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How to Clean a Dog’s Anal Glands: 10 Vet Verified Steps

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By Kerry-Ann Kerr

man cleaning the anal glands of the dog

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

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The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Has your dog been scooting his butt along the floor? Is his butt much smellier than usual? Well, he may need his anal glands expressed. Many dogs express their anal glands or anal sacs when they poop, but occasionally the glands can fill with fluid, and your dog may need some assistance to relieve his discomfort.

It sounds like a pretty gross job, and it’s one you can pass on to your veterinarian if you’re uncomfortable doing it, but your dog will definitely be grateful when it’s done. If you’re unable for one reason or another to get the dog to the vet and you feel confident, read on to find out how to clean your dog’s anal glands at home.

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What Do Anal Glands Do?

Have you ever wondered why dogs smell each other’s butts when they meet? Well, it’s due to the anal glands. The thick, oily liquid they secrete is a little like a fingerprint; it’s unique to each dog. Domestic dogs and cats have lost the ability to empty their anal sacs voluntarily like a skunk.

Usually, they empty when a dog poops. The natural pressure on the rectum walls releases the liquid, which then lubricates the anal opening, making the whole process of pooping much easier. They can also empty when a dog is stressed or scared. If you’ve ever been overcome by a sudden and unpleasant change in smell on a walk, you have the anal glands to thank for that!

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Signs Your Dog Needs His Anal Glands Expressed

There are a few signs to look out for when your dog needs some help with his anal glands. The most obvious is the scooting along the floor or a fishy smell. When anal glands are full, they can leak when a dog is sleeping or picked up, but there are also other things you should look out for.

  • Attempting to scratch, lick, or bite his bottom
  • Wagging the tail less or objecting to you touching the tail (when usually it doesn’t bother them)
  • Seems depressed
  • May pull the fur out of the base of his tail

Anal glands can fill for a few reasons. For example, if your dog has had diarrhea, there won’t be enough pressure on the glands for them to empty by themselves. If they are blocked for too long, there can be a build-up of nasty bacteria which will cause pain, swelling, and sometimes abscesses and fever.

dog licking its butt
Image Credit: Jiramath Noomuan, Shutterstock

Causes of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

Certain factors can impact how likely a dog is to develop problems with his anal glands, such as obesity, insufficient fiber in its diet, and allergies. Genetics can also play a part. It is more common in smaller breeds, but no breed is immune. If your dog seems to be prone to developing impacted anal glands, speak to your vet for additional advice.

Important Considerations

Healthy anal sacs should naturally empty when the dog passes stool. Manually expressing anal sacs too often can cause them to lose tone and their ability to express naturally. Therefore it is not advised to regularly empty your dog’s anal glands nor to allow the groomers to empty them each time they go for a bath or hair trim. Anal glands do better when left alone, and if they ever need help getting expressed, it is recommended to first try other natural methods such as increasing your dog’s fiber intake. Dogs with recurrent anal gland issues where the glands have become infected or abscessed should be seen by a veterinarian.

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Why Would You Need To Express Your Dog’s Anal Glands?

There are certain cases in which a dog might need help to express the accumulated fluid in their anal glands. Ideally, this should be done by a veterinary professional, who can rule out any infection, abscess, or complication. Your vet can sometimes recommend you a change of diet or the inclusion of a supplement to help your dog express their anal glands naturally.

However, some dogs simply need help expressing their anal glands periodically. The process is not very pleasant but if your vet has confirmed there is not a medical complication you can learn the technique.

Learning how to do this might be the solution for someone who does not have easy access to the vet clinic or has economic limitations and needs to help their pet.

 

The 10 Easy Steps To Clean Your Dog’s Anal Glands

In order to express your dog’s anal sacs, you will need a pair of disposable plastic or latex gloves, a water-based lubricant, paper towels, warm soapy water, and a washcloth.

This process will be easier with another person helping, especially if your dog is a wiggler. It’s important to remember that the cleaning shouldn’t be painful for your dog. If it is, it could be a sign that there’s an obstruction, abscess, or tumor, in which case, a veterinarian should see the dog.

1. Find the Anal Glands

First, identify the dog’s anal gland location. If you are looking straight at your dog’s anus, the glands should be at around four and eight o’clock.


2. Add Lubricant

Stand or kneel beside your dog’s rear end and gently lift the tail up. Place a dab of lubricant on the tip of your index finger and thumb.


3. Get Started

Very gently insert your lubricated index finger into your dog’s anus and place your thumb on the outside of your dog’s anus.


4. Move Your Fingers

Bring your index finger and thumb together and run them up and down the left side of the anus. The small sacs range in size from a pea to a plum. Most of the time, they are about the size of a grape. You may find that one is firmer than the other. This might mean that it is more full.


5. Prepare a Paper Towel

You’ll want to place a generous piece of paper towel on your dog’s anus. When the gland empties, it can express with force and squirt out, so just be prepared.


6. Express the Glands

Once located, carefully squeeze your thumb and index finger together in a “milking” motion. The fluid will come out of a hole that is just inside the anus, so ensure you’re not blocking this hole with your finger.


7. Check the Fluid

The fluid that comes out should be of a thin consistency, brown in color, and have a strong odor. Abnormal fluid will be thick, chunky, discolored (green, grey, or yellow), or have blood or pus in it.


8. Repeat With the Second Gland

You can change hands or use the same one, whichever you find more comfortable, then move on to the next anal gland and repeat.


9. Clean the Area

Once the anal glands are empty, clean the area with warm soapy water. Depending on how good you were at catching the fluid, you may want to bathe your dog.


10. Throw Away the Paper Towels

Throw the paper towels in a bin outside; they can be particularly foul-smelling, and you don’t want them stinking up your indoor bin!

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Conclusion

Emptying your dog’s anal sacs can be tricky. Only do it if absolutely necessary and try to have someone else there to help hold your dog and soothe them through this uncomfortable experience. It’s not the best experience to bond over, so it is probably better to leave it to the professionals.

If you still wish to do it yourself, it might be better to be coached by a vet, as getting the “milking” technique right is important to avoid further complications. If you recently have seen your dog scooting or biting their rear end, look out for any signs of infection and contact your vet if something doesn’t seem right.


Featured Image Credit: Yekatseryna Netuk, Shutterstock

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