Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re sitting on the couch with your dog snuggled close against your side, binge-watching the latest Netflix series. Your pooch is in a deep sleep, complete with doggy whimpers and twitching paws. Suddenly, a loud crack of thunder shakes your home, and your storm-fearing dog is startled awake. You smell a horrible odor—much worse than their typical gas—emanating from your dog’s rear end, and when you move, you find a small wet spot where your dog was resting. When you wipe the spot with a towel, you realize that’s the source of the horrible odor. 

If you’ve been in this situation, you likely know that your dog released their anal glands when they were startled. But, why does this happen, and what function do anal glands serve in pets? Your Caldwell Animal Hospital team answers your every question about your pet’s anal glands in the following Q&A. 

Question: What are anal glands in pets?

Answer: Anal glands in pets are two small glands, or sacs, located inside the anus. As your dog or cat defecates, the stool compresses the glands and a thin, strong-smelling fluid is expressed, coating the stool. As long as these internal glands are healthy, they cannot be seen when looking at your pet’s hind end.

Q: Why do pets have anal glands?

A: Anal glands and their secretions play a big role in animal-to-animal communication, as pets rely heavily on their sense of smell to learn about others in their environment. Anal gland fluid can be used to mark territory, impart health status, and recognize other pets.

Q: Is the foul odor I sometimes notice in my startled pet because of their anal glands?

A: Pets can express their anal glands when they become unexpectedly excited or stressed. Anal gland fluid is typically released during defecation, but can occur during events, such as firework shows, thunderstorms, or a traumatic incident.

Q: What problems may my pet have with their anal glands?

A: Occasionally, pets develop inflamed, impacted anal glands that may rupture if not relieved. Irritated, impacted, or infected anal glands can be caused by obesity, chronic skin infections, hypothyroidism, allergies, soft or loose stool, digestive issues, poor anatomy, or frequent, unnecessary expression.

Q: Why does my pet scoot along the floor?

A: One of the most common signs of anal gland problems is your pet scooting their hind end along the floor. Impacted anal glands can become full and uncomfortable, and your pet may scoot to relieve the pressure. You may also notice swelling around your pet’s anus, excessive licking, and a frequent fishy odor. If the anal glands become overfilled and painful, your pet may also strain to defecate, or vocalize in pain as they try.

Q: Do my pet’s anal glands need to be expressed manually?

A: Ideally, your pet should express their own anal glands each time they defecate, but if you see them struggling to release the fluid naturally, or you notice other issues, manual expression is necessary to prevent an impaction or rupture. Pets with chronic issues, such as allergies or poor anatomy, may need regular manual expressions.

Q: How can I prevent anal gland problems in my pet?

A: Depending on the cause of your pet’s anal gland problems, you can reduce the frequency of issues at home through the following methods.

  • Keep your pet at a healthy weight — Pets may become overweight or obese because of overfeeding, but hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and other conditions can also contribute to weight gain. Determine the cause of your pet’s excess pounds, and take appropriate steps to maintain an ideal weight.
  • Add fiber to your pet’s diet — Fiber can help firm up loose stool and encourage regular bowel movements that aid in natural anal gland expression. Canned pumpkin, psyllium fiber supplement, or a high-fiber diet can be beneficial. Ask your Caldwell Animal Hospital team for appropriate dosages and whether additional fiber is necessary.
  • Add fish oil to your pet’s diet — The fatty acids in fish oil have anti-inflammatory properties, and can soothe skin and anal gland inflammation.
  • Avoid unnecessary anal gland expressions — Groomers generally externally express anal glands during routine grooming appointments, but excessive expressions can scar the duct tissue, narrowing the passageway, and impeding the flow of anal gland fluid. Your pet’s anal glands should be manually expressed only if necessary.
  • Control your pet’s allergies — Inflammation from environmental allergies or food sensitivities can cause anal gland issues, but managing your pet’s allergies through allergy treatment or a hypoallergenic diet can reduce overall inflammation and anal gland problems.

By unearthing the root of your pet’s anal gland issues, together we can create an effective management plan to prevent unnecessary pain, inflammation, and infection.

Have you noticed your pet scooting along your carpet? Or, maybe they’ve been licking excessively at their hind end. If your furry pal is displaying signs of anal gland issues, call Caldwell Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.