Anal sacs, or glands, are located on either side of the anus of dogs in a 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock orientation. They have sweat (apocrine) and oil producing (sebaceous) glands which provide lubrication and release a highly odourous fluid.

It is thought that the function of anal glands is to release odours to mark territory or communicate with other dogs. When new dogs meet each other, they will likely circle each other and sniff the buttocks - it is the gas released by the anal glands that they are picking up on. 

The sacs are filled with fluid which is drained when a dog evacuates its bowels. Problems can occur if the sacs do not fully empty on excretion; eventually there will be impaction (faeces remains stuck in the colon) that can become infected and lead to the formation of abscesses.

Anal sac disease is fairly common in dogs and usually resolves on its own, but there are cases where the inflamed glands can cause significant pain to the dog and require professional attention.

  1. Causes of anal sac disease in dogs
  2. Symptoms of anal sac disease
  3. Diagnosis of anal sac disease
  4. Treatment of anal sac disease
  5. Management of anal sac disease

Anal glands sometimes do not fully empty out on excretion, which can lead bacteria to capitalise on and abscesses can form as a result. If left untreated, the abscesses will burst and there will be bloody discharge.

Usually, the cause of the disease is local and down to poor hygiene. However, diets lacking in fibre and continuously soft faeces have also been indicated as causes. Smaller breed dogs appear to be more susceptible to the disease, but it isn't known to affect a particular gender any more than the other. Additionally, obese dogs, perhaps because of folds in the skin around the anal area also have a higher likelihood of suffering from this disease.

Some dogs are born with congenitally narrow ducts leading to the anal glands and these may eventually become inflamed. Trauma to the area, perhaps due to a dogfight or accident, can cause structural damage to the ducts and progress to an infection. 

In rare cases, the disease can worsen to cause adenocarcinoma in the anal gland, but it is usually seen in older dogs.

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Anal gland disease is quite common and symptoms are usually physical enough for it to be caught quite early:

  • Dragging the buttock across a soft surface: If you notice your dog dragging its buttocks across a rug or on the bed, it could be a potential sign of disturbance in the anal glands. The rubbing motion has a calming effect on the area and may dislodge some trapped debris.
  • Constipation or pain while passing stools is a common consequence of anal gland disease. Your dog may moan while pooping or remain crouched longer than usual. 
  • Licking the area around the anus: The dog may end up biting and using its saliva like a salve to dull the pain. 
  • There will also be an extremely offensive odour. Odour produced by the anal glands isn’t pleasant to begin with but if there is an infection, the smell will be stronger.
  • Swelling of the area around the anus. As the infection progresses, an abscess will form and the area will bulge. There will be a bloody discharge if the abscess bursts.

Your vet will ask for your dog’s medical history and inquire about the onset of symptoms. Make sure to inform the vet about dietary practices, changes in behaviour and a family history of anal gland disease, if any.

  • Your vet will conduct a thorough physical examination to eliminate any incidental or larger problems. Body temperature will be measured and blood work conducted to ascertain the coexistence of infection. 
  • Using a glove, the vet will conduct a physical examination of the anal glands to diagnose the level of impaction. If it is not severe and the debris hasn’t solidified, the visit should be quite straightforward.
  • If the vet suggests that something more serious is involved, they may take a sample from the glands to run a lab test. Additional imaging tests may be conducted to check for signs of cancer that has spread. It is important to remember that this is unlikely and most cases are straightforward.

A physical examination of the area will suggest the extent of the disease.

  • If the debris is largely fluid, your vet will ‘express’ the glands and cause them to secrete their contents. This will be considerably uncomfortable for your pet so there might be a need for sedation. Expressing the anal glands though is a straightforward process and your vet may show you how to do it at home.
  • If the site has abscessed and damage is considerable, it may warrant a minor procedure. This would involve removing dead tissue and widening the ducts for better drainage.
  • Antibiotics will also be prescribed if an infection is present and these can be administered on an outpatient basis. 
  • If the problem is recurrent, you may decide along with your vet to excise the anal glands. This is a delicate procedure as there is a risk of severing nerve endings which may cause incontinence. Removing the glands is a last resort and is taken up only if the glands are scarred and not able to function despite regular interventions.
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A diet rich in fibre ensures that stool formation is large and solid. The extra pressure facilitates the functioning of the anal glands.

It is disputed if you need to engage your dog’s anal glands as a preventative measure. You can discuss this with your vet - perhaps if your dog is susceptible to future infections it can be a prudent step.

Ensuring regular exercise is a great preventative step for many diseases. Lower body weight has been indicated as a good counter to anal gland disease. 

While it may be embarrassing or uncomfortable for both your dog and yourself to keep a tab on the anal glands, it is a healthy habit for the overall protection of your pet. It is a much easier problem to confront early on - as with most conditions - and can become worse if it goes unchecked for too long.


  1. Washington State University, College of Veterinary Science [Internet]. Washington State University. Seattle; Anal Sac Disease
  2. Veterinary Partner. [Internet]. Veterinary Information Network. Davis, California; Emptying a dog's anal sacks
  3. MSD Veterinary Manual [Internet]. Merck & Co., Inc.; Anal Sac Disease
  4. van Duijkeren EJ. Disease conditions of canine anal sacs. Small Anim Pract. 1995 Jan;36(1):12-6. PMID: 7815780 .
  5. Pet MD. [Internet]. Pet MD, LLC; Anal Gland Problems in Dogs (and Cats)
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