Anal Sacs: Good-For-Nothing Little Trouble Makers!

Photo Credit: Susannah Kay

Here’s my true confession. After 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine, anal sacs have always been (and will remain) my least favorite part of a patient’s anatomy. They are good-for-nothing little trouble makers that serve no useful physiologic purpose. If you’ve never experienced having a pet with anal sac disease, count your blessings and find some wood to knock on!

Care to learn more about anal sac issues? I invite you to read a recent email I received from a dog lover named Jennifer and my response to her:

Dear Dr. Kay,

I have an eight-year-old Beagle who is in pretty good shape. He has a huge yard to run around freely in with his two sisters (non Beagles). We feed him the healthiest food that we can afford, and yet every so often that boy will drop down on the rug and scrape his butt on the floor. When go to the vet we get his anal glands expressed and the problem is temporarily solved. The vet says I can do this at home, but I don’t want my boy to look at me like he does his doctor so I just bring him in. Is there anything I can do to make this happen less often? I never see the girls doing it. Is this unhealthy for him? I really don’t like that it takes place on my carpet but you can’t catch him until he’s down! Thanks for any ideas you might have!

Jennifer

I responded to Jennifer’s concern as follows:

Hi Jennifer,

So sorry that you have a scooting Beagle on your hands! Here’s some information about anal sac issues in dogs. Located at the eight o’clock and four o’clock positions, just beneath the skin surface of the anus, the anal glands continuously produce a fetid smelling, pasty material that accumulates within the sacs surrounding them. This nasty material is emptied from the sacs via two small ducts that lead to the surface of the anus. Evacuation of the sacs usually occurs in conjunction with the pressure of a bowel movement (so sorry if I am getting to graphic here).

Some dogs experience an impaction (the material cannot be eliminated) or a bacterial infection (anal sacculitis) within one or both sacs. Symptoms include licking at the anal region, “scooting behavior” as your dog is demonstrating, swelling around the anus, reluctance to sit, and awful smelling secretions from the anal sac duct that may contain blood.

The cause(s) of anal sac disease is uncertain, but obesity and skin conditions such as seborrhea and food allergies may be predisposing factors. Treatment may include repeated manual expression of the anal sacs, a hypoallergenic food trial, and antibiotics if infection is present. One can also try making the stools firmer by adding fiber to the diet with hopes that a bulkier and firmer stool may more effectively empty the anal sacs. I encourage you to talk with your veterinarian about these options.

Yes, you can learn to empty your Beagle’s anal sacs at home. When done properly, it should not cause him pain or discomfort, but the look on his face may suggest, “What in the *!x!! are you doing back there?” I coach my clients to do many treatments for their pets at home, but emptying anal sacs is something I never strongly encourage. Truth be told, it is a gross and messy task- no one in their right mind ever looks forward to doing this!

For dogs who are frequent “repeat offenders” one can consider surgery to have the anal glands and sacs removed. If you choose this route, be sure to work with a surgeon who has performed this surgery many times in order to avoid the dreaded complication of fecal incontinence. Best of luck with your Beagle!

Dr. Nancy

Every once in a great while kitties develop anal sac disease, but for the most part, those darned little anal sacs are primarily a canine pet peeve. Much like the human appendix, they serve no good purpose, but are capable of wreaking plenty of havoc.

Has your dog been afflicted with anal sac disease? What did you do to manage this pain in the !#* problem?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

 

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14 Comments on “Anal Sacs: Good-For-Nothing Little Trouble Makers!

  1. This is also my least favorite “smell”. I can take most any smell but I truly hate this one. One of my male Labradors, Chauncy had impacted anal glands over this past Christmas. He eventually had them flushed and packed because expressing was not enough. We have tried using pure pumpkin, bran, Metamucil, and fresh veggies added to his meals but nothing has helped. Normally I can express anal glands but no longer with him. It takes two of us to hold him completely off the floor and a third person to express him. For some reason whether it is age related as he is 11.5yrs old he cannot empty his glands. At this point we are doing regular trips to the Vet to get him expressed to prevent him becoming impacted again. I don’t really want to put him through anal gland removal at his age so as long as regular expressions work I will keep doing that.

  2. Jasmine’s sacks decided to become angry last fall. I caught it early, as the only symptoms at that time were a moderate licking at the tail area and a smell that wasn’t quite right. With Jasmine, we don’t take any chances and have everything checked out right away. Also because she had a nasty infection in the same region some time back.

    Of course, her vet wasn’t all that happy, walking in on Saturday night, carrying his coffee and doughnut and finding out he has to play with anal sacks before “breakfast.”

    At first it didn’t even look like there was a problem with them, but it was, however moderate. They needed couple more follow-up expressions and seem to have been quiet since.

    How much good-for-nothing they are? Well, I don’t know … imagine living your life without and ID! LOL

  3. Is there something about black female cocker spaniels that makes them empty their anals when they’re totally relaxed on your lap? I’ve had two that do this!

    yech!

  4. It was always my assumption that anal gland issues were something only experienced by dogs that ate a poor diet. Surely my dogs are immune to such a thing since I’ve had them on high quality grain free diets for their entire lives (minus the eldest, who ate Purina for the first three years of his life before I learned more about canine nutrition).

    Imagine my surprise then, when my small dog developed a large painful abscess on his bum shortly after he was neutered at 3 1/2 years of age. Poor guy, that’s a lot to go through in a two week period. 😉 He did, indeed, have an infected anal gland.

