Blocked anal glands in dogs

isolated dog

Overview

The anal glands are two small sacs that sit just inside your dog’s anus (bottom). They contain a strong-smelling liquid that’s emptied onto their stool when they go to the toilet. This smelly liquid helps your dog mark its territory.

Sometimes anal glands become blocked which causes irritation and pain. The most common sign of blocked anal glands is scooting (your dog rubbing their bottom on the ground).

Contact your vet if you think your dog has an anal gland problem. Blocked anal glands can usually be cured by careful emptying. Blocked anal glands left untreated can lead to infections and abscesses. If your dog suffers from blocked anal glands regularly, your vet may suggest a diet change and regular emptying.

Symptoms

Symptoms of blocked anal glands:

  • Scooting (rubbing their anus (bottom) on the ground)
  • Redness or swelling around the anus
  • Excessive biting or licking the anus
  • Excessive biting or licking the lower back
  • Pain/crying when toileting
  • Sitting down very suddenly
  • A foul (usually fishy) smell around their bottom
  • Discharge, blood or matting around their anus.
illustration of dog scooting

Scooting can be a symptom of blocked anal glands

Why are my dog's anal glands blocked?

The following can increase the chance of anal glands becoming blocked:

Obesity

  • Overweight dogs generally have weaker muscles around their bottom which means they might not be able to empty their glands very well.

Diarrhoea

  • If your dog has diarrhoea there might not be enough pressure to empty the glands when they go to the toilet.

Narrow gland openings

  • Some dogs are born with narrow anal gland openings which means they can’t empty the contents as easily.

Diet

  • The food your dog eats can affect whether their stools are firm enough to empty their anal glands.
illustration showing blocked anal glands in dogs

Blocked anal glands can cause irritation and pain.

When to contact your vet

Contact your vet if your dog has any of the symptoms above. Leaving anal gland issues untreated can lead to more serious problems such as anal gland infections and abscesses.

You know your dog best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you notice a change in behaviour and are concerned, contact your vet.

Treatment for blocked anal glands

Emptying

In most cases your vet will be able empty your dog’s anal glands by gently squeezing. This should get rid of any irritation or pain. Unless you have been shown how by your vet, do not attempt to do this yourself. Anal glands can burst if they are squeezed too hard or in the wrong way.

Medication

Medication isn’t usually needed for a simple blockage. If your dog is diagnosed with an anal gland infection or abscess they may need pain relief, anti-inflammatory or antibiotic medication.

Other

If your dog’s anal glands are very difficult or painful to empty your vet may recommend admitting them to the veterinary hospital so that the can be emptied under anaesthetic.

Will my dog’s anal glands keep blocking?

If your dog has had blocked anal glands before it’s likely to happen again. It’s important to discuss with your vet how to prevent problems.

Preventing blocked anal glands

Leave alone unless there is a problem

Healthy anal glands don’t need regular emptying, unless you notice a problem you shouldn’t have your dog’s anal glands examined or emptied (even at the groomers).

Regular emptying

Have your dog’s anal glands emptied by a vet or nurse as regularly as your vet suggests and book your dog in for a visit with your vet if you notice any problems in between appointments.

Some dogs need their anal glands emptied every now and then and others may need appointments every 4-6 weeks.

Keep your dog slim

Keep your dog a healthy weight and feed them a good quality complete dog food.

Fibre

Your vet may suggest adding extra fibre to your dog’s diet to help firm up and bulk out their poo. If a poo is firm and solid it presses on the glands and helps them empty easily. Your vet can advise you which type of fibre to add to your dog’s food (if it’s necessary).

Published: October 2018

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Written by vets and vet nurses

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst