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What functions do the anal glands have in the dog? How to purge them?

The anal glands (or anal sacs) in dogs are susceptible to blockage for a variety of reasons. When the ducts are clogged, the dog normally adopts certain behaviors that may alert the owner. It is possible to purge the anal glands in these cases, but if it can be done by a veterinarian, it is preferable. However, let's see what is the best method to purge your dog's anal glands.

What are anal glands in dogs?

There are two anal sacs (commonly called anal glands) that look like small pouches. They are located on the right and left sides of the dog's anus. These glands secrete pheromones that are absolutely fundamental in terms of communication between male and female dogs. They are essential for these animals, and as a proof, they always sniff the hindquarters of their congeners.

In response to stress, extreme fear or panic, these anal sacs suddenly empty, and the entire contents can be propelled 100 cm or more.

Normally, anal glands do not require any special intervention by the owner, and it is not advisable to purge them on a regular basis as long as they do not cause any problems for the animal. On the other hand, they can be affected by certain health problems, such as
  • Infection, sometimes leading to abscesses: impaction, when the anal sacs can no longer empty properly in a natural way,
  • A tumor located in the perianal area.
In some cases, especially when a tumor occurs in certain lymph nodes, the anal sacs can be affected. Many owners apply hot water compresses to an abscess that may affect their dog's anal sacs. However, it is recommended that any type of problem be treated by a veterinarian.

Why can a dog's anal sacs become obstructed?

Obstruction of the anal sacs is visually detectable as the small pouches increase in size due to the accumulation of secretions. It is a phenomenon that is found more particularly in sedentary dogs, which rarely go out and therefore spend little time. But there are also dog breeds that are more exposed than others to the problem of anal gland obstruction. This is for example the case of the Poodle.

The exact reason for this is not known at this time. But we do know that among the breeds prone to anal sac obstruction, some produce a particularly thick secretion, others have a weaker muscle tone in the anal region, and still others have a very narrow excretory canal.

Finally, a spikelet, for example, that infiltrates an anal canal can result in an obstructed anal sac. This is common in dogs that spend a lot of time in the field for example. But the same type of problem is not caused by a spikelet but by an infestation of eggs laid by a digestive worm.

It is important to regularly monitor the general health of your dog. Ideally, your dog should be seen periodically by a veterinarian.

When should I purge my dog's anal glands?

You should not purge your dog's anal glands without reason. It is only necessary in case of an obstruction, which is quite frequent in canines. In this case, of course, the purging will relieve the animal. When everything is working well, the anal sacs purge naturally, either when the dog is relieving itself or when the animal is subjected to a strong emotion. Therefore, they should only be purged if there is an obstruction.

If you have a dog that is used to this kind of problem, you should not purge the anal glands too often. The time between two purges should be several months. In any case, you should only intervene when the anal sac engorgement represents a real discomfort for the animal. Some attitudes are not deceiving since when its anal glands are engorged, the dog drags its hindquarters on the ground (this is called the sign of the sledge), and licks very frequently its anal area.

How do I purge my dog's anal sacs?

This should always be done by the veterinarian who will take the opportunity to identify the cause of the obstruction and prescribe an appropriate treatment if necessary, especially in case of a tumor for example. If the cause is a worm, the dog will be dewormed.

However, it is possible to empty the dog's anal sacs by following a strict method:
  • Put on a pair of disposable surgical gloves,
  • Palpate the animal's anal area to check for engorgement: this is confirmed if :
    • the anal sacs are swollen, indurated, and two firm, spherical masses can be felt under the skin,
    • a nauseating odor emanates from the anal glands: this one is extremely tenacious and if the master does not wear disposable gloves, it can remain fixed on his hands during several days.
  • Hold the dog's tail up so that it does not cover the anus,
  • Gently squeeze the full anal glands between thumb and forefinger with a paper towel between them,
  • Squeeze the fluid that comes out of the dog's anus into the tissue or paper towel,
  • Stop squeezing when no more fluid comes out.
It is important to check the color of the fluid recovered after purging the dog's anal glands. If it is greenish with a yellow or reddish color, it is necessary to consult the veterinarian as soon as possible. The normal color of this fluid is usually brown to orange-yellow.

After purging the dog's anal sacs, it is best to give him a good bath, with a shampoo, in order to eliminate the stubborn smell of the secretions.

If possible, dog owners should not empty their dog's anal sacs themselves if they suspect an obstruction. It is wiser to leave this delicate task to a veterinarian, who will be able to spot any suspicious signs and find the appropriate solution.