A few years ago, my German Shepherd began incessantly licking her rear end. She was still eating, drinking, walking and playing normally, but whenever she lay down in her favorite armchair she would start licking again. I thought maybe she had worms, but that test came up clear. The vet said he wanted to check her anal glands. After the inspection he said that one needed to be expressed and that the other had ruptured. This was my introduction to the importance of anal gland expression in dogs.
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I was surprised, as I had only ever heard of this being an issue for small dogs. She had not shown any long-term signs of discomfort. No scooting or pain when pooping. Most of my friends and clients that I spoke with who have large dogs were unaware that this could happen to a Shepherd. Because this was all very confusing, I looked into the process of anal gland expression in dogs. I wanted to know what they were, how they became clogged, how to express them and what would happen if they were not tended to.
What are Anal Glands?
Anal glands are two small sacs on either side of the anus. Each sac has a tiny hole close to the anus that contains fluid that is pushed out with the pressure of a bowel movement. This fluid coats the poop and has a very specific scent that identifies each dog. This is used to mark a dog’s territory.
Occasionally, not all the fluid is pushed out. When this happens, the anal gland(s) can become impacted, which is very uncomfortable. You will see the dog licking or biting at the anus or scooting across the floor in an attempt to relieve the impaction. Because these can also be symptoms of other conditions like worms or intestinal issues, it is best to seek advice from your vet if this is something that is new to your dog.
Some vets or groomers will offer to show you how to check and express the anal glands yourself, if that is something you would prefer to do. If you attempt to express the fluid and find that there is no impaction and the dog continues to show symptoms of discomfort, seek veterinary advice. There may be another cause for these symptoms that requires medical treatment.
What happens if impacted anal glands aren’t expressed?
WebMd states that when the fluid is left in the gland, it can become infected. The vet will have to drain the infection and the vet may prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. Delaying expression could also cause an abscess to form. This may result in the need for surgery to remove the anal gland(s). This surgery has the potential to cause long term issues including incontinence.