I’m going to start a new occasional “How to” series today. Every so often (whenever the mood strikes), I’ll write a post on how owners can perform various procedures at home, with the hopes of saving you some money and time.

These are things that don’t necessarily require the involvement of a veterinarian, and they are things that owners have asked me to teach them in the past.

First up … expressing a dog’s anal glands.

Looking from behind at a pet’s rear-end, one gland is located at approximately five o’clock and the other at seven o’clock around the anal opening. The glands produce a “fragrant” (foul-smelling) fluid that plays a role in scent marking. In health, a small amount of this fluid is released from the sacs located in the middle of the glands when a pet defecates. However, dogs and, very rarely, cats can develop problems (e.g., obesity, soft stools, and anatomic variations) with their anal glands or surrounding tissues that impede the ability of the fluid be released normally. When this occurs, the sacs holding the fluid can become distended, infected, uncomfortable, and eventually may even rupture.

Dogs with anal gland “issues” typically have some combination of the following symptoms:

  • scooting (dragging their bottoms along the ground)
  • excessively licking the affected area
  • intermittently releasing the contents of the anal glands at inappropriate times
  • red skin around the anus
  • bleeding or the drainage of pus from around the anus

If you see blood or pus around your dog’s anus or if your dog seems very uncomfortable, do not attempt to express his anal glands at home. Make an appointment with your veterinarian ASAP. Only attempt to express a dog’s anal glands at home when you have someone to help you hold the dog and are confident that the dog will not react aggressively. If need be, use a muzzle.

Steps to Follow

  • Place a small dog on a table or counter in front of you, or kneel behind a large dog.
  • Have a second person restrain the dog by placing one arm underneath and around the dog’s neck and the other restraining the rest of his body, hugging him close.
  • Put on a pair of latex or similar gloves and lubricate your index finger with petroleum jelly or a water-based lubricant.
  • Lift up the tail and gently insert your index finger into the rectum approximately one inch forward.
  • Feel with your index finger and thumb for a firm pea or marble sized object at the five or seven o’clock positions.
  • When you have found the gland, place a paper towel between the dog’s anus and your hand and gently milk the gland’s contents outwards by putting pressure on the most distant side of the gland first and continuing to squeeze towards you. Do not use more pressure than you would feel comfortable applying to your own, closed eye.
  • The gland should be barely palpable when empty.
  • Wipe the anal area clean and repeat on the other side.

If you have any questions, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the procedure on one of your dog’s glands and then try it yourself on the other gland while he or she looks on.

Expressing anal glands at home is not for the squeamish, but it is a good option for intrepid owners of dogs that regularly find themselves in need of the procedure.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Jesse Kunerty / via Shutterstock