Dog anal gland infections

29 January 2024 - 4 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM on 26 January 2024 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

Image of a brown dog's behind

As pet owners, we sometimes have to navigate less-than-glamorous health issues with our furry friends. One such issue is an anal gland infection in dogs, a condition that's not only uncomfortable for your pet but also a bit daunting for you.

In this article, we'll explore what dog anal gland infections are, their symptoms, and the treatment options available.

What exactly are the anal glands?

Anal glands, or anal sacs, are two small structures located on either side of your dog's anus. These glands are typically empty when your dog defecates. However, sometimes they can become impacted or infected, leading to discomfort and health issues.

Common anal gland issues in dogs

Anal gland issues can range from impaction, where the ducts that drain the glands are blocked, to inflammation (known as sacculitis), which may involve infection. In some cases, impaction and infection can even progress to abscessation, a more severe condition where the glands become filled with pus and may rupture. Cancerof the anal glands is also possible, particularly in older dogs.

Symptoms of anal gland infections in dogs

Old dog

Identifying an anal gland infection early can spare your dog a lot of discomfort. Here are a few clinically studied signs of anal gland issues in dogs:

  • Scooting or dragging their bottom on the ground

  • Sitting discomfort

  • Licking or biting near the tail or rear end

  • Tail chasing

  • Struggling or straining during bathroom breaks

  • Discharge or wetness near their rear

  • Red or irritated tail area

  • Wet, irritated skin surrounding the anus

  • Rubbing their backs on objects

If your dog shows any of these symptoms, it's time for a vet visit. Even if it's not an issue with anal glands, it could be a sign of something else—like fleas!

Treatment options for anal gland issues

Female veterinarian doctor with dog looking at x-ray during the examination in veterinary clinic. Little dog terrier with broken leg in veterinary clinic

The treatment for anal gland issues in dogs varies depending on the severity of the condition. Here's a breakdown of potential treatments your vet might recommend:

Mild anal gland issues (impaction, minor inflammation)

The most common treatment for mild anal gland issues is expressing, or emptying, the glands. Trained groomers sometimes do this, but we recommend seeing a vet if you suspect your dog's dealing with any sort of discomfort.

Moderate anal gland issues (infection, significant inflammation)

If there's an infection, your vet will probably prescribe antibiotics to combat it. Anti-inflammatory medications might also be used to reduce swelling and discomfort. Antibiotic and anti-inflammatory ointments can be infused into the anal sacs, and you might be given medications to give orally at home as well. Applying warm compresses can soothe the area and help with inflammation.

Severe cases (abscess, chronic issues)

In severe cases, such as when there's an abscess or recurrent issues, surgery may be necessary. This could involve draining and flushing out an abscess or, in very chronic and severe cases, removing the anal glands entirely. Cancer affecting an anal gland can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

The key is early detection and treatment to prevent escalation of the problem. Regular vet check-ups and monitoring your dog for signs of discomfort can help catch anal gland issues early, making them easier to manage!

What makes a dog prone to getting anal sac disorders?

Boston terrier

What increases a dog's likelihood of developing anal sac disorders?

Research points to several risk factors that can play a significant role:

A lot of these risk factors make sense. When your dog has diarrhoea, their stool may not be hard enough to activate and empty the glands. And if they are dealing with skin irritations, they might be more prone to licking that area and creating an infection.

But...your dog's breed? It seems a bit unfair, doesn't it? Here are some breeds impacted most (no pun intended) by anal sac disorders.

Breeds prone to anal sac disorders

A cockapoo sitting

According to research by the Royal Veterinary College, some breeds seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to anal sac issues. Here are a few:

Additionally, flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds, particularly the Shih Tzu, exhibit a notably higher risk—about 2.6 times more compared to long-skulled breeds like Collies.

Some larger breeds actually show a reduced likelihood of encountering anal sac disorders. These breeds are:

So, does this mean your poodle is doomed to get repeat anal gland infections? Not necessarily. Here are some ways you can mitigate the (stinky) risk.

How to prevent your dog from getting anal gland issues

dog standing on beach with one ear cocked

Whether you're dealing with regular anal gland issues in your dog or you're dealing with it for the first time, one thing's for sure: nobody wants a repeat. So how can you prevent your dog from developing anal issues in the future? Here are a few tips.

  1. Regular Veterinary Check-Ups: Schedule routine visits to your vet. These check-ups can catch early signs of anal gland issues before they become more serious.

  2. Dietary Management: Ensure your dog has a balanced, high-quality diet. A good diet supports regular bowel movements, which is crucial for healthy anal glands. Your vet might recommend adding more fibre to their diet, which can help firm up stools and allow for more effective emptying of the anal glands during defecation.

  3. Weight Management: Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Obesity can increase the risk of anal gland problems.

  4. Exercise: Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy digestive system and can prevent constipation, another factor that can contribute to anal gland issues.

  5. Hydration: Encourage your dog to drink plenty of water. Proper hydration helps maintain regular bowel movements.

  6. Grooming and Hygiene: Regular grooming, including checking the anal area, can help you spot any signs of infection or inflammation early.

None of these tips are earth-shattering—they all fall in line with raising your pup to be happy and healthy, and you're probably already doing them. However, a few tweaks to their diet or a couple of additional grooming appointments could make all the difference. Ask your vet for their take.

While dog anal gland infections are certainly not a highlight of pet ownership, understanding and promptly addressing this issue can help keep your dog comfortable and healthy. And one other thing: consider buying a dog insurance policy that can help pay for these—and other—unexpected accidents and illnesses your pup might encounter.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.