One of a vet’s many delights is anal gland issues. Anal glands, more correctly known as anal sacs, refer to the sacs on either side of the anus (ahem, the butt hole) that produce a unique scent for dogs and cats. Every time your furbaby poops, the poop gently squeezes the anal glands and coats the poo. This is what dogs are smelling when they greet each other and one of the reasons dogs love sniffing poo!
What can go wrong?
That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But we run into problems when the anal glands fail to empty. The glands continue to produce secretions and then become very full. In fact, the anal glands become too full. This leads to something known as anal gland impaction. The impacted anal gland becomes inflamed due to the pressure building up within and becomes susceptible to bacterial infection! It doesn’t just end there. If the infection is left untreated, it can become an abscess which can rupture through the skin. Now, THIS IS VERY PAINFUL. SO painful.
Why do things go wrong?
There are a few things that can cause the anal gland to get impacted. Here are a few reasons why anal glands do not empty on their own:
- The duct (the tube that connects the gland and to the outside world) may be deformed. This can be due to recurrent infections or your pug may be born with it
- They may have abnormal secretions
- They may have underlying allergies
- Underlying gastrointestinal issues
How do I know my dog has an anal gland problem?
The first thing you would notice is the bum scooting. It can look a little funny with furbabies suddenly dragging their bottoms on the ground. Impacted anal glands feel very uncomfortable and often dogs try to relieve the pressure by dragging it along the floor or biting at their bottom. You may also notice a funny smell coming from their bottom. (To me, it smells a little bit like fermented fish with a metallic tang. Anyone agree with this?) Or sometimes you might actually see the secretion leaking from their bottom!
What can we do to fix it?
Anal gland problems are a little more than annoying. As mentioned, they can develop into painful abscesses.
The best treatment is prevention! If the anal glands aren’t emptying because your pug’s poo is too soft, we need to figure out why. If it’s because your pug has a sensitive stomach, you might need to change the diet. If your pug is born with a narrowed duct, surgery may be indicated. If it’s an allergy causing the duct to narrow, a course of medication(s) may be required. Sometimes, there is no clear cause, and the only prevention is regularly expressing the anal glands.
Some dogs actually need to be on a high-fibre diet. This can mean a commercial diet with a higher fibre content, adding sweet potato or pumpkin to the diet, or feeding a fibre supplement like psyllium husk.
But, regardless, of the underlying cause, if your dog has full anal glands, they will need to be emptied manually by a veterinarian before they become infected. Once there is an infection, it is a lot harder to treat than a simple impaction. If your little pug has an anal gland infection, your veterinarian will most likely suggest emptying the anal glands, if possible, and then infusing antibiotics into the anal glands. If the infection is persistent or the anal glands too difficult to express, your pug baby may need to go under heavy sedation or even general anaesthetic for the glands to be emptied, flushed, and infused with antibiotics.
However, if your pug’s anal gland problem is persistent and non-responsive to treatment, your vet may recommend surgical removal of the anal glands altogether, also known as anal gland sacculectomy. There are some risks involved with removing the anal glands surgically. This is because the anal gland region is surrounded by important nerves running internally (nerves to the large intestines, bladder, anus and tail). However, if performed correctly, the procedure is considered relatively safe with minimal risk. We always recommend a soft tissue specialist to perform this procedure to ensure a successful outcome.
Resolving anal gland issues can take a while, with weekly trips to the vet and lots of bathroom breaks! You’re not alone in this struggle – you have your vet working closely with you, too! Just remember, the journey is worth it. Anal gland issues are more than just a nuisance for you, it can be a real pain in the bum for your pug.