What are the anal glands or sacs?

April 13, 2012

Hi-tech identification systems that are touted to be foolproof would be no match to the unique identification system dogs have. Did you know that simply by sniffing each other, dogs can identify the sex, the age and the status of the other dog? Yes, dogs really do have this very unique method of identification that makes use of their distinctive scents. Dogs meeting for the first time would sniff each other’s faces but they would spend a lot of time sniffing each other’s butts. A dog’s distinctive smell that is unique as human’s fingerprints is secreted by the anal glands.

Anal glands are also known as scent glands because they secrete the smelly liquid that is used by dogs for urine marking and for other identification purposes. Except for bears and sea otters all meat-eating mammals have these scent glands. Just inside the anus and between the external and internal sphincter muscles are the anal glands. These glands or sacs take the 4 o’clock and 8 o’ clock positions and located slightly below the anal opening. These oval shaped sacs have small ducts that open into the anus. The yellowish to gray colored fluid that have a pasty or watery consistency produced by the glands collects in the sac. The glands spontaneously empty when the dog defecates. The firm stool of dogs puts on pressure to the anal glands so that the smelly liquid is excreted with the feces. The glands are involuntarily emptied when the dog is highly stressed or frightened. In the presence of a dominant dog, an unpleasant odor will suddenly permeate the air. Dogs can also express the glands voluntarily. Notice how a dog will raise the tail in the presence of other dogs. By raising the tail, pressure is exerted on the glands to allow a small amount of the foul smelling liquid to be released on the small openings on either side of the anus. The dog is in fact presenting its very own calling card.

Even long time dog owners may not be aware of the existence of these glands. The only time that owners would know about the anal glands is when problems concerning the anal glands develop. Tumors, infections, abscesses and impactions can develop to these glands used by the dog for identification purposes. As mentioned, the anal glands are spontaneously expressed when the dog defecates. However, for unknown reasons, the liquid produced by the glands thickens so that normal secretion is impaired. The continued production of the anal glands would result to the enlargement of the sacs. Anal gland impaction can also develop if the dog had repeated bouts of diarrhea. The soft stool will not be able to exert pressure on the anal glands so that they are not normally emptied. Infection is another problem of the anal glands. Bacteria would cause the inflammation and irritation of the anal glands. The condition worsens when abscesses are formed due to the significant buildup of pus in the anal glands. The abscess can rupture and pus would drain from the small hole. Cancerous tumors can also develop on the anal sacs.

A vet can easily diagnose the anal gland problem of the dog. Anal gland secretions are smelly but anal gland problems exacerbate the foul odor. Scooting and attempting to bite or lick the anal area are signs that the dog is experiencing anal gland problems. The dog will appear to be very uncomfortable and may even whine and cry. Impacted anal glands can be expressed manually. A vet or a professional groomer can do the expression if the owner is hesitant to do the messy task. A change in the dog’s diet may resolve chronic anal gland impaction. Vets would usually recommend a high fiber diet that will produce bulkier stool to naturally manage anal gland expression.

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