Canine anal gland problems

Anal glands are small and oval in shape, and  they sit just inside your dog’s rectum on either side of the anus. They reside in the muscle of the anal sphincter and are not very visible. The glands produce a smelly, oily substance that collects within tiny ducts. This fluid probably serves as a territorial marker, relaying biochemical information to other dogs that might be in the area.

When nature calls and your dog poops, if the stool is of a normal consistency, the fluid-filled ducts in the anal glands will empty as a result of the pressure imposed by the faeces as it passes through the rectum and anus. This is how nature intended things to work, but dog's these days often have loose stools or irregular bowel movements that don’t press against the anal glands during a poop.

The three main causes of anal gland problems are diet, trauma to the glands, and the position of the glands. However, other contributing factors can include obesity where there is insufficient muscle tone and excess fatty tissue, also certain skin disorders and infections.

Diet can contribute to anal gland problems

Grains in commercial dog food are allergenic and inflammatory. If your dog is experiencing recurring anal gland issues, the first thing you should try is to eliminate all grains from their diet. Avoid feeding any food that contains corn, oatmeal, wheat, or rice.

If your dog’s poop is frequently unformed, soft or watery, their anal glands are not getting the firm pressure they need to empty. Feeding your dog a balanced, breed appropriate diet will address both food allergies and poor stool consistency. Many health concerns, including chronic anal gland problems resolve naturally over time, once the dog is eating a biologically appropriate diet.

Injuries can occur to your dog's anal glands

Routine expressing of healthy anal glands is simply unnecessary, it can ultimately cause problems. If a dog is having recurring or chronic anal gland issues, it’s important to identify the root cause.

Many veterinarians will  immediately express a dog's anal glands if the owner mentions the dog “scoots” across the floor occasionally. This approach doesn’t identify or resolve the cause of the problem, only the symptom.

Anal glands are small and delicate organs that can be easily injured with unnecessary squeezing and pinching. Trauma to the glands can cause inflammation, which in turn causes swelling. Swollen glands can obstruct the exit duct through which the fluid is expressed. If blocked secretions build up and thicken in the glands, it can lead to impaction.

Routine manual expression will reduce the ability of the anal glands to work on their own. The condition of the glands becomes compromised, and ultimately they become completely ineffective.

Poorly positioned anal glands

Some dogs have their anal glands located very deep inside their rectums. As faeces collects in the colon, the pressure should cause the glands to empty. But if a dog’s anal glands are not adjacent to where the greatest amount of pressure builds in their large intestine, they will not be able to express properly.

This is a situation that may require surgery to correct.

Common anal gland conditions

Impaction is the most common condition associated with anal glands. This occurs when a oily substance builds up in the glands and thickens, and is not expressed, this results in enlargement and irritation of the glands.

Anal gland infections are another common problem, usually bacterial in nature and cause irritation and inflammation. An anal gland abscess is the result of an untreated anal gland infection. As the infection progresses, pus accumulates within the anal gland. The abscess will continue to grow in size until it eventually ruptures.

Anal gland tumours, classified as adenocarcinomas, are normally malignant. Occasionally tumours can result in elevated blood calcium levels, which can result in significant organ damage, including kidney failure.

It's important to ascertain the cause of anal gland problems

If your dog is having anal gland problems, your veterinarian should work towards determining the cause of the problem, rather than only treating it symptomatically by manually expressing the glands.

It’s important to try and re-establish the tone and health of malfunctioning glands, using a combination of dietary adjustments, homoeopathic remedies, and natural anti-inflammatories.

The goal should be to resolve the underlying cause and return your dog’s anal glands to self-sufficiency.