How Do I Know if My Dog’s Glands Are Infected?

Zack Keithy, our author, is a certified veterinarian technician (UC Blue Ash) for over 6 years (contact him here). The articles written here are based on his expertise and experience, combined with a review by our expert vet reviewers including Dr M. Tarantino. Learn more about us here.

The question is, “How do I know if my dog’s glands are infected?”

Keep an eye out for several key signs:

  • Swelling: Check for any unusual swelling around your dog’s anal area.
  • Redness: Look for redness or inflammation in the same area.
  • Foul Odor: Pay attention to any unpleasant smells coming from your dog’s rear end.
  • Discharge: If you notice any discharge around the anal area, it may be a sign of infection.
  • Discomfort: Watch for signs of discomfort, such as your dog scooting along the ground or excessively licking their rear end.
  • If you observe one or more of these symptoms, it’s crucial to consult your veterinarian promptly.

In this post, I will be covering all the details because understanding and addressing this issue can mean the difference between a happy, healthy hound and one in distress.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Medical Questions? Talk to a Veterinarian 24/7.
Connect one-on-one with a licensed vet who will answer your questions in minutes.

Ask a Vet Now or Schedule a home visit

*Article may contain affiliate links to retailers like Amazon and Chewy. Learn more on our disclosure page.

What Are the Anal Sacs in Dogs? What Do They Do?

What Are the Anal Sacs in Dogs

Before we talk about the problems they face, let’s take a closer look at the “behind the scenes” when it comes to our canine companions.

Tucked away just below their tail, near the, ahem, back end, are two small, pea-sized glands known as anal sacs

While these glands may seem insignificant, they actually play a somewhat crucial role in your dog’s life.

Anal sacs, also known as anal glands, are sac-like structures located on either side of your dog’s rectum, just beneath the skin. 

They contain a rather pungent liquid that serves a unique purpose in the canine world – their primary function is akin to a doggy calling card. 

When your furry friend does their business, a small amount of this liquid is naturally expelled, leaving behind a distinct scent marker. 

It’s like their way of saying, “I was here!”

Unfortunately, these sacs can sometimes become a source of trouble for your dog, and knowing the basics is the first step in taking good care of your furry friend.

Are Anal Sacs Necessary for a Dog?

To put it simply, anal sacs aren’t essential for survival in the modern domesticated dog world. 

Unlike some other organs or body parts, dogs can get along just fine without their anal sacs. 

If, for some reason, a dog has an issue with their anal sacs that requires removal, it won’t significantly affect their overall well-being.

You can read more about the pros and cons of dog anal gland removal first too.

However, while it’s not essential for basic survival, a dog’s anal sacs do serve some important functions in its life. 

I’ve already mentioned their role in communication through scent marking which is a behavior deeply rooted in a dog’s instincts, and it can help them establish territory boundaries and interact with other dogs.

A dog’s anal sacs can come into play during those “oh-so-important” moments when your pup meets a potential furry friend. 

Dogs often sniff each other’s rear ends as a way of gathering information and getting acquainted. 

So, in social situations, anal sacs can be quite handy, even though we humans might find this behavior a bit odd!

So, to answer the question of whether anal sacs are necessary, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. 

They’re not vital for survival, but they do have functions that can be relevant to a dog’s social interactions and behavior. 

Nevertheless, because these sacs can cause discomfort if problems arise, it’s important to keep an eye on them and know what to look for. 

What is Dog Anal Sac Disease?

What is Dog Anal Sac Disease

Anal sac disease is a catch-all term for a range of issues that can affect these little scent-squirters, manifesting in several ways, and one of the most common issues is anal sac impaction.

According to The Kennel Club, it affects up to 4% of all dogs!

This occurs when the fluid inside the sacs thickens or becomes overly concentrated, making it difficult for your dog to naturally express it during their usual bathroom routine. 

When this happens, it can lead to discomfort, pain, and a few telltale signs.

Here’s where it gets important to pay attention: If your dog is dealing with anal sac disease, they may start scooting their behind along the floor or grass.

You’ve probably seen this behavior before, and while it might seem amusing at first, it’s often a sign that something’s amiss. 

Your furry friend might also lick or chew their hindquarters excessively or show signs of discomfort when sitting or defecating.

Anal sac disease isn’t limited to impaction, though. 

