The correct term for anal glands is actually, "anal sacs". There is a sac located on either side of the anus at about the 4 and 8 o'clock position. The sacs contain many little glands that secrete material.
We don't really know the purpose of anal glands in dogs. Some animals, such as skunks, can voluntarily spray the contents of their glands. But dogs and cats don't empty their glands consciously.
The material inside the sacs is made up of a mixture of bacteria and glandular debris. It is usually quite unpleasant! The following types of material can be in a normal dog's anal sac:
Dogs will sometimes empty their glands involuntarily. This can often happen if a dog is suddenly scared. If you suddenly notice a fishy smell coming from your dog, have a sniff of his or her back end to see if that is where the smell is coming from. If so, it is usually nothing to worry about. But, if it is happening often then it may be time to have your vet empty the glands.
Some dogs will have other symptoms as well. I have seen dogs that will vomit periodically when their glands are full. Some dogs will cough when their glands are full as well.
If the anal glands get too full they can get impacted and this can cause serious discomfort to the dog. If an impacted gland is left untreated then bacteria builds up and the dog can get an anal sac infection, or even an anal sac abscess.
If you see any of the following symptoms then it means that there is a serious problem with the anal glands and your dog should see a vet right away:
Dogs can also get tumors affecting the anus or the anal glands as well.
Most groomers who express anal glands will do so externally. I don't recommend this because usually the entire gland is not emptied. Instead, we will talk about the more effective way of emptying anal glands - Internal expression.
Before reading this tutorial, please know that expressing a dog's anal glands properly is usually not easy! I do not recommend trying this at home unless you have a very well behaved dog. Definitely do not try this at home if your dog has a swelling or boil near the anus. This means that there is an infection or abscess and needs to be treated by a vet.
The video to the left is of me expressing a dog's anal glands at my clinic. Here are the steps that you need to take if you would like to try this at home.
It is best to do this on a table and with someone standing at the dog's side holding up the abdomen so that he or she does not try to sit.
Dr. Marie was quick to respond and thorough in suggesting treatment for my cat. I am so thankful- I have been so worried about my cat. Now I have additional options to discuss with my vet.
The service was incredibly fast and the vet's suggestions were right on target. This was incredibly helpful given that none of the vets in my area, mine now included, will take off hours calls now.