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More than you want to know about anal glands

Somehow, in three years of dog-blogging, I’ve managed to avoid addressing the issue of anal glands.

The time has come to express myself.

Dog anal glands are two small glands located on either side of your dog’s anus, each of which holds a tiny amount of a foul smelling brown liquid. For a long time, traditional wisdom among groomers was that, every now and then, those glands should be squeezed, or expressed, to clear them.

Fortunately, especially for groomers and do-it-yourself expressers, the wisdom has changed — so much so that some experts, including veterinarian Karen Becker, featured in the video above, now advise that anal glands, as a rule, be left the heck alone.

That’s because your dog knows how to express himself, so to speak.

Whenever a dog urinates or defecates, the act applies pressure to the anal glands, and a tiny bit of the fluid is released. Dogs also have the ability to express at will, by raising their tails, which they often do when meeting a new dog — as in “Allow me to introduce you, new acquaintance, to eau de Ace.” They just emit a tiny amount, not detectable by humans, but enough to lead those meeting for the first time to a long bout of mutual butt sniffing.

Only once has my dog Ace been the victim of a manual anal gland expressing, by a groomer in Alabama who was pretty much insisting it be done, and insisting I watch and learn. She squeezed and squeezed but nothing came out. Finally she gave up, saying maybe they didn’t need expressing after all.

Many dogs never develop any problem with their anal glands, especially those who are eating quality food — not big on fillers — that lead to a firm stool. A firm stool will create the pressure needed to naturally express the glands.

When the anal glands are not sufficiently expressed, bacteria can build up, which can lead to infections, which can lead to an abscess, which can lead to further problems.

If your dog is scooting or dragging his rear across the floor, emitting foul odors from his rear, or licking and chewing the area, those are signs that his anal glands may not be properly expressing. A visit to a groomer, or better yet a vet, can, shall we say, rectify the situation. 

If want to do it at home — and trust me, you don’t — you can learn more at  Lovetoknow.com. To see more of Dr. Becker’s reports, visit Mercola Healthy Pets.


Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time January 25, 2010 at 1:26 am

Hmm. The older I get, the smarter my Aged Mum seems to have been. She always attributed anal gland problems to “improper diet.” A “proper diet” for dogs, as far as she was concerned, was a good quality kibble supplemented each week by a tablespoon of fat “for the coat.” She also added, a couple of times a week, a bit of a vile stew she concocted from liver, various chicken parts, and assorted green vegetables plus carrots. I can still smell it cooking–it was awful! She would cook this up in a pressure cooker until the chicken bones had turned completely soft because she considered those to be very dangerous to dogs. But the majority of our dogs’ diet was–well, it was crunchy kibble. She attributed a lot of dog evils to “improper diet” including bad teeth, overweight, orthopedic problems, dry coat and hot spots, and of course the anal glands.

She must have been on the right track, and since she also taught me to groom the dogs, I’ve gone all these years without ever knowing that dog groomers were doing this. Since the Beagle now goes elsewhere for his bath, and since Greg usually takes him, we had a very serious chat about never allowing this to be done by anybody but the vet. Unfortunately we had this chat this morning over breakfast. Yech.