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Can dogs express their own glands by licking?

The Importance of Anal Gland Expressions

If your dog experiences an affected anal gland, it may be very painful. It’s important as pet parents to recognize the signs and symptoms and to know what to do should this problem occur.

Veterinary Services

When it comes to caring for our pets, many pet parents understand the importance of traditional grooming, nutrition and exercise, but when it comes to anal gland expression… well that can sometimes come as a surprise. Impacted anal glands can be very painful if experienced by your dog. It’s important for pet parents to recognize the signs and symptoms and know what to do should this problem occur.

Brook Farm Veterinary Center offers anal gland expressions as part of a full-service dog bath or as an add-on to any service you’re having done.

Anal glands also referred to as anal sacs serve as an important function in the social ranking of canines. These scent glands are located on either side of your dog’s anus and release an oily substance that has a very unpleasant and sometimes fishy smell to us humans. For other dogs, however, it’s so much more than that. When dogs meet and sniff around each other’s behinds, the scents released by their anal glands reveal information about their hormonal status. Dogs may also express their anal sacs when they are scared as a form of a response. Expressing their anal glands allows a dog to leave a trail of their own scent behind to claim their territory at home or in their yard.

How do you know if your dog needs their anal glands expressed?

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • If you notice your dog scooting their behind around on the carpet or on the grass by pulling themselves forward with their front legs in the seated position then they are probably trying to help with the release of secretion buildup in their anal glands, or are trying to help stop the itch that can come with impacted anal glands.
  • Signs of painful pooping, like straining or whining while trying to go.
  • Blood and/or pus in their poop or left behind from wherever they may have been sitting.
  • Extreme licking of the area or being protective of their anal area by lowering their back hips.
  • An unpleasant and ongoing fishy smell coming from your dog and left behind wherever they were seated.
  • The glands will appear sensitive when viewed or swollen if you run your hand over the area.

How do dogs express their anal glands?

A normal bowel movement is usually all your dog needs to sufficiently express and empty their anal sacs. However, some breeds are more prone to having backed up anal glands and they may need help manually expressing them. Anal gland infections and impactions are more often diagnosed in small breeds. Poodles, Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos, Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and Beagles rank pretty high on the list of breeds affected by anal gland difficulties.

What causes anal glands to become impacted / infected?

When anal glands are not emptied properly during a bowel movement, pus like secretions can build up, impacting the glands and potentially causing further issues if not treated in a timely manner.

Special conditions and outside factors can increase your dog’s odds of having impacted anal glands. These factors can include food and environmental allergies / sensitivities, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, bacteria build up, yeast and chronic skin infections, among other things. If you have any questions regarding your pet specifically, be sure to talk to your Brook Farm Veterinarian.

It is important to know that certain breeds, including Cocker Spaniels, Beagles and Chihuahuas, are predisposed to having anal gland problems. If your dog is among these few breeds or suffers from the conditions we’ve mentioned above, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to their anal glands to be sure they are functioning and expressing properly. If you notice any swelling, pus, or foul smell, give us a call and our team can help your pet get comfortable again with an anal gland expression.

Untreated anal glands can lead to further issues.

If left untreated unfortunately, impacted anal glands can become quite a bad problem for your pet. They’re left not only feeling uncomfortable and itchy, but the anal glands can become abscessed and even burst when not handled carefully. It’s best to leave the treatment of an impacted anal gland up to our medical team who can ensure the glands are expressed thoroughly and properly to avoid any further trauma to the patient. Our medical team is fear free certified and either a technician or a veterinarian can help express your pets anal glands safely and efficiently.

If you notice an ongoing issue with your dog having impacted anal glands, be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian. We can help you come up with potential treatment ideas to help alleviate this issue for your pet so they can continue living their best life.

Anal gland impaction

Nova scotia duck tolling retriever in the woods

They’re not the stuff of dinner party conversations, but knowing how to spot a problem could save your dog a lot of misery.

Sound familiar?

