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Anal glands! Dogs have them, Cats have them…Humans, thank God, DON’T have them!

Dog scooting due to full anal glands

Some dogs have a lifetime of trouble with them, and need them expressed (emptied out) often. Other dogs act like they don’t even have them. What gives? (photocredit: http://drdvmd.com/scootthatbooty/)

First off, a little anatomy. Anal glands produce a stinky, almost fishy smelling fluid, that is contained in the anal sac. Dogs and cats have two anal sacs. If you look at your pet from behind, they are at about 4:00 and 8:00 on the anus. You can’t see them though – they are under the skin, nicely incorporated with the rest of the pooping apparatus.

These sacs can become filled with the lovely fluid produced by the glands. There is no official name for this fluid, and most vets I know refer to it as “anal juice” or some derivative there-of. In theory, when a dog or cat defecates, a little bit of this fluid comes out, and the fluid does not build up in the anal sacs. Each sac has a small opening toward the center of the anus for the fluid to exit.

Some dogs have a design flaw, particularly beagles, pugs, and many small breed dogs. Don’t drop your guard though –  ANY dog or cat can have anal sac problems! Instead of the fluid gradually coming out, it builds up, and it is VERY uncomfortable.

Imagine two giant blisters in your butt that need to be popped. It’s kinda like that. At least that’s what my patients tell me.

If you see your dog licking his or her anal area excessively, this could be the cause. Or if your dog is scooting his bum across the floor, he’s a suspect. Sure, there are other possibilities as well for this anal discomfort (parasites, food allergy, etc) but it’s best to get the anal glands checked first. Easy to check, and a fast fix if that is the problem!

OK, so your dog or cat is really licking back there. What happens when you go to the vet? This is the part of my day when I think “I’m so glad I’m six-figures in debt so I can do THIS!”

First, your vet will likely take your pet to the back for this. Not that there is any major secret, but because the smell of the fluid from these glands is so foul and potent, the exam room will pretty much be unusable for a few hours if we do it in the room! In a housecall setting, I try to do them outside for similar reasons.

Your vet will “express the anal glands.” Kinda ironic, since it isn’t the glands, but the sacs we are actually expressing (squeezing/emptying). Still for some reason, it’s come to be known as an “anal gland expression” in a lot of clinics. Your vet will insert her (gloved!) finger up your dog’s anus (no, we don’t make a lot of friends doing this) and gently squeeze each gland to empty out the contents. Sometimes the contents are very thick, like toothpaste, and other times they are very watery. This is a hazardous procedure for the veterinarian, as some of these glands can really squirt when expressed! Every vet has, at some point, gotten anal gland fluid in her mouth, eyes, or in her hair. Then you smell the rest of the day. Back to that whole “I love my job” thing.

My personal record was squirting anal gland contents on the ceiling. It was not on purpose! I just squeezed, and they were SO full, and the angle was just right….  We kept cleaning the room and couldn’t figure out why it still smelled until we looked up…..

Groomers can express anal glands as well. They do not use the same technique as your vet, but do a pinch from the outside. Some dogs can even express their own! Fear can do that (some dogs express them during nail trims at the vet clinic), or some can just lick themselves until the contents come out. I’d recommend no kisses after that. For some dogs these work well, while other dogs that just doesn’t cut it, and they need the more thorough, veterinary technique.

And finally, anal sacs can become infected. Those are very frustrating, as it can take weeks for the infection to resolve. Your vet can tell right away if the sacs have abscessed, because they are very painful, and the contents are bloody. These dogs are usually licking his rear pretty much every waking moment, and some owners notice blood where the dog was sitting.

Bottom line – anal sacs that are full are way uncomfortable! If your dog is licking or scooting, have the vet check the anal glands. If they are full, your dog will have instant relief from them being emptied!

Web-DVM guest blogger Dr. Karen Louis is a practicing small animal veterinarian.  See more of her articles at her blog at VetChick.com

10 thoughts on “Anal glands! Dogs have them, Cats have them…Humans, thank God, DON’T have them!

  1. Joyce Amato says:

    Thanks so much for your help info was helpful and gave me a little comfort that my baby would be okay as soon as I get her in.

  2. Dana says:

    Great info! Thank you!
    Another thing that may helps is if your dog suffers from anal glands problems try to increase the fibre content in his food. ( and of course take him to the vet:))

  3. Dave says:

    Wrong wrong and wrong! It was proven in 1961 humans HAVE anal glands and secret stuff just like other mammals. Please research before you write

  4. Haisuli says:

    Yep, people definitely have anal glands, my wife is going to be operated due to infection (fistula) of an anal gland.

  5. lalalasec says:

    Gratefully, tumor of the butt-centric organs, likewise called adenocarcinoma, is not a typical illness in puppies and is much more uncommon in kitties. Notwithstanding, when it occurs, it is obtrusive and regularly conveys an extremely poor anticipation.

    Butt-centric organ growth shows up as a rectal mass and is much of the time likewise found in the lymph hubs. By and large, the tumor influences just a single butt-centric organ, yet every so often both organs are included. This kind of disease is commonly harmful and spreads rapidly to different areas in the creature’s body, including the liver and lungs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKs2B1U3wE4

  6. Gail says:

    Back to your original article!!! It really did provide a lot of useful information. You answered questions I didn’t even know I was wondering about! You are a veterinarian who is trying to help people understand animal issues. And you’re doing a great job, with appreciated humor. Thank you!!!!

  7. DK says:

    Yep, you’re a vet and clearly not a doctor so please avoid giving information about human anatomy. Or would you prefer that doctors start issuing advice about animal anatomy and physiology?

    Try telling an anorectal surgeon that humans don’t have anal glands.

    • Dr. Roger says:

      Lol! Veterinarians are not doctors? Hmmm….So, it is my imagination that DVM stands for DOCTOR of Veterinary Medicine? I do not doubt that humans have some form of glandular system in their rectums, but I believe the point that this veterinarian is making is that we do not hear about people routinely needing their anal glands expressed over their failure to empty properly during defecation.

      Sorry you were offended, DOCTOR.

      Your humble veterinarian and non-doctor in your opinion,

      Roger Welton, DVM

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