It can also include more severe issues like infection or even the formation of painful abscesses within the sacs. 

In these cases, you might notice swelling, redness, or discharge from the anal area, and your dog may be in obvious pain.

Now, it’s essential to remember that anal sac disease isn’t something your dog can simply “shake off.” 

If you suspect your pup is dealing with any of these symptoms, it’s time to consult with your vet. 

They can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan tailored to your dog’s specific needs.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Anal Sac Problems?

Dogs are pretty good at masking discomfort, so it’s up to us, their trusty human sidekicks, to be vigilant. 

Here are some telltale signs that your furry friend might be dealing with anal sac problems:

  1. The Scooting Shuffle: If you’ve ever seen your dog dragging their behind across the floor or yard like they’re doing the “booty scootin’ boogie,” it’s often a clear signal that something’s amiss back there. While it might look amusing, it’s usually a sign of anal discomfort.
  2. Licking and Chewing: Dogs have a tendency to turn to excessive licking or chewing when they’re experiencing discomfort. If your pup starts focusing a little too much on their hindquarters, it’s time to investigate further.
  3. Discomfort While Sitting or Defecating: Keep an eye out for signs of discomfort when your dog sits down or tries to do their business. If they wince, yelp, or display other signs of distress, it could be related to their anal sacs.
  4. Foul Odor or Discharge: Anal sac issues can sometimes result in a noticeable odor or discharge around your dog’s rear end. While dogs aren’t always the freshest-smelling creatures, a sudden, pungent odor can be a red flag, especially if your dog’s anal glands keep leaking after expression.
  5. Swelling or Redness: If you notice swelling or redness around the anal area, it’s a clear indicator that something’s going on with the anal sacs.

Now, remember, these signs don’t automatically mean your dog has anal sac problems, but they are a signal that you should take action. 

If you observe any of these signs persisting or worsening, it’s time to consult your vet.

How Will I Know if My Dog Has Anal Sac Problems

Stages of anal sac disease

If you wanna learn more, this section will dive deeper into the world of anal sac disease by exploring its various stages.

Knowing these stages can help you better understand what your canine companion might be experiencing.

  1. Stage 1 – Anal Sac Impaction: This is the initial stage and is often characterized by thickening or hardening of the fluid inside the anal sacs. You might notice some mild discomfort in your dog, along with the scooting and excessive licking we mentioned earlier.
  2. Stage 2 – Infection: If left untreated, an impacted anal sac can become infected. At this stage, your dog may display more pronounced signs of discomfort, including swelling and redness around the anal area. You might also notice a foul odor or discharge. Ouch!
  3. Stage 3: – Abscess Formation: This is the most severe stage of anal sac disease. In some cases, the infection can progress to the point where an abscess forms within the anal sac. Abscesses are painful and often require more intensive treatment, which might include draining the abscess and administering antibiotics.

It’s important to note that not all dogs will progress through all these stages, and some may have only one isolated incident. 

However, knowing these stages can help you and your vet determine the severity of the issue and the appropriate course of action.

How is Anal Sac Disease Being Treated?

Now that we’ve walked through the stages of anal sac disease, it’s time to tackle the important question of treatment. 

When your furry friend is facing this pesky issue, what can you do to help them find relief? Let’s dive into the solutions!

  • Expression: In the early stages, when the anal sacs are simply impacted, a trip to the vet might involve a good old-fashioned expression. Your vet will manually empty the sacs to relieve your dog’s discomfort. It’s a bit like a spa day for their behind!
  • Antibiotics: If infection is present, your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. This step is crucial in preventing the disease from progressing further.
  • Warm compresses: For mild discomfort and swelling, warm compresses can be applied to the anal area. It’s a gentle way to provide some relief to your pup.
  • Dietary adjustments: In some cases, dietary changes may be recommended to help your dog maintain firmer stools, for example giving them pumpkin. This can aid in the natural expression of the anal sacs during bowel movements.
  • Surgical intervention: In more severe cases, particularly if an abscess has formed, surgical drainage might be necessary. This procedure involves making a small incision to drain the abscess and clean out the infected material.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Your vet might also recommend lifestyle changes to prevent recurrence. These can include increasing your dog’s fiber intake, ensuring they have regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Remember, the treatment plan your vet recommends will depend on the severity of the disease and your dog’s specific condition and it’s super important to follow the guidance closely and administer any prescribed medications as directed.

