How to express a dog’s anal glands safely? (EVERYTHING you need to know)

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veterinarian is expressing a dogs anal glands safely

Key takeaways: 

  1. You should not attempt to manually express your dog’s anal glands or ask your groomer to do it unless your veterinarian authorizes it.
  2. Most dogs spontaneously express their anal glands when they poop, so they don’t need our assistance.
  3. When necessary, anal glands can be manually expressed using either an internal or external method.

Lately, your dog has been licking his hind end a lot, and you just saw him scoot(drag his butt across the floor). You remember hearing that scooting is a sign of anal gland problems, so you check under his tail. You notice two swellings on either side of his anus. What should you do?

Some people may recommend that you try to express your dog’s anal glands at home, but we don’t recommend it. However, there may be things you can do at home to help your pooch empty the sacs himself.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about anal glands. We’ll look at: 

  • signs that your dog is having anal gland issues
  • how you can help him at home
  • manual anal gland expression(how it’s done and who should do it)
  • when to see your vet
  • and a few more things

So, let’s get started.

Why is it not recommended to express your dog’s anal glands?

You may have read somewhere on the internet that dog owners should regularly express their pup’s anal glands. As a matter of fact, many groomers offer anal gland expression as a grooming service. However, most dogs don’t need this service, and you shouldn’t ask for it.  

The truth is that most dogs express their anal glands involuntarily without any assistance when they poop. A survey of primary-care veterinary visits from September 2009 through March 2013 indicated about 7.1% of dogs presented with anal gland problems. So, unless your dog is in the minority, there’s no reason to have their sacs manually emptied.

Manually expressing your dog’s anal glands can also cause more problems. When you perform the procedure improperly, you can damage tissue around the rectum. This may create unwanted inflammation and predispose your pooch to repeated anal gland issues.

Some internet sites recommend manual anal gland expression, and it may be part of a groomer’s services, but we recommend against it. Dogs usually express their sacs without our help, and trying to empty the glands manually may cause damage and more trouble in the future. 

7 Signs your dog is having anal gland issues

The following signs are good indicators that your dog is having problems with his anal glands.

  • Excessive chewing or licking around the anus
  • Scooting 
  • Difficulty pooping with our without crying/vocalization
  • Snapping or growling when you try to look at their butt
  • Spotting of bedding or resting areas with smelly, brown liquid
  • Not wanting to sit
  • Swelling or redness around the anus

When your dog has anal gland issues, you may notice signs that show the area around his rectum is uncomfortable or painful.

How to help my dog express anal glands naturally?

While we don’t recommend manual anal gland expression, there are several things you can try at home to encourage the natural emptying of the sacs.

  • Increase fiber in your dog’s diet by switching to commercial high-fiber food or supplementing his diet with fiber-rich foods.
  • Give your dog high-fiber treats like Glandex.
  • Give your dog supplements that support digestive and anal gland health.
  • Increase your dog’s water intake.
  • Increase your dog’s exercise to encourage more frequent bowel movements.
  • Put your dog on a diet to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Apply a warm compress under your dog’s tail to help soothe the area and open the ducts.
  • Treat any allergies that may be causing inflammation.

There are various things you can try to help your dog with his anal gland issues. Some involve dietary changes or supplemental foods to boost fiber. Other things to try include exercising your dog, applying warm compresses, and giving him supplements that support overall digestive health.

Who should express my dog’s anal glands?

If your groomer offers anal gland expression as a service, we advise against it. Truthfully, dogs normally empty their sacs one or more times a day when they defecate. Once-a-month or less frequent service won’t do much to help a pooch with anal gland problems, and they might unintentionally cause harm to the sensitive tissues.

Your veterinarian has the training and experience to handle anal gland expression. Additionally, he can examine your dog and determine whether he has an impaction, infection, or another condition that’s causing the problems. You should only express anal glands at home or go to a groomer if your vet tells you to do it.

Don’t rely on your groomer to express your dog’s anal sacs. They don’t do it often enough to make a difference, and they may damage the tissues. Your veterinarian is the best resource when it comes to anal gland issues. Don’t try to manually express the glands without the doctor’s approval.

The two types of Anal Gland expression

Before we discuss how anal glands can be expressed, we need to understand what these sacs are and where they are. Anal glands are two almond-shaped sacs located on either side of your dog’s anus in about the 4 or 5 and 7 or 8 o’clock positions. They contain a pungent oily liquid that helps to lubricate the feces when your dog poops and leaves a scent signature for other dogs.

Anal glands can be expressed internally or externally. Dogs naturally empty the sacs when they defecate because the poop pushes against or massages the glands from inside the rectum. When your veterinarian or another authorized person manually expresses the sacs, they may do so by inserting a finger in the rectum to apply pressure from the inside(internally) or by “milking” the glands around the anus from the outside(externally).

