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Q: My two-year-old dog “squirts” a foul-smelling fluid every time he’s startled by a knock at the door. I thought he had loose bowels, but my veterinarian says he’s expressing his anal glands. I’ve never had a dog that did this before. Can you please tell me more? Do you have any advice to offer?

A: Dogs have two small oval-shaped sacs on either side of the anus. The purpose of the glands is to produce a fluid with a strong odor (very pungent and fishy smell) unique to each dog. It’s believed that the expression of a small amount of this fluid marks territory. Most dogs can also involuntarily express their anal sacks when they are fearful or become stressed.

Many dogs will go through their lifetime without any issues with their anal glands. There are times, however, when these glands can become full, impacted or infected. When signs of anal gland issues occur, dog owners should contact from a veterinarian. 

Signs of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

  • Scooting the rear end along the floor or lawn
  • Excessive licking or itching the anal area
  • Straining or difficulty with defecation (pooping)
  • Blood or pus in the stool or near the rectum

Causes of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

Certain factors may increase the likelihood of a dog developing impacted, infected or abscessed anal glands:

  • Chronic skin dermatitis 
  • Obesity
  • Insufficient dietary fiber
  • Chronic soft stool
  • Food and/or environmental allergies
  • Genetics: While it’s more common for smaller breeds to develop issues with their anal gland no breed is immune. 

Treatment and Prevention of Anal Glands Disease

If your dog is displaying signs and symptoms of an anal gland problem, seek the advice of your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may manually express the sacs. An antibiotic may be prescribed if there is an infection.

To prevent anal gland problems, discuss a diet plan for your dog with your veterinarian. They may recommend that you include fish oil and increased dietary fiber in your dog’s diet. Canned pure pumpkin, cooked fresh pumpkin and unsalted pumpkin seeds are a common diet addition. Read the label on the canned pumpkin to ensure there is no Xylitol, which is deadly for dogs.

What is the Purpose of a Dog’s Anal Sac?

There are a few theories as to why dogs have anal sacs and what purpose they serve. Some say the excretion from the anal gland act as a territorial scent marker. Others argue the excretion acts as a lubricant that helps a dog pass a hard stool.

Like it or not, your dog is a predator. And as such your dog has two anal sacs, also called anal glands, located on the lower sides of his anus. They produce an excretion with a scent that identifies him and tells other dogs such things as your dog’s sex, health and approximate age.

These sacs express (excrete) this fluid when the dog has a bowel movement.

A poor diet or an inherited biological problem can cause the sac to malfunction. And if the sac doesn’t empty as designed, it can become impacted and make bowel movements difficult, even painful.

It’s not uncommon to see a dog attempt to relieve the discomfort of an impacted anal gland by biting at his butt or scooting it across the ground. This activity could damage the delicate tissue around the dog’s anus, so it’s best to get your dog to your vet as soon as possible.

Your vet can manually express the glands – a smelly process Your vet or a groomer can teach you how to do it, if you’re up to the challenge. But most owners prefer to pay to have it done.

Have a non-urgent question for a veterinarian? AKC Vetline is a live, 24/7 service staffed by licensed veterinary staff and pet professionals. Get unlimited access to answers about your pet’s health and wellness whenever and wherever you need it from a source you know you can trust.

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