Scooting, licking and smelling could be signs of an anal gland ailment. The anal sacs are located on each side of the anus, just under the skin. They open to the outside by tiny passageways or ducts. Glands within the anal sacs produce a dark, foul-smelling substance. The sacs normally empty as the animal has a bowel movement. Their purpose is unknown although one theory suggests that they were once used to mark territory. Today, however your pet can do well without them. 

 Expressing the Anal Glands

Your dog has a set of anal glands placed on either side of their anus. In the wild these glands secrete scent which your dog uses to mark its territory when it has a bowel movement.

For many reasons, sometimes these tear-shaped glands get blocked. This means that while more and more liquid is produced, none is being expressed into your dog's stools. Signs of blocked anal glands include bum scooting, bloody stools, strong odour or a swollen anus.

Expressing your dog's anal glands is relatively easy. Use one hand to hold up the dog’s tail and pull it gently toward the head. Hold a disposable cloth or tissue in the other hand. Place your thumb externally over one anal gland and your fingers over the other (see the diagram below for correct position). Press in and apply firm pressure as you pull your fingers posteriorly over the glands. The glands should empty out into your tissue. 

Normal anal sac fluid should come out slightly yellow or brown in colour. Impacted sacs will be very difficult to express and the material may be pasty and coloured grey or black.

Cleaning the Anal Glands - Copyright Chinaroad
 Diseases of the anal sacs fall into 3 categories:

Normally, anal sacs are emptied when the dog defecates. Some dogs with overactive anal glands may require occasional help. Your vet can demonstrate the procedure.

A common indication of trouble with anal sacs is "scooting" (dragging the rear on the ground).

  • Impaction: occurs when the anal sacs fail to empty properly. This is more common in smaller breeds. Squeezing the sacs yourself as needed will control the problem.

  • Infection: complicates impaction. There is blood or pus in the secretions, and the dog may scoot (drag its rear on the ground). It may be painful. Check with your vet for an antibiotic you can apply after you empty the sacs.

  • Abscess: Signs of anal infection, with a swelling at the site of the gland. It goes from initially red to a deep purple. You will have to have it lanced and cleaned by the vet.

Dogs whose anal sacs become repeatedly infected and/or abscessed will need to have the glands removed. Surgery is uncomplicated, although the dog will have poor bowel control for the next few days after surgery. Try putting a pair of small boy's underpants, with the dog's tail through the third opening, on the dog to contain accidents.

 Important Points in Treatment
  1. Treatment for anal sac disease may include the following:

    • Manual expression (squeezing) of the sac contents. (temporary relief)

    • Flushing the sacs and instilling antibiotics into them. (longer remedy to symptoms)

    • Surgical drainage or removal of the sacs. (This treatment is usually performed if the patient has a chronic history or the sacs have ruptured. Healing can be slow though because of the location.)

  2. Medication must be given as directed.
  3. Diet: A higher fibre diet can in some cases help slow impaction but check with your vet for your specific pet's nutritional needs.
 Notify your Veterinarian if Any of the Following Occur:
  • Your pet is reluctant to eat.

  • Your pet is depressed or listless. 

  • There is a sudden swelling or drainage near the anus. 

  • Your pet constantly licks its anus. 

  • Your pet vomits. 

Remember, squeezing the anal gland regularly will help minimize build-up and irritation but some material will undoubtedly still remain in the sacs causing the process to begin again. If you find your pet is always building up matter then you should talk to your vet about one of the other treatments for a longer remedy to the symptoms.

 Anal Gland Disease and Its Treatment

What are anal glands?
Anal Glands or Anal Sacs are small glands on either side of your dog or cat’s anus at roughly the four o’clock and eight o’clock positions. 

They contain a mucous that has a foul smell - the worse known to mankind and that could well be used for chemical warfare!

The purpose of the secretion produced by the sacs, at least in wild dogs, is to mark territory. Nowadays, some bold and dominant dogs will also mark their territory by rubbing their nether regions on vertical structures such as trees. The function is the same as when a male dog cocks its leg to urinate on a tree but the scent left by anal glands is far stronger.

The sacs are also emptied with the dog is scared or frightened. You may have noted that, when your dog has had a sudden scare, it develops an awful, pungent odour. This is usually because your dog has emptied its anal sacs over its rear end. Cleaning up its rear end (from a distance!) will help to reduce the smell and spraying an odour neutraliser on the area is useful for this purpose.

Why do dogs scoot along on their bottoms?
If you see the scooting behaviour, it means your dog has some type of irritation around its rear end. This can be due to fleas, an allergic or itchy skin condition, occasionally to worms but mostly the cause is impacted or infected anal sacs.

The swelling and infection hurt. Attempts to pass a motion will cause a lot of pain - so much that the dog may not go to the toilet as often as it should and constipation can occur. The pain will cause your dog to regularly lick its rear end and it may whimper with discomfort. 

If your dog’s anal sac disease is left untreated, the sacs will often rupture and an abscess will develop around the anus. Sometimes these are difficult to cure.

What needs to be done to treat anal sac disease?
If your dog has impacted anal sacs, having them properly emptied by your veterinarian may be all you need to do to solve the problem. Your veterinarian will normally do this by placing a gloved finger inside your dog’s rectum and gently squeezing the discharge out. Not a pleasant task!

Sometimes the secretion is too thick to squeeze out or it may cause too much pain. In such cases, the sacs have to be cleaned under anaesthetic.