Picture the scene. You’ve just washed your dog from top to tail using the finest shampoo and conditioner money can buy, but even after drying him, the same horrible fishy odour you noticed pre-groom is still lingering in your poor nostrils. ‘So where’s the smell coming from?’ you wonder. It’s highly likely that your dog’s smelly anal glands are the culprits.

What are anal glands?

Anal glands (or anal sacs) are relatively small glands found on either side of your dog’s anus (and no, humans don’t have them!). They’re found just below the surface of the skin between the external and internal sphincter muscles.

Why do dogs have anal glands?

Dogs usually use these glands to identify each other and mark territory by making a distinctive thick, foul smelling, oily liquid. This is the reason dogs smell other dogs’ bottoms when they meet and greet, standing tense with tails erect to swap their own unique smells (a bit like individual fingerprints).

How do dogs empty their anal glands?

Unlike the skunk, domestic dogs and cats have largely lost their ability to empty their anal glands voluntarily. Your dog’s anal glands may empty when walking around, especially when they’re stressed, creating a very sudden unpleasant change in smell. Going for a poo puts natural pressure on the rectum walls to empty their glands which can lubricate the anal opening, making it easier for them to go.

How can anal glands become impacted?

Anal glands can fill for a number of reasons; most commonly when there hasn’t been enough pressure to empty the glands, such as, after a few days of diarrhoea. Whenever they haven’t emptied properly, there’s a chance that glands can become blocked, impacted and swollen. If they’re impacted for too long they can build up nasty bacteria, causing pain, increased swelling and sometimes even abscesses and fever.

How do I know if my dog may have a problem?

Signs of anal sac impaction can include:
a nasty fishy smell

Usually, anal gland secretions are extremely minute, so you don’t usually see or smell them — though you may notice your dog’s bedding becomes a bit smelly between washes. When you can actually smell the odour emanating from your dog’s backside there may be a problem.

dragging or scooting their bum

Some dogs seem unable to empty their glands fully on their own, causing the glands to become impacted and uncomfortable. These dogs to drag or ‘scoot’ their rear-ends along the ground (or more commonly your brand-new, cream-coloured carpet) in an attempt to empty them.

having an uncomfortable bum

Other signs include licking or biting around their anal area, chasing their tail, sitting uncomfortably, or even licking paws — both front and back — in sheer frustration.

changes in colour of anal gland fluid

Normal anal gland fluid ranges from yellow to tan in colour and is watery in consistency. Impacted anal gland material is usually brown or grey and thick, with the occasional presence of blood or pus indicating infection.

Which breeds are affected by anal sac impaction?

All types of dogs can develop anal sac impaction and it’s estimated that each year around 4% of dogs are affected by it. The risk of developing anal sac impaction is higher in older dogs. Research has found that some breeds and types appear to be more at risk of developing this condition than others, including: Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, King Charles Spaniels, Crosses between Cocker Spaniels and Poodles, Shih-tzus, the Bichon Frise and Cocker Spaniels.

Find out more about breed differences and the latest research

  • In the one year of data that was collected, anal sac disorders affected 4.4% of dogs.
  • Breeds with an increased risk of anal sac disorders compared with crossbred dogs included:
    • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (3.31 times the risk)
    • King Charles Spaniels (3.30 times the risk)
    • Shih Tzus (1.66 times the risk)
    • Bichon Frise (1.63 times the risk)
    • Cocker Spaniels (1.24 times the risk)
    • Boxers (0.29 times the risk)
    • German Shepherd Dogs ( 0.37 times the risk)
    • Staffordshire Bull Terriers (x 0.56)
    • Border Collies (0.60 times the risk)
    • Labrador Retrievers (0.70 times the risk)

    Find out more about the research at:

    How are impacted anal glands treated?

    Vets will usually treat this by expression of the gland (usually far too painful in the conscious patient), antibiotics and pain relief, and even repeated flushes of the glands.

