It’s not uncommon for dogs to have difficulties with their anal glands. Most anal gland problems are quite simple, but some can be serious, so it’s important to recognize problems that require veterinary care.
With many acute anal gland problems, you will notice licking at the back end, scooting, a foul odor, sometimes abnormal discharge or straining to defecate, and sometimes increased drinking and urination. If you notice your pet is lethargic or not eating, you should immediately contact your veterinarian. The following anal gland issues can be to blame for these symptoms:
Inadvertent Anal Gland Expression: The normal function of the anal gland is to act as a scent marker. The glands are typically expressed when your dog defecates, but sometimes fear, anxiety, excitement or pain can result in your pet unexpectedly expressing their anal glands. This will lead to a foul odor on your pet and on any surface the excretion ends up on. If your clothes are soiled, the smell can be removed by simply placing them in the washing machine. If the excretion ends up on your furniture or carpet, an everyday stain remover or pet odor remover will usually do the trick.
Anal Gland Impaction: Because of the thick nature of anal gland excretions, the glands can sometimes become impacted. This can lead to some minor discomfort for your pet because the animal will probably feel the pressure of the impacted gland. It’s a simple (but very smelly) procedure for your vet or veterinary technician to express mildly impacted anal glands. For those who are brave enough and have a recurrent problem, your veterinary team can even teach you how do to this at home. If you choose at-home expression, you’ll want to have some pet supplies on hand (AOE odor eliminator, exam gloves) to make the process as painless as possible. On rare occasions, the vet may have to sedate the animal to cannulate the anal gland duct to allow expression.
Anal Gland Abscess: When an impaction gets out of control or bacteria gets into the anal gland, an infection can occur. Infections can cause abscesses, which will most often rupture. If this happens, you may notice that your pet isn’t feeling well. Symptoms of a ruptured anal gland abscess include lethargy and loss of appetite. If you’re brave enough to investigate, you can lift up the tail, but use caution because your pet might be in pain. If you notice a red or yellow/green discharge, it’s time to go to the vet. A large, non-ruptured abscess may need to be lanced open. This might require the area to be bandaged to cover the wound. Most of the time, your vet will prescribe antibiotics for your pet and maybe even some pain medication.
Anal Gland Tumors: Anal gland tumors are a serious concern because they’re often a malignant form of cancer. These tumors can be insidious in their onset because often there are no clinical signs common with other anal gland problems. It’s a good idea for elderly pets to receive rectal exams at the vet’s office so this form of cancer can quickly be found, diagnosed, and treated. The most common type of tumor is an anal gland adenocarcinoma, which often elevates an animal’s calcium level. Symptoms of an elevated calcium level include increased thirst and urination. Along with blood work, your veterinarian may recommend x-rays or an ultrasound to see if the tumor has spread. Surgery will probably be necessary to remove the tumor, followed by chemotherapy. Although a little scary for some pet owners, chemotherapy is usually well tolerated by most pets and may substantially prolong the animal’s life.