Diesel is a lovely a young Miniature Schnauzer who came in to see us for an irritated bottom. He had been licking at his back end and dragging it across the floor while sitting - commonly referred to as "scooting". He also seemed to be toileting less. The answer to his itch was simple, but not pretty to talk about: Diesel's anal glands were full and causing irritation. The vet gave these a good squeeze to empty them out, relieving the pressure and Diesel has been feeling much better since.
It may not be glamorous, but brave Diesel agreed to put his paw up and be our poster boy this month because he knows that anal gland issues affect 10-15% of the canine population; that's more than 1 in every 10 dogs! So they are worth knowing about.
Both dogs and cats have anal glands, but they rarely cause issues in cats. They are two pea-sized sack-like glands that lie beneath the skin on either side of the bottom with ducts that open at the anus. The contents are squeezed out by normal toileting motion and they probably have a function in communication by smell - and boy do they smell!
Anal glands cause problems when they get blocked and fill up (impaction) or when they get infected, and if severe can cause them to burst open causing a wound near the bottom. We don't know exactly why some dogs suffer with anal gland issues and others don't, but risk factors include chronic diarrhoea and obesity. Smaller breeds tend to be more prone.
A dog with irritated anal glands may:
- Lick and chew at the bottom or tail base
- Have swelling around the bottom
- Smell (often described as a 'fishy' odour)
- Have discharge from the area - smelly greyish liquid or, in the case of burst abscesses, bloody material
Anal gland problems can be managed with antibiotics if needed, regular squeezing to prevent overfilling and changes in diet. Ongoing issues are sometimes treated with surgical removal of the glands, but as this is a very delicate area this is usually reserved for severe cases.