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Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Anal Glands

Anal Glands are gross, but every dog and cat has ’em

Today, we’re going to get all up in your cat or dog’s business. I’m sorry, but it’s gotta be done.

So, dogs and cats have scent glands on either side of the anus, the same ones that skunks use to spray nasty-smelling stuff on predators, just slightly (and only slightly) less gross.

Here is a picture of where they’re located (the red circles indicate approximate location):

Anal Glands

These glands produce foul-smelling brownish-yellowish fishy-smelling grossness that gets squeezed out every time your dog or cat strains to poop. We think it’s a marking mechanism, perhaps a way dogs and cats identify themselves to each other.

Each anal gland has a tiny little duct that empties it at the anal opening. These ducts can become obstructed, leaving the gland unable to empty itself, causing the pet discomfort. Your dog or cat may then plant her butt on the ground and “scoot” across the floor in an attempt to relieve the obstruction.

Contrary to popular belief, if you smell your pet’s fishy-smelling nasty on the couch, your pet may NOT need to see the vet. If the anal glands have emptied themselves on your furniture, believe it or not, that’s a problem solved.

Any time the anal glands CAN’T empty themselves, is when you should call the vet. If Fido is scooting and/or licking and/or scratching and/or suddenly turning around and looking at her butt all the time, to the vet she goes! If the anal glands become clogged and impacted full of thick goo, your veterinarian can slip on a rubber glove and stick a finger up their butt to squeeze out the anal glands. Some dogs need to have this done monthly, some need it done never. Some groomers will do a “from the outside” version of emptying the anal glands as part of their routine groom, but this is not an appropriate treatment for problem glands, only good for maintenance.

Anal Gland Impaction

If the glands stay impacted for a long time, they can become infected and abscess out the back the end. This dog’s abscessed anal gland is about to rupture:

anal gland abscess glands sac sacs

Anal Gland Abscess

When the abscess ruptures, it can look like this:

ruptured anal gland abscess

Ouchy! To the vet you go!

Scooting means anal glands might need veterinary attention

Just so I can show the best commercial ever, from Stanley Steemer, here for your viewing pleasure is Toby’s New Trick:

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Does your cat or dog have butt problems? Call Leo’s! 317-721-7387

This Post Has 23 Comments
  1. I can tell you from experience that ruptured anal glands are not fun. Poor Precious had one rupture a couple years ago, and thankfully he didn’t have to have any surgery. He was doped up on pain meds for a while until it healed itself, but yeah. Please make sure you get routine anal gland expressions!

    1.  Poor Precious! Anal sacks don’t actually have to be expressed regularly if they function properly. Only when they are prone to problems. Most dogs will never know they have any.

  2. An online friend just had her dog’s abscessed sack “explode” recently 🙁 It was so painful, she said her dog was just standing there shaking in pain.

  3. Great info! Can you tell us why sometimes the contents of the gland is thick and why sometimes its watery? Is there anything a pet owner can do to change thick back to watery?

  4. Susan Mick Campbell It seems to me anal gland stuff should come out with every poop. The longer the goo stays in there, the thicker it gets. So if your dog is one who doesn’t empty her glands regularly, only thing you can do as the owner is bring your dog in regularly – say, once a month to once every 6 weeks – for anal gland expression.

  5. i have a question: my dog has always scooted, even with regular expression and visits to the vet-in the last two days, his bum has started stinking, however during a regular expression yesterday, the groomer said the anal glands looked normal and the anal gland fluid was normal in color. What is going on? His bum doesn’t look red, inflamed, he is not in pain, is eating well and drinking normally-his poop also looks normal. But, he stinks! Help!

      1. Very interesting. I will try to switch to a higher quality food–now that you have mentioned this, the odor started about 6 weeks after switching to a different food (I wanted to put him on a weight loss food). I will go out today and select something different! THANK YOU.

        1. VERY IMPORTANT: I didn’t say higher quality food, I said hypoallergenic food. I can’t tell you how many times people have wasted time and money on “grain free” diets recommended by pet store employees for this problem, failing to understand it’s an allergy, not a quality control issue. Do take the time to read the blog before shopping.

          1. If your pet’s primary issue were diarrhea, and you needed a short term bland diet, low-fat beef and rice would be a fine, very temporary, transitional option. Like, 2-3 days tops. We prefer Royal Canin Hypoallergenic HP diet for ruling out food allergies. What if beef is one of the things your dog is allergic to? Only a prescription hypoallergenic diet can rule out food allergies.

          2. I read the blog, and it says hypoallergenic food–and even some home cooked food is bad. I guess it is trial and error.

          3. To clarify, assuming there were some way to prepare “a single new animal or vegetable protein, such as rabbit or beans; and a single new carbohydrate, such as yams or green peas” without any of those ingredients coming in any contact with any other potential allergens, and assuming you could prepare such a diet to be complete and balanced nutrition for a dog (which is no small feat!), then it’s possible you could create your own hypoallergenic food. Normally, I recommend the Hypoallergenic HP first, then if that proves food allergy is a problem, you’re welcome to experiment with other diets to see what might work as well ongoing.

          4. Yes you are right. My husband just went out and bought the food your recommended. On the blog it says try for 2-3 weeks for the food switch. We just adopted this dog a year ago-he is a senior boy, so I pray this works. He has always scooted, licked his paws, etc., but the smelly bum is very recent. Poor guy doesn’t need any more issues! 🙂 We love him to bits though. We will keep you posted on how this works. We have instructed his walker not to offer treats, and his sister will be fed in another room so he isn’t snacking from her bowl. Again, many thanks.

          5. You rule!! I hope it works out! Clarifying the duration – when you’re switching a diet, any diet, slowly mix in an increasing proportion of the new diet with the old to allow intestinal bacteria time to adjust. Take at least a week, maybe two. As for the diet being “successful”, you’ll want to do a full eight weeks of diet trial before giving up on the food allergy. Regarding his walker and treats, think of an elimination diet trial like a little kid with peanut allergy. One peanut could seriously ruin that kid’s day, as could one teeny tiny little doggy bone for your food allergic pet, or one bite of your other dog’s food. Only allowable treats are carrot sticks.

  6. My dog scooted only once 2 days ago (that I saw). He’s shaking now and is fairly lethargic. I took him for a walk and his tail was wagging, but he was walking uncharacteristically slowly for him. He cried out in pain when I tried to pick him up. Are these symptoms of needing his anal glands expressed?

  7. I took my cat to the vet yesterday and they said her say exploded. She never showed any signs of pain at all. This is the second time it happened. She is now getting canned pumpkin for the fiber and is also on new food to determine any food allergies.

  8. My dog just had her anal gland rupture last week I took her to the vet on Wednesday she gave her antibiotics but I check her every day when I give her the antibiotic I looked at it a while ago and it looks like the second picture on your article is it going to rupture again?

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