    With rare cases of recurrent infection or presence of a specific type of malignant tumour, anal glands may be removed surgically. The potential complications of this specialist type of surgery, however, make the operation strictly reserved for essential cases only.

    Should I regularly empty my dog’s anal glands to prevent this happening?

    Not all dog experts agree the anal glands should be interfered with in any way — unless the dog is showing signs of a problem. Applying pressure to an anal sac impaction or infection could cause the gland to rupture, and lead to bleeding and painful complications for your dog. Always speak to your vet for advice.

    Article author

    This article was written by Marc Abraham, a vet based in Brighton who regularly appears on UK television.

    Think your dog may be affected?

    If you’re worried about your dog’s health, always contact your vet immediately!

    We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can’t give veterinary advice. If you’re worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information.

    Find a vet near you

    If you’re looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Find a vet page.

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    Copyright © The Kennel Club Limited 2023. The unauthorised reproduction of text and images is strictly prohibited.

    Signs You Need to Get Your Dog’s Glands Checked

    Many dog wellness plans offer gland expression as part of regular grooming. Here’s what you need to know about your dog’s glands and why its important.

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    Signs You Need to Get Your Dog's Glands Checked

    As a new pet owner, you are probably ready for walks, training, feeding, and lots of cuddles. Anal gland expression is one aspect of dog care that you may not be so familiar with. This article will discuss the telltale signs that your dog may need their glands checked and why it is important to make anal gland expression part of your dog’s wellness plan.

    What Are Glands?

    A dog’s anal glands are located in sacs on either side of the anus. The sacs have soft walls filled with fluid that usually gets released every time they have a bowel movement. Both male and female dogs have these glands. Dogs can also release this fluid as a smelly defense mechanism against predators if they are scared.

    Do you ever wonder why dogs are so interested in smelling each other’s behinds? Essentially their bottom contains glands that hold smelly fluid that tells other dogs about their health, age, and essentially who they are. It is like their own form of doggy ID.

    Problems with glands can occur when the fluid is not released correctly. This build-up can lead to irritation, swelling, and an uncomfortable pooch.

    Some Common Causes of Gland Issues are:

    • Soft stools or diarrhea — if the stool is too soft, it can not express the glands as it passes
    • Constipation — hard stool also can’t express the glands
    • Obesity
    • Allergies — can lead to irritation and inflammation
    • Glands are in the wrong place

    Signs Your Dog Has Gland Issues

    The main sign that your dog may have impacted glands is if they scoot their bottoms on the ground or lick or bite around their tails. This is generally a sign that their glands are irritated and uncomfortable. You may also notice their bottoms are red or swollen, or there could be a smelly odor if their glands are very full.

    What is Gland Expression?

    Gland expression is a treatment for dogs who have issues with their anal glands. It is generally done by a vet or groomer with special training as part of a dog wellness plan. Impacted glands are uncomfortable for your dog and could become dangerous if left untreated. If ignored, the glands could become infected and require antibiotics. If they rupture, they could need surgery to fix it.

    Gland expression generally involves inserting a gloved finger into your dog’s anus and carefully squeezing the sacs to empty them of the fluid. Many dogs require gland expression on a regular basis to keep them healthy, and many owners prefer to have it handled by a professional as part of a pet wellness plan.

    Dog Wellness Plans With Grooming

    Gland issues are very common for many dogs. Many owners find that regular anal gland expression is essential to keep their dogs healthy. Some groomers offer the service of gland expression as part of regular grooming through an animal wellness plan.

    Wellness plans reimburse you for regular pet expenses and preventative care such as vet visits, grooming, vaccinations, routine exams, and blood and fecal tests that are often outside of standard pet insurance. Animal wellness plans can also cover costs like pet dental care and reimburse you for the money you spend on regular pet care.

    If you are interested in a dog wellness plan for your favorite pooch, contact us at Wagmo today. We offer three different pet wellness plans so that you can choose the best options for your needs. Take a look at our pet wellness plans to find the best fit for your dog and your family.

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