Some dogs may be born with very narrow channels that lead from the sacs to the edge of the anus, thereby obstruction the flow of anal sac material. Acquired damage to the duct can occur when perianal infections, trauma, allergies and inflammation compress or obstruct the narrow channel leading from the sac to the surface. For unknown reasons some dogs produce a thick or dry material from the sac lining which makes passage of the material through the narrow ducts impossible.
There is no age or sex predisposition to anal sac pathology. Uncommon in large breeds, infections and impactions are often experienced by small breeds such as Toy and Miniature Poodles, Chihuahuas, and Lhasa Apsos. Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and Beagles rank high on the list of breeds affected by anal sac difficulties.
Some groomers and animal health care workers believe feeding a diet rich in fiber aids in emptying the sacs. The pressure of the firm stool against the colon wall near the anus may help to express the anal sac contents. Dogs that have an existing problem such as infection or obstructed ducts, though, probably won’t respond to dietary changes; modifying the diet with more or less fiber yields inconsistent benefits. As a practitioner for over 35 years I have seldom seen a change of diet have any beneficial impact on the frequency of anal sac problems.
There is a difference of opinion regarding routine expressing of the anal sacs. For example, veterinarian Mark Thompson in his presentation about anal sacs in Current Veterinary Therapy XIII, suggests routine manual expressing of the anal sacs should not be done in a normal dog with no anal sac issues. Many groomers make it a matter of routine, though, to express the anal sacs of their dogs.
Certified Master Groomer Sherri Glass, for example, has been grooming dogs for 14 years and has taught grooming for 5 years at Cornerstone Dog Grooming Academy in Clyde, OH. She relates, "teach students to empty anal glands on all small dogs, about 20 pounds or less in size. We also do any size dog at owners request. If dog owners would meet their dogs nutritional needs with high quality food, keep them at proper weight, and provide plenty of good exercise, most dogs would not have to have the anal sacs expressed."
Mr. Jeffrey Reynolds, Director of the National Dog Groomers Association of America says "In states were it is legal for groomers to express anal sacs, many groomers express them externally only either as a part of the grooming procedure or at the owners request. When there is evidence that the sacs are impacted, then they are not expressed and the owner is advised to bring the dog to the vet."
There is an 88 percent chance the thought of anal sacs will never even occur to you. However, if your dog is one of the 12 percent that scoots his rear bumper along the carpet, frequently turns to lick or bite at the base of his tail or anal region, or displays discomfort when passing stool, it would be advisable to make an appointment with the veterinarian.
If left untreated, anal sac impactions, infections and abscesses can be a reoccurring nuisance for your dog so be proactive about an evaluation if your dog displays any discomfort in the tail or anal region.
"Do-it-yourself-anal-sac-expressing" can be done at home once your veterinarian has instructed you. (Yuck … be careful about contact with anal sac secretions or you’ll be very unpopular with yourself and others!) Some cases respond to infusion of the sacs with antibiotics in addition to oral medication. In chronic cases, careful surgical removal of the anal sacs can be curative; the dog never has another annoying bout of anal sac disease. Be sure to discuss the pros and cons of surgery if chronic problems lead you in that direction.