While one cleaning session will often solve the problem, in some cases, repeated cleaning is needed. If this happens with your dog, you would do well to ask for a thorough flush and clean under anaesthetic. As well as flushing the glands, your vet will usually instil an antibiotic ointment into each gland too. Your vet will usually give antibiotic medication to complete the therapy.

If your dog is suffering from anal sac disease regularly, your veterinarian may suggest surgical removal of the sacs. They are unnecessary and removal does not cause any side effects.

Diet considerations 
Changing your dog’s diet is often useful. The goal is to make your dog’s droppings more bulky so that squeezing of the sacs during toileting is more common. The usual way of doing this is to increase the fibre in your dog’s diet by adding bran or grated carrot to its ration. 

Many dogs with anal sac disease are ‘over-round hounds’. Obesity in dogs causes many problems and anal sac disease is just one. Thankfully, prescription diets are available to help you reduce your dog’s weight and, as these diets are also high in fibre, they will help with anal sac disease too. Ask for your veterinarian for advice on what food is best.

Dr Cam Day BVSc BSc MACVSc is a veterinary surgeon, an animal behaviour consultant and media presenter. In 1995 he qualified as a Member of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists in the discipline of Animal Behaviour and is one of only 15 veterinarians with this qualification in Australia. He works full time in animal behaviour management in Queensland, consulting with dog, cat and bird owners on a daily basis as well as appearing on air as Brisbane’s radio Pet Vet, and writing for various magazines.
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These have been definitively identified only in dogs, although anecdotal reports suggest they may also occur in cats. Older English Cocker and Springer Spaniels, Dachshunds, Alaskan Malamutes, German Shepherds, and mixed-breed dogs are most at risk. Unlike hepatoid gland tumors (see Hepatoid Gland Tumors), there is no sex predilection. They most commonly appear as deep, firm, nodular masses near the anal sac. As these lesions grow, they may compress the rectum and induce constipation. Some of these tumors are associated with a paraneoplastic syndrome that is characterized by hypercalcemia and results in anorexia, weight loss, polyuria, and polydipsia. They are often highly infiltrative into the pelvic canal and commonly (90%) metastasize to the sublumbar lymph nodes or to distant internal organs (40%). Wide surgical excision, including involved lymph nodes, is the treatment of choice. Even if the tumor cannot be totally resected, debulking can be of value in dogs with pseudohyperparathyroidism because the hypercalcemia is related to the total tumor mass. Adjunct chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be of benefit, but few dogs live >1 yr after the tumor has been recognized. 

Merk Veterinary Manual
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This tumour occurs most commonly in female dogs and is usually malignant (apocrine gland adenocarcinoma). Some tumours result in increased blood calcium levels. Signs may vary from a lump in the anal sac to signs secondary to increased calcium (hypercalcemia): increased water consumption, increased urination, weight loss, and vomiting. Many of these tumours have already spread to lymph nodes in the abdomen before the diagnosis can be made. Treatment includes surgical removal of the anal sac and possibly lymph nodes & radiation therapy. Medical treatment of increased calcium may be needed before or after tumour treatment to decrease injury to the kidneys.

Tumours of the anus (not the anal sac) are most common in male dogs. Benign tumours (perianal adenomas) are hormone dependent and occur most commonly in dogs that have not been castrated. Malignant tumours (sebaceous gland adenocarcinomas) are not hormone dependent. Benign tumours are treated with local tumour removal (surgery/cryosurgery) and castration (to prevent new tumour development). Treatment and outcome of malignant tumours vary depending on tumour size and possible spread to lymph nodes but generally include surgery and possibly radiation therapy.


Rectal adenomatous polyps are an infrequent, usually benign disease, primarily of small animals. The larger the polyp, the greater the potential for malignancy. Signs include tenesmus, hematochezia, and diarrhoea. The polyp is usually palpable per rectum and bleeds easily with surface ulceration. Periodically, the polyp may prolapse through the anal orifice. Surgical excision is usually followed by rapid clinical recovery and lengthy survival time. New polyps may develop after surgery. A biopsy should always be submitted for histopathologic diagnosis.


Strictures are a narrowing of the lumen due to cicatricial tissue. Injury may result from foreign bodies or trauma (eg, bite wounds, accidents) or as a complication of inflammatory disease.

Neoplasia, enlarged prostate, and scar tissue after perianal fistula or anal sac abscess may all predispose to extraluminal constriction. In small animals, anorectal stricture is more common than rectal strictures, but neither is frequent. Strictures are more common in German Shepherds, Beagles, and Poodles. 

Rectal stricture in cattle may result from trauma, neoplasia, or fat necrosis impinging on or within the lumen, or from defects associated with rectal and vaginal strictures. Rectal strictures in pigs are seen secondary to enterocolitis, after repair of rectal prolapse, and as a sequela of ulcerative proctitis induced by salmonellae. Treatment is surgical.

  • SOME HEAT. Soak a washcloth in Epsom salts and warm water, and hold it to your pet’s bottom for 5 minutes twice daily. If your pet will allow it, you can also put some pressure on the glands while compressing- this may help them drain.

  • BULK UP. Additional fibre will increase stool volume naturally putting pressure on the anal glands, helping them empty. Good sources of fibre include Metamucil, oat bran and Flax.

  • MOVE IT. Regular exercise helps in the expression of the glands. Your pet should get at least 15 minutes of exercise twice daily. If the glands appear abscessed, then your pet may need antibiotics and possibly surgery.



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