If you notice any changes or concerns during your dog’s treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

They’re there to provide support and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

Is Dog Anal Sac Disease Likely to Reoccur?

Is Dog Anal Sac Disease Likely to Reoccur

The short answer? Yes, it can happen. Anal sac disease has a sneaky tendency to reoccur in some dogs.

Here’s why:

  • Breed predisposition: Certain breeds are more susceptible to anal sac issues. Breeds with smaller anal sacs or those prone to skin and coat problems may be at a higher risk.
  • Chronic conditions: Underlying health issues, such as allergies or gastrointestinal problems, can increase the likelihood of anal sac problems. These conditions may affect the consistency of your dog’s stools, making it harder for the sacs to empty naturally.
  • Incomplete emptying: Sometimes, during manual expression or drainage, the anal sacs may not completely empty. This leaves the door open for future issues.
  • Lifestyle factors: Dietary habits, exercise levels, and overall lifestyle can influence anal sac health. Dogs with sedentary lifestyles or a lack of dietary fiber may be more prone to recurrent issues.

While reoccurrence is a possibility, you should know that not all dogs who experience anal sac disease will have it return. 

Being proactive and implementing preventive measures can help minimize the chances of a repeat episode. 

Here’s what you can do:

  • Regular vet checkups: Schedule routine vet checkups to monitor your dog’s anal sac health. Your vet can perform manual expressions if necessary and catch any early signs of trouble.
  • Dietary adjustments: Consider adding fiber (pumpkin is great for helping your dog’s anal glands issues) to maintain healthy bowel movements.
  • Weight management: Keep your dog at a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise. Obesity can contribute to anal sac issues.
  • Grooming: Maintain good hygiene by keeping the anal area clean and trimmed. This can help prevent blockages and infections.
  • Early intervention: If you notice any signs of discomfort or scooting, don’t wait. Contact your vet promptly to address the issue before it worsens.

Remember, your vigilance and proactive care can go a long way in keeping your dog’s behind trouble-free. 

While reoccurrence is a possibility, it’s not an inevitability!

Are There Any Risks Associated With Surgical Removal of the Anal Sacs?

What about surgical removal of the anal sacs? Is it a viable option, and are there any risks involved? 

Let’s get to the bottom of it (pun intended).

Surgical removal of the anal sacs, known as anal sacculectomy, is a procedure that’s typically reserved for severe and recurrent cases of anal sac disease. 

While it can provide relief for some dogs, you need to be aware of the potential risks and considerations.

  • Surgical risks: As with any surgery, there are inherent risks involved. These may include infection, bleeding, or adverse reactions to anesthesia. However, these risks are relatively low, especially when performed by a skilled veterinary surgeon.
  • Permanent change: Once the anal sacs are removed, they’re gone for good. While this can prevent future anal sac problems, it also eliminates the sacs’ natural functions, including scent marking and communication with other dogs.
  • Potential complications: Some dogs may experience complications post-surgery, such as wound infection or discomfort during the healing process. You need to follow your vet’s post-operative care instructions carefully.
  • Lifestyle adjustments: After the procedure, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your dog’s lifestyle, including monitoring their bowel movements and ensuring they have regular, healthy stools.
  • Consultation with a specialist: Anal sacculectomy is typically performed by a specialist. Before deciding on surgery, you should consult with a veterinary surgeon who can assess your dog’s specific condition and determine if it’s the right course of action.

For sure, there are risks involved, but it can be a viable solution for dogs with severe and recurrent anal sac problems. 

The decision to proceed with surgery should be made in consultation with your vet, who can provide guidance based on your dog’s individual needs and circumstances.

Hey there, sorry to interrupt but I wanted to tell you about an online vet service I’ve been using for years.

An in-person visit with one is great, but it’s not always an option.

Now, thanks to technology, you can speak to one without leaving your home.

Convenience
Accessibility
Time-saving
Remote access
Avoidance of travel
Reduced stress for pets
Immediate access to experts
Quick response time
Cost-effective
Schedule appointments easily
ask-a-vet-a-question-anytime

Got something to ask a vet?
Talk to one anytime, 24/7.

