How can I tell if my dog’s anal glands are full? (Symptoms and treatment)

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owner realizes his dogs anal glands are full

Key Takeaways:

  1. Full anal sacs are uncomfortable for your dog.
  2. Common symptoms of full anal glands include scooting, bulges around the anus, licking or biting the perianal region, and spotting.
  3. Any time you suspect clogged or impacted anal glands, you should take your dog to the vet.
  4. You may be able to help your dog express his anal glands naturally and prevent anal gland filling.

Various symptoms indicate your dog’s anal sacs are full. Among the signs, you may notice bulges on either side of the anus, brown liquid leaking from the glands, a pungent odor around the rear end, and butt scooting.

Anal glands in dogs contain pungent liquid that helps to lubricate the poop and to mark territory. The fluid is produced by modified sweat glands and stored in the anal sacs. If anything interferes with routine emptying, the glands will fill and become uncomfortable.

In this article, I’ll explain signs that tell you your dog’s anal glands are full, what causes them to fill, and what you can do about it. Then, I’ll share the symptoms that indicate it’s time to go to the vet.


A tell-tale sign of full anal glands is dragging the butt across the yard or floor, also known as scooting. Scooting signals that your dog’s rear end is itchy or irritated.

When the glands swell, they make your dog uncomfortable. Fido will try to relieve the pressure by scooting. This behavior is an attempt to express the glands from the outside.

Dogs often scoot or drag their butts to try and empty full anal glands and relieve discomfort.

Continually licking/biting at the anal region

Your dog may bite or lick the anal area or around the tail. When he does this, it may be an attempt to squeeze the sacs and relieve built-up pressure. 

Some dogs may lick and bite out of frustration. Either way, repetitive licking and biting can lead to secondary problems including infections and abrasion wounds.

Licking on biting the area around the tail may be an attempt to squeeze the anal glands or an act of frustration.

Straining to poop

Normally pooping causes natural expression of the anal sacs. This happens when the feces push against the glands from inside the anus.

When your dog’s glands are clogged, defecation causes increased pressure and discomfort. Your dog may strain or show signs of pain such as crying when he goes potty.

Feces normally force fluid out of the anal glands, but when the ducts are clogged, defecation usually increases pressure and discomfort.

Stong, fishy odor

Another mammal that has anal glands is the skunk. The fluid they produce serves as a protective device to ward off predators.

The fluid in your dog’s anal sacs is similar to skunk spray, although it smells different. The liquid from dogs’ anal glands has a strong, fishy odor. If your dog’s sacs are full, you may notice a pungent odor coming from his hind end. Unfortunately, bathing your dog or washing the area may not eliminate the stink.

Anal gland fluid has a strong, fishy odor. You may notice the odor around your dog’s butt if the sacs are too full.

Blood or pus 

When anal sacs continue to fill, the liquid becomes thick and stagnant. This creates a medium for bacteria and can eventually lead to infections and abscesses. Additionally, overfull sacs may rupture. 

If your dog has an abscessed or ruptured anal sac, you may notice pus or blood leaking from the glands. Watch for blood or pus on your dog’s anus or poop.

Full anal glands may abscess or rupture. When this happens, you could see blood or pus discharge around the anus or on your dog’s poop.

Resistance  to sitting down

Full anal sacs are uncomfortable or painful for your dog. If Fido has impacted or overfull glands, he will feel them every time he tries to sit down. 

Your pooch may resist depositing his derriere on the ground because it’s painful. If your pooch suddenly refuses to sit down, check his hind end for bulges.

Full anal glands bulge and can be uncomfortable for your dog. When the sacs are too full, he may not want to sit down.

Swollen or reddened bulges 

The anal sacs are just inside your dog’s anus between the muscle sphincters. They are close to the skin surface at about 4-5 and 7-8 o’clock, so when they fill, they tend to bulge outward. 

If the pressure causes inflammation, the lumps may also be reddened or purple. Full sacs also feel firm, but be very careful. When anal glands are swollen and red, they’re usually painful.

Full anal sacs appear as bulges on either side of your dog’s anus. If they’re inflamed, the swellings may appear red or purple and could be painful.

Brown spotting

Although your dog may not be able to fully empty his glands, some fluid could escape as the pressure builds up. This frequently happens when your furbaby is resting and the muscles are more relaxed.

When your dog’s sacs start leaking, you may notice brown or brownish-gray spots on his bedding or other places where he naps/rests. The spots may also have a characteristic fishy odor.

When the glands are full but not emptying well, some of the fluid may leak out due to increased pressure in the sac. This results in spotting on bedding and other resting places.