    Kaiser isn’t a scooter, but he does go through periods of tail chasing which I feel may be related to his anal glands. When I notice him doing the tail chasing followed by licking I take a warm compress to his rear and give him a bit of canned pumpkin to hopefully help the situation. Seems to work, as he tends to act relieved and the tail chasing stops again for a while.

    I can’t imagine how painful the abscess must have been. It looked just horrible. If I had a dog who suffered that repeatedly I would definitely have them removed.

  5. Dr. Kay,
    I have never read a more intellectual, informative answer quite like the one you just wrote. It was amazing how you explained to your new students, those whom have not had the pleasure as of yet, how to ‘express’ their pets glands… You really made me giggle and smile, all the while saying to myself, ” Oh, how many times have I been there?” LOL To those of you whom have now chosen to learn the technique, I say, “Welcome!” :) It’s gonna be interesting!!!!

  6. Two of my dogs ended up having their anal sacs removed because they were constantly full. Made it easy for me but they had problems from then on when meeting another dog. Dogs could never understand why my dog didn’t have a scent. Because of that, they would recheck and recheck and recheck. The dog didn’t know what to make of it and my dog would get irritated with the constant attention.
    First dog’s surgery went fine but second dog sometimes has a piece of feces come out without being fully aware.
    On my other dogs and foster dogs, I just do them myself in the tub when they get their monthly bath. With practice, you can do it so fast they don’t notice till it’s over.

  7. Our Clumber boy Pierre had his very large anal sacs removed the end of January, this year. Our veterinarian said they were the largest anal sacs he had seen. They didn’t have enough wax to fill the sacs (the words sadly rhyme) prior to removing them. (Wax is injected into the anal sac to help in removing them during surgery.) Pierre was doing fine until the surgical sites became abscessed, so the poor guy had to undergo more surgery to repair them (the abscesses) within four days of having the anal sacs removed. The doctors were very concerned that he would suffer from anal incontinence. But, the Pierre man pulled through with no anal incontinence and happily with no anal sacs to content with. It is a very tough surgery on both Doggy parents and the patient, but there are times when surgery is the only option. I must take a moment to brag by saying Pierre was the favorite patient among the nurses and doctors. He loved being around the nurses, since he is a ladies man!

  8. Maggie did a lot of butt-scooting after we adopted her. She did have her anal glands expressed a couple of times in the early years. An article in Whole Dog Journal suggested that a dried prune or apricot once a week could add enough bulk to keep the anal glands functioning properly. We did that for a while (a few months I think) and never had another problem with it. Easy to follow, cheap advice that worked. Love it!

  9. Thank you for the fiber tip. I’m going to try that. Only one of the boys has anal sac issues, but when the vet had to deal with it, yoicks, the stink. So I’d like to prevent another episode.

  10. This is my first dog to ever have the scooting/anal sac issue. I was having to take her in once a month, and because she was so upset with them doing it, they had to sedate her. I couldn’t imagine putting her through that 12x per year, so I had them removed. She’s happy, I’m happy. They told me that the sac excretion serves as an identifier for other dogs, that when other dogs sniff her behind, that is what they are smelling for.
    Love your columns!

  11. I had a yellow lab and at an early age had this problem so I had them removed! I tried doing it myself and almost got bit!! She hated me touching her there and I hated doing it maybe more than she did!!! I never heard of this problem before I got that dog! So now I know it is something some dogs have an issue with and it definitely needs to be dealt with and not ignored!

    I will have to say it is the most veil odor I have ever smelled!!!

    Thx Abbie

  12. Hi Dr. Kay.
    Thank you always for your advice!
    My dog has had problems with his anal glands, but I would just mention that caretakers should take care to be observant when their dog’s behavior seems to indicate that….and check out that surrounding area carefully, because my dog, just hours after coming back from the vet to get his anal glands expressed had to be taken to the emergency vet with a very serious hot spot nearby the anal area! I doubt I will ever try to express his sac on my own, but I will be more vigilant in observing his behavior and checking his back end more in the future!

  13. Dr. Kay
    I am delighted that you addressed this unfavorable topic. I have three dogs and one, my female Dalmation mix, 6 years old, has a real problem with anal glands. She is in great physical shape, gets lots of exercise, is at perfect weight and is a smart and happy girl. She has a beautiful, shiny coat.
    I can tell before she gets to the rubbing on the rug stage – She lets me know that they are bothering her – and I can smell them, so we go to the grooming table. It is not fun for either of us, but once it is done, we are both happy. She does not hold it against me. Normally, I have to do it every two weeks.
    I feed a very good dry food – just started on a grain free food. I am not aware of any allergies. She does eat grass. Seems to need it. My dogs love carrots and broccoli stalks.
    I was just realizing lately that she has not been bothered for the past couple of weeks. Could it be the grain free food??? I was mixing it for a while, but now they are totally on the grain free. I will be eager to read any more information about this. It seems that not much study is done on it. Any article I have read about it states causes that do not fit for my girl. A friend told me that her vet said anal glands will not be a problem if you just leave them alone. How dogs would suffer if this is not taken care of! A friend had an old dog and the glands stuck out like hemroids (spelling)- and one broke open and there was blood everywhere. How awful for the dog.
    Thanks for addressing this issue. I look forward to learning more about it.

  14. Our dog had occasional problems with failing to express his glands. Adding a teaspoon of Metamucil to each of his two meals a day was the quick easy solution for us. Definitely worth trying!