The anal glands are two sacs located on either side of your dog’s anus. When dogs defecate, the poop usually presses against the sacs to empty the oily material. The manual expression can be accomplished by massaging the glands from inside the rectum or milking them from the outside of the anus.

How to express a dog’s anal glands internally?

We do not recommend that you express your dog’s anal glands at home or ask your groomer to do it unless your vet recommends it. If the doctor instructs you to express your dog’s glands manually, the preferred procedure is internal expression.


In the video below, Dr. Wise shows how to express a dog’s anal glands using the internal method. As you observe the video, not the procedure:

  1. Collect your supplies including exam gloves, lubricant, and paper toweling to catch the excretions.
  2. Get a helper to restrain your dog in the standing position.
  3. Put gloves on the hand you intend to use and put a little bit of lubricant on the tip of your gloved pointer finger.
  4. With the ungloved hand, lift your dog’s tail.
  5. Insert the tip of your finger into the anus and feel for one of the glands.
  6. Gently squeeze the gland from the bottom and milk or massage it upward.
  7. Wipe away the oily liquid with a paper towel.
  8. Repeat the procedure starting to express the gland on the other side of the anus.

We don’t recommend at-home or at-groomer expression unless your veterinarian advises you to do it. In that case, we prefer the internal method. This involves inserting a finger in the anus to gently squeeze the oily liquid out of the sacs. You will need a helper to restrain your dog if you use this procedure.

How to express a dog’s anal glands externally?

Usually, groomers that manually express anal glands use the external method. This procedure is less invasive, but it can cause tissue damage. In the video below, the veterinarian describes how to use the external expression method. Note the steps as he walks through the procedure:

  1. Collect your supplies including exam gloves and paper toweling to catch the excretions.
  2. Get a helper to restrain your dog in the standing position.
  3. Put gloves on the hand you intend to use.
  4. With the ungloved hand, lift your dog’s tail.
  5. Locate the sacs on either side of the anus.
  6. While holding a paper towel, gently squeeze both glands with an upward milking motion to push the liquids out of the gland.

Again, let me stress that you should never attempt to express your dog’s anal glands at home or ask your groomer to do it unless you have veterinary authorization.

Groomers usually use the external method to express anal glands. It’s less invasive but can damage tissues around the anus. With this method, you squeeze the sacs from outside to gently push the liquid out.

Does the expression hurt the dog?

You may be concerned about whether anal gland expression is painful for your dog. When dogs naturally evacuate their glands, they usually don’t feel it. However, when you or another person manually expresses the sacs, it may cause some discomfort. Because veterinarians know how to express anal glands properly, they can usually cause the least amount of pain when they perform the procedure.

Depending on how full the glands are, your dog may feel uncomfortable during and after the procedure. It’s normal for some pooches to continue to lick or scratch their butts for up to 24 hours after manual expression. If the itching behavior continues beyond one day, contact your veterinarian. Your furbaby may have an impaction or another condition that needs attention.

When dogs naturally express their anal glands, they usually don’t feel anything. Manual expression will cause some discomfort for your pooch. Veterinarians are the most qualified people when it comes to expressing the sacs. Dogs may continue to itch around the anus for about a day after manual expression.

When to see a vet?

We recommend that you take your dog to the vet any time he has anal gland issues. They can perform an examination and determine the underlying cause. While you may be able to try some of the natural remedies listed in a section above, there’s no guarantee any of them will work for your dog. Therefore, contact your veterinarian and schedule an appointment as soon as possible if:

  • There’s a foul/putrid odor coming from your dog’s butt, and washing the anal area doesn’t help
  • The area around the anus is swollen, red, and painful to the touch(be careful!)
  • There’s brownish-red spotting around the anus or on your dog’s bedding 
  • There are abscesses or a pussy drainage around the anus

When you notice anal gland issues, you should visit your vet. 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 foul odor, swelling/redness around the anus, brownish-red spotting, and abscesses around the anus.

The Final Woof

Dogs usually express their anal glands spontaneously when they defecate. However, about 7% of canines will have problems with their sacs at some point. When this happens, don’t take matters into your own hands. We advise against manual anal sac expression at home or the groomer unless your veterinarian instructs you to do it. However, there are various home remedies you may try to help your dog empty his sacs naturally.

Manual anal gland expression should be done at a veterinary clinic, There are two types of expression. With the internal procedure, you insert your fingertip into the anus and squeeze the glands from inside the anus. The external method involves gently squeezing the glands from the outside. Manual procedures may cause your dog discomfort and cause them to continue itching up to a day after expression. It’s best to contact your veterinarian for an exam if you suspect your dog has anal gland issues.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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