examination including a digital rectal exam. He may express the anal sacs and evaluate or culture the contents.
If the doctor finds a mass suggestive of a tumor or abscess, he may take an ultrasound, fine needle aspirate, or tissue samples. Based on his findings, the veterinarian should be able to diagnose the problem and develop a treatment plan.
Your veterinarian should be able to diagnose blocked anal glands based on your dog’s history, symptoms, and physical examination. If the rectal exam suggests a tumor, the doctor may take additional diagnostic samples to reach a diagnosis. The vet will base his treatment plan on his findings.
What are the treatment options for blocked anal glands?
When dogs have clogged anal glands, the condition won’t resolve without treatment. A wait-and-see approach is dangerous because the sacs will continue filling up. The stagnant fluid provides a growth medium for bacteria resulting in infections and abscesses. If the glands fill too full, they can rupture from the pressure.
Depending on the cause of your dog’s blocked anal gland glands, and the risk factors involved, there are different ways to treat impactions.
- Manual expression of the glands
- Flushing of infected anal glands
- Treat underlying conditions like infections or allergies
- Apply warm compresses to the anal area
- Surgical removal of chronically or severely impacted glands
Dogs with blocked anal glands require treatment, or the sacs will continue to fill up with secretions and may eventually rupture. They’re also vulnerable to infection. The recommended treatment for your dog’s clogged anal glands will vary depending on the cause and severity of the impaction.
When should I call my vet?
You should call your vet any time your dog shows signs of blocked anal glands. The doctor can examine your dog and determine the underlying cause. There’s no guarantee that any at-home treatments will work for your dog. Therefore, you should schedule an appointment for your dog as soon as possible if:
- Your dog has a putrid, fishy odor around his butt that won’t go away after a bath
- The anal region is red, swollen, and painful to the touch (use caution!)
- There’s brownish-red spotting around the anus or on your dog’s sleeping areas
- There are abscesses or some pussy drainage around the anus
You should visit your vet when you notice signs of blocked anal glands. The doctor can diagnose the cause of the problem. Natural remedies don’t always work. Signs that you need to head to the vet include a putrid odor, swelling/redness of the anal area, abscesses around the anus, and brownish-red spotting.
How can I prevent anal gland blockage in my dog?
If your dog is in an at-risk category for anal gland impaction or had blocked anal glands in the past, there are some things you can do at home to help him naturally express his glands and prevent future problems.
- Add dietary fiber to your dog’s food to bulk up the stools
- Treat your dog to high-fiber human foods like plain pumpkin or apples
- Give your dog commercial high-fiber food or treats
- Give your dog supplements that support digestive health
- Increase your dog’s water intake to support digestion
- Exercise your dog to encourage regular bowel movements
- Feed your dog a diet that helps to reach and maintain a healthy body weight
Some things you can try to prevent anal gland blockage in your dog include adding fiber to the diet in his food or with high-fiber treats. You can also increase your dog’s water intake, increase his exercise, and encourage a healthy weight.
Other anal gland problems
While blocked anal glands are one of the most common types of anal sac issues in dogs, it’s not the only problem. Other conditions you may see include:
When bacteria grow in the anal sac fluid, it can cause an infection. Dogs with infected glands or abscesses can experience considerable pain. When dogs have an infection, the sacs may be swollen, warm to the touch, red, and painful. The secretions change in color from brown to yellowish due to the presence of pus. Impacted anal glands can be a precursor to infections.
Untreated abscesses usually continue to grow in size until they rupture. When the sac pops open, you may see blood mixed with a greenish-yellow pussy material. It’s important to prevent your dog from licking the area because it can slow down healing.
Tumors can develop in the anal glands that impede normal emptying. The most common cancer is an apocrine anal gland adenocarcinoma. Older female dogs and certain breeds are more commonly affected. With anal gland tumors, you may see bleeding around the anus or blood in the stool, swollen hind legs, vomiting, and lethargy.
There are a few other anal glands problem that your dog can experience. Impacted glands may lead to an infection or abscess in the sacs. If these conditions go untreated, the pouches can fill and rupture. Dogs can also develop cancerous tumors in the anal glands.
The Final Woof
When the oily secretions in anal sacs aren’t properly expelled, they can block the ducts leading to impaction. Adult and small-breed dogs are more predisposed to developing anal gland problems. Common signs of clogged anal glands include scooting, licking the anus, and a foul, fishy odor.
There are various causes of blocked anal glands, so it’s important to bring your dog to the vet for a diagnosis when you notice signs of impaction. The treatment usually depends on the type of anal gland issue but may include manual expression, flushing, or surgical removal. You may be able to prevent recurrence with dietary and lifestyle changes. In addition to blocked anal glands, dogs may experience infected glands, ruptured glands, or cancerous tumors.