START CHATTING NOW

* Don’t use this service for emergencies.

Alternatively, a vet can come out to you instead (exclusive to our readers: use THEVETS15 for 15% off).

SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT HERE

Thank you. The rest of the article continues below.

What Are the Potential Complications of an Infected Anal Gland in Dogs?

Let’s dig a little deeper into the potential complications that can arise when those pesky anal glands become infected. 

Knowledge is power, and being aware of these complications can help you take swift action to keep your furry friend comfortable and healthy.

  • Abscess formation: One of the most significant complications of an infected anal gland is the formation of an abscess. This happens when the infection inside the gland builds up, creating a pocket of pus. Abscesses are painful, swollen, and often require immediate veterinary attention. Left untreated, they can rupture, causing even more discomfort and the risk of secondary infections.
  • Cellulitis: An untreated infected anal gland can lead to cellulitis, which is a painful and potentially serious condition characterized by inflammation of the surrounding tissues. You might notice redness, swelling, and increased warmth in the affected area.
  • Rectal fistulas: In some cases, chronic or severe anal gland infections can result in the formation of rectal fistulas (perianal fistula). These are abnormal connections or tunnels that develop between the anal area and the skin, causing pain, discharge, and ongoing issues.
  • Systemic infection: While less common, a severe infection in the anal glands can spread throughout the body, leading to systemic illness. This can include symptoms like fever, lethargy, and a decrease in appetite.
  • Chronic discomfort: Even without the more severe complications mentioned above, an infected anal gland can cause ongoing discomfort and pain for your dog. This can affect their quality of life and overall well-being.
dog essentials banner in content

Recommended Fiber Supplements for Dogs With Anal Sac Problems

These can be a game-changer in maintaining healthy anal glands for your dog.

Just remember that when doing so, do it gradually and under the guidance of your veterinarian.

Sudden dietary changes can upset your dog’s stomach!

As mentioned earlier, pumpkin is a great option, and you can also check out this list of the best dog food for anal gland issues.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you know if your dog needs glands expressed?

You should look for signs like scooting, excessive licking or chewing of the hindquarters, foul odor, or discomfort when sitting or defecating. If you spot these clues, it’s time to schedule a vet visit for potential anal gland expression.

Can you squeeze your dog’s anal glands?

While some pet owners attempt at-home expressions, I personally don’t recommend it. Proper technique is crucial to avoid injury or infection. Leave it to the professionals – your vet or a trained groomer – who can safely perform the procedure and assess your dog’s gland health.

How often do dogs need their anal glands expressed? 

The frequency to express a dog’s anal glands varies; some dogs rarely need it, while others may require regular expressions. Signs like scooting or discomfort are indicators. Consult your vet for guidance. They’ll assess your dog’s specific needs and recommend an appropriate schedule, if necessary, to keep those glands in check.

Can dogs express their own glands by licking?

No, it will not work effectively. As pressure builds up, a dog might resort to licking as a way to deal with the problem. However, excessive licking may signal an issue, and it’s essential to address it promptly. If your pup licks excessively or displays discomfort, consult your vet to rule out any problems and ensure their well-being.

What if a dog’s glands are not expressed?

If a dog’s anal glands are not expressed naturally or manually, they can become impacted, infected, or develop abscesses. This can lead to discomfort and pain.

In Conclusion: How Do I Know if My Dog’s Glands Are Infected?

In my experience, lots of dog owners have no idea about their dog’s anal glands and certainly are unaware of the ways to deal with them.

Hopefully, this article has managed to clear up some of your doubts and gave you a better understanding of your little doggy!

The bottom line is, that your furry friend relies on your vigilance and care to keep them comfortable and happy!

Hey! If you found this post useful, check out these dog care tips too:

You’ve made it to the end, but I hope it’s not the end of our journey. We want to hear your voice! Share your thoughts, problems, suggestions, or anything related to your dog in the comments section. And don’t forget to join our newsletter today too.

Share this post!
Zack Keithy
Zack Keithy

Hey, I'm Zack, the Chief Editor here. I was formerly a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) for a good 6 years before moving on to greener pastures. Right now, I am still heavily involved in dog parenting duties, and it is my desire to share all our knowledge with fellow dog owners out there! Connect with me on LinkedIn, or read more about Canine Care Central!

no more bad dog breaths banner