What should I do if my dog’s anal glands are full?

When your dog’s anal glands are full, it probably means they’re clogged or impacted. Unfortunately, clogged glands don’t tend to resolve without treatment. So, if your pup demonstrates some or all of the above symptoms, you should contact your veterinarian.

When your dog’s glands are full, begin by identifying the reason. Once you know why he has a problem, you and your veterinarian can design an appropriate treatment plan. After your dog’s full glands are empty, you should take measures to prevent it from happening again.

Causes of full anal glands

Various causes of full anal glands exist, including:

  • Breed predisposition – Certain breeds are more likely to develop full anal glands. Most commonly, they’re linked to smaller breeds including Chihuahuas, Lhasa apsos, and Jack Russell terriers.
  • Food allergies or other sensitivities – When dogs have food allergies, their poop tends to be softer. As a result, the anal glands don’t empty effectively. Over time, the liquid thickens and clogs the ducts.
  • Chronic bacterial/yeast infections in the skin -Chronic skin infections can lead to inflammation that restricts the duct and causes impaction. 
  • Skin mites – These parasites cause inflammation and can block the ducts.
  • Congenitally narrow anal gland ducts – Some dogs are born with narrow ducts.  That means it takes more pressure to express the sacs.
  • Gastrointestinal disease causing chronically soft stools – Gastrointestinal disorders like inflammatory bowel disease lead to softer stools which make it harder for your pooch to naturally express his anal glands when he poops.
  • Atopic dermatitis – Atopic dermatitis causes skin inflammation which can impinge on the ducts so the liquid can’t escape. 
  • Obesity – Obese dogs may deposit extra fat around the anus. The fat acts like padding around the anal glands, so when obese dogs poop, the feces doesn’t get as much pressure on the glands to fully express them.
  • Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism in dogs can cause weight gain and food sensitivities. These conditions may trigger soft stools or diarrhea which can reduce your dog’s ability to naturally express his glands.  
  • Insufficient dietary fiber – A lack of dietary fiber can result in softer stools that won’t press against the anal glands enough to properly express them.
  • Anal tumor – Tumors around the anus and rectum can impinge on or occlude the duct so that the secretions can’t get out. 

Prevention and treatment

If your dog’s glands are filling up or already full, you will need to help him empty the sacs so that he finds relief. However, you can also take some preventative measures to help your pup express his glands naturally.

  • Bulk up your dog’s stool by adding dietary fiber to your dog’s food
  • Give your dog high-fiber human foods like plain, canned pumpkin or apple slices
  • Use commercial high-fiber dog foods or treats
  • Give supplements that support digestive health to your dog
  • Encourage your dog to increase his water intake for better digestion
  • Exercise your dog regularly to encourage regular bowel movements
  • Feed a diet that helps your dog reach and maintain a healthy body weight
  • Apply warm compresses to the anal area to help reduce swelling and open the ducts
  • Bring your dog to the vet to manually express his anal glands
  • Have your vet flush your dog’s anal glands if they’re infected
  • Treat underlying conditions like allergies or infections with appropriate medications
  • Let your vet surgically remove chronically or severely impacted glands

Anal glands fill for a variety of reasons including dietary, infectious, parasitic, and hormonal causes. Identifying the underlying cause of full anal glands helps to determine the best treatment for your furbaby. Once the problem resolves, there are some things you can try to help prevent future problems.

When should my dog see the vet?

If your dog’s glands look full, but warm compresses help to relieve the pressure, you may be able to monitor your furbaby. However, if the glands are full because they’re clogged, it’s time to call the vet. Signs of clogged or impacted anal sacs include:

You may be able to help your dog empty full anal glands with a warm compress. However, if you see signs of impaction, you should head to the vet. Symptoms include a putrid odor, swelling/redness around the anus, brownish-red spotting, and pussy discharges or abscesses.

The Final Woof

Full anal glands are uncomfortable for your dog. If your pooch’s sacs don’t empty properly, you may see symptoms including scooting, biting/licking at the anus, a strong, fishy odor, and spotting. Because the glands are near the end of the anus, full sacs may bulge outward.

Various underlying conditions can cause anal glands to fill and clog. Once you understand the reasons for full anal sacs, it’s easier to determine the best treatment approach. Impacted sacs should be emptied manually, but they may also need flushing or surgical removal. Once the sacs are empty, try using preventative measures to help your dog express his glands naturally. If your dog’s rear end has a persistent fishy odor, appears swollen/red, or has a pussy or bloody discharge, take your dog to the vet.

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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