As a veterinarian who has worked almost exclusively with dogs and cats for the last several years, I’ve encountered (arguably more than) my fair share of anal gland problems!
From anal gland infections to impacted anal glands, abscesses to tumors, there are very few anal gland issues that I haven’t had the dubious pleasure of treating.
In this article, we’ll discuss the hows, whys, and whens of anal gland problems, starting with how often your dog’s anal glands (also sometimes called ‘anal sacs’) need to be expressed.
How Often Should my Dog’s Anal Glands be Expressed?
The frequency at which this is required varies between individuals; manual expression may be needed as often as every few weeks, or as rarely as once or twice annually.
Many dogs (perhaps even most dogs) never require a helping hand when it comes to keeping their anal glands from overfilling and will go their whole lives without manual expression being warranted. However, a significant minority of dogs will require manual expression on a regular basis throughout life.
A key point to bear in mind is that a dog’s anal glands should only be manually expressed by a vet, groomer or competent (and brave) pet parents when the following two criteria are met:
1) Your dog’s anal sacs have become full
2) your dog is indicating that they are unable to express their anal glands by themselves (see ‘how to tell if your dog needs their anal glands expressing’).
How to Tell if Your Dog Needs their Anal Glands Expressing
These common signs can indicate that your dog may need to have their anal glands expressed include:
The following signs may indicate a more serious medical issue, such as an anal gland impaction that has progressed to an infection or even an abscessed gland.
- Blood or purulent material (pus) being noticed on your dog’s bottom or being discovered in a location where he or she has been sitting.
- Obvious pain around your dog’s anus, typically exhibited by a pet suddenly becoming protective of the area (tail clamped down, and spinning around or immediately sitting down if attempts are made to examine the area under the tail).
Will my Dog Express his Anal Glands on his Own?
Most dogs express their anal glands naturally during the course of a normal bowel movement. This is because your dog’s stools put pressure on the anal glands as they pass through the rectum and anus, resulting in expression.
If your dog suffers on a regular basis from abnormal bowel movements (for example, overly soft stools), or is not receiving adequate dietary fiber, their anal sacs may fail to empty properly on a regular basis. The end result is likely to be that your dog needs to have their anal glands manually expressed.
Your dog may also struggle to express their own anal glands if they are overweight, and/or have weak muscles around their hind end (for example, due to a lack of adequate exercise or suboptimal activity levels).
Should the Vet or the Groomer Express my Dog’s Anal Glands?
Many dog groomers offer anal gland expression. In general, to get your dog’s anal glands expressed, a visit to the groomer may suffice, but some dogs (especially those with true anal gland impactions) will need to see a veterinarian for anal gland expression. What’s more, if you suspect that your dog may be suffering from an anal gland infection or abscess, then you should absolutely take him or her to the veterinary clinic rather than the grooming salon, so that appropriate medical treatment can be provided.
Be aware, too that certain abnormalities can only be assessed for during internal expression, such as anal gland tumors, and that only a vet is able to categorically diagnose anal gland cancer. Anal gland tumors are more common in dogs over ten years of age, although younger pets can certainly also be affected. Female dogs and castrated male dogs are slightly more likely to be affected by anal gland cancer compared to entire (uncastrated) male dogs.
It is also worth being aware that in certain regions (such as the United Kingdom, where I work as a vet), groomers are only authorized by law to carry out external expression of dog anal glands, which is usually less effective compared to internal expression.
How to Express Your Dog’s Anal Glands
While many owners turn to their veterinarian to have their dog’s anal glands expressed, some owners might be brave enough to try it themselves. So how exactly do you unblock a dog’s anal sacs?
There are two techniques that may be used to empty the anal glands: the internal technique, and the external technique. The key difference between the two is that external expression relies on applying pressure to the gland from the outside of your dog’s anus to produce emptying of the sacs, whereas internal expression involves placing an index finger inside the anus to assist with expression more directly.
Whichever technique you are using, you’ll need to gather a pair of tight-fitting (medical style) gloves; a suitable pet-safe lubricant (such as petroleum jelly or KY jelly); and some paper towel with which to catch the anal gland contents. It’s also sensible to have grooming supplies such as dry shampoo or pet-safe deodorizing spray handy, as the contents of the glands – once expressed – will for sure leave things a bit whiffy!
When it comes to anal gland expression, it’s best to learn by observation first, and then by (ideally supervised) practice. The following YouTube videos are a great starting place for dog owners looking to take a more proactive, at-home approach when it comes to anal gland expression.
Please note that in some regions (such as the UK), internal expression of dog anal glands is considered an act of veterinary intervention, and therefore can only legally be carried out by a qualified veterinary professional.
If you live in an area where internal anal gland expression by pet owners is allowed, I’d strongly recommend that you get an in-person demonstration at your local veterinary clinic first, or (better yet) have a veterinary professional supervise and talk you through the procedure before you try it yourself at home.
Happy squeezing, folks!