Anal glands
Written by Dr. Geraldine Rankin, DVM, No. Ireland

1st june 1997:

Please take a look at the attached file(anal.jpg) to understand where the anal glands are situated on the dog . If you look at the rectal ring from behind the dog the glands are at 4 oclock and 8 oclock on either side of the rectum . If you gently put your fingers to this area you will be able to feel them through the skin .As you can see from the diagram there are some very big blood vessels going over them also some nerves that follow the arteries .(which are not drawn on the diagram).

The function of the anal glands:
The anal glands are rudimentary glands that have very little function in the modern domestic animal . They were put there for them to scent the faeces so that other animals knew that where the faeces was was their territory . In the wild animals such as the lion and tiger family these glands are still used to mark their territorries . Domestic cats have also got these glands and can have exactly the same symptoms as dogs!

Causes of problems with anal glands:
The diet of a wild dog(such as the dingo)consistes of an awfull lot of roughage :bones , grass etc . However the modern domesticated dog is usually fed a domestic food which is very soft in consistency . There is nothing that can squeaze the anal glands from within. Also the domestic dog is not in prime muscular condition like a a dingo so the external muscles around the glands are not capable of flexing and expiring the glands the way they would if the dog was in top condition.

Hence the anal glands is a problem in most dogs . My experience is the smaller and less active a dog is and of course fatter the more the problems persist .

Developement of symptoms for anal gland problems : The glands continously fill up and the idea is that the muscles around the glands are supposed to expire them every time the dog defaecates . Unluckily that is not what happens -the glands fill up on a continous basis and in the end start causing problems which can be constant if the glands are not mechanically expired regularly:

The first symptoms are usually very slight . The dog goes off it's food for a day or so . Basically the glands are pressing against the surrounding nerves and it hurts . To alleviate the pain the dog eats grass or whatever it can get hold of of roughage hoping to be able to throw up the problem that is annoying the dog . I used to have a beagle who used to eat yards and yards of toilet paper or the plants in the house. Because the problem is right down in the rectum when the dog throws up all that comes up is flem , bile and foam .Only if it has just eaten does any stomach contents come up. Sometimes the dog has tried so hard to throw up some of the small capillaries in the oesophagus have burst and a bit of fresh blood comes up too.

The dog refususes to go to the toilet although this too might not be noticed by the owner. And over the next 2-3 days the contents of the guts reacts just like a big closed off cauldren of food would do . It starts to become a large stinking mass of goo . Eventually because the dog usually continues to eat the contents of the guts have to empty and you get a variety of different faecal contents : varrying from a pencil thin normal looking excrement to a slimey thin stinking diarrhoe where the owner thinks the entire mucosal membrane from within has been excreted.

Usually after a couple of weeks of this the dog expires the glands on its own . Very often they expire them as they enter the vet's or groomers office out of shear fright(in that they flex their muscles out of fright). You will be able to smell this. And the vet obviously will find nothing wrong with the dog!!!!!

However in some cases the above is not the end of it . Some glands are impacted with a thick gooy infected mass (abscess). At first the dog bites itself everywhere it possibly can to get hold of the glands . If the dog is thin , it will lick around the anal area for hours on end- sometimes causing severe sores . The dog smells really fould from it's mouth. Other fatter individuals will lick the hind leg right down to the paws , between their legs and down their back . At worst these impacted glands can errupt and reveal a huge hole to one or both sides of the glands . This would require surgical treatment to heal.

There is also another version of the symptoms :Usually seen in hyper active dogs with very good appetities : I have seen it very often in very hyper active labradors (what's the reason for this I don't know ) : The dog is completely normal the night before , but when it wakes up in the morning it is unable to get up onto it's back legs : it is totaly lame from the waist down . (remember the nerves that surround the anal glands ). The owner usually comes rushing to the vet with tears running down their cheeks thinking the dogs has hyp displasia and has to be put down., puts the dog on the table and once the vet has expired the glands the dog is able to move immediately afterwards -at first cautiously and after a short while can walk without any problems . A great miracle cure done by your wonderful vet.

As you can see the variety of symptoms with anal glands is multifold . They can be quite dramatic , but are in most cases very easy to cure . I was asked whether owners should expire them themselves - yes but only when one of the above symptoms are obvious- the reason being the more often you expire them the more often you need to do it . In cocker spaniels and poodles which are breeds that really have problems with anal glands I always recommend caution in doing it too often .Only advice is that if there is an awfull lot in the glands it is a good idea to expire them once more within one week which seems to get rid of the problem for about 1-2 months.