Anal Gland Problems in Dogs (and Cats)

5 min read


A difference of opinion exists regarding whether or not healthy anal glands should be routinely expressed by hand. Many veterinarians suggest that this should not be done in a normal dog with no history of problems. Many groomers make it a matter of routine, however, to express the anal glands of the dogs under their care. 


Certified Master Groomer Sherri Glass, for example, has been grooming dogs since 1993 and has taught pet grooming at Cornerstone Dog Grooming Academy in Clyde, Ohio. She relates, "[we] teach students to empty anal glands on all small dogs, about 20 pounds or less in size. We also do any size dog at the owner's request." But she adds, "If dog owners would meet their dog's 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."

Jeffrey Reynolds, director of the National Dog Groomers Association of America, adds that groomers won’t actually treat diseased glands. "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."

If you are concerned that frequent anal gland expressions may be causing your dog more troubles than they are solving, you can always request that your groomer skip this step.

How to Recognize a Problem

Most pets who are having problems with their anal glands will scoot their bottom along the floor, frequently turn to lick or bite at the anal region, or display discomfort when passing stool. Any pet with persistent symptoms like these should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Left untreated, anal sac impactions, infections, and abscesses can become serious problems for your dog, so be proactive about an evaluation if your dog displays any discomfort in the anal region.

Treating and Managing Anal Gland Problems in Pets

Veterinarians check a pet’s anal glands with a digital rectal exam—inserting a lubricated, gloved finger through the pet’s anus and feeling the surrounding structures. The doctor will also express each gland to evaluate the material and how easily it can pass through the ducts. This is usually the only treatment necessary if a pet’s anal glands are mildly impacted.

If your pet is diagnosed with an infection, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics and perhaps other treatments like warm compresses and pain relievers. An abscessed anal gland may also need surgery to provide drainage and to remove damaged and infected tissues. Regularly scheduled anal gland expressions can help prevent impaction and infection in dogs who suffer from recurrent anal gland problems. This procedure can be performed by your veterinarian or groomer, or you can ask to learn how to do it yourself at home.

While impaction and infection are the most common anal gland problems in pets, other conditions, including cancer, can affect the perianal region of pets. If you suspect that your dog or cat is suffering from an anal gland disorder, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

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