Anal gland abscesses in dogs

Picture of dog on white background

Overview

Anal glands are two small sacs that sit just inside a dog’s anus (bottom). They contain a strong smelling substance that gets squirted onto a dog’s poo when they go to the toilet. It is believed that this smelly substance helps a dog mark their territory.

If an anal gland becomes blocked, an infection or abscess may develop. This can be extremely painful and needs treatment by a vet.

Unless you notice a problem, anal glands don’t need to be examined or emptied. They should empty themselves when your dog goes to the toilet.

Symptom of an anal gland infection

  • Scooting (rubbing bottom on the ground)
  • Biting or licking their bottom or the base of their tail
  • Pain when pooing
  • A red, swollen bottom
  • A foul smell around their back end
  • Discharge, blood or matting around their bottom
  • A wound around their bottom
  • Sitting down or looking round suddenly 
  • Low energy (lethargy).

What causes anal gland infections?

Anal gland infections are nearly always a result of leaving blocked anal glands without treatment. Always have your dog checked if you think they have an anal gland problem.

Blocked anal glands

Sometimes anal glands become blocked, this can be very irritating and sometimes very painful.

Anal gland inflammation (sacculitis)

Anal glands start to become inflamed (red, swollen and painful) if they have been blocked for a long time. Inflammation of anal glands is sometimes called anal sacculitis

Anal gland infection

Once anal glands are blocked or inflamed they easily become infected. Bacteria start to grow, create pus and cause a lot of pain. Anal gland infections can make a dog feel very unwell.

Anal gland abscess

An anal gland abscess is a balloon of pus that builds up inside one or both glands. This happens if an infected gland isn’t treated. Abscesses are extremely painful.

Anal gland rupture

If an anal gland abscess is left without treatment, pressure builds up inside and can cause the anal gland to burst (see picture).

Photo illustrating ruptured anal glands

Burst anal glands on a dog

When to contact your vet

Anal gland disease is very painful. Contact your vet straight away if your dog has any of the symptoms above.

You know your dog best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it’s always best to contact your vet.

Treatment for infected anal glands

Anti-inflammatory medication

Anti-inflammatory medication is often used to help settle red, hot, angry glands.

Other pain relief

Your vet may prescribe additional pain relief if necessary.

Anal gland emptying

Infected anal glands may need to be emptied. If the infection is really painful or an abscess has already formed your vet may need to admit your dog into the veterinary hospital for treatment.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics may be used in some cases but aren’t always needed. Once an abscess is open to the air, bacteria usually stop growing. If the anal glands are then kept clean they will often heal themselves.

Further investigations

If the problem doesn’t go away or returns after treatment, it may be necessary to have a swab (pus sample) taken from your dog’s anal glands to help the vet decide which antibiotic is best to fight the infection.

Surgery

In rare cases, when the problem returns many times, surgery may be recommended to remove your dog’s anal glands. This is usually a last resort because surgery around a dog’s bottom is very risky - infection and complications are common.

Outlook

Most dogs recover quickly once they’ve been treated for an anal gland problem.

Some dogs need regular gland emptying to stop continuing problems. For some dogs this will be occasionally (i.e. 2 - 3 times a year), for others more regularly. Depending on the symptoms, you can discuss with your vet how regularly your dog’s anal glands need emptying.

Ongoing care

Empty only when necessary

  • Have your dog’s anal glands emptied by a vet or nurse as regularly as your vet suggests and book your dog in if you notice problems between appointments.
  • Unless your vet has recommended it, don’t have your dog’s anal glands examined or emptied (even at the groomers).
  • Your vet may be willing to teach you how to empty your dog’s anal glands safely.

Fibre

  • Adding extra fibre to your dog’s diet will help firm up and bulk out their poo. As a result, when your dog goes to the toilet their stool will press on the anal glands and help to empty them.
  • Your vet will give advice on what type and how much fibre to add to your dog’s food.

Keep your dog slim

Published: October 2018

PetWise Pet Health Hub – brought to you thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery 

Written by vets and vet nurses

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst