Dear Dr. Fox: Please tell me the best way for dogs to empty their anal glands without having a vet express them.
My dog is a 2 1/2-year-old border collie, and I assume his issue may be partially related to the type of food he eats. I took him to the vet knowing he wasn’t feeling well. The vet confirmed his painful upset stomach and also said that his anal glands were full, so she expressed them. She never said anything about a temperature.
He was not any better the next day, so I took him back and saw a different vet. She took his temperature and it was 104 degrees, and she prescribed antibiotics. It took almost six days for the fever to subside and two weeks longer to get his strength back. M.W., Vinita, Oklahoma
Dear M.W.: We all know about skunks’ anal glands, which have evolved as weapons of defense to spray and confuse/disorient predators. Dogs also have anal glands, which may play a role in territorial marking and social communication by scent with other dogs passing by. Secretions from these glands coat the feces as the dog defecates.
Chronic anal gland and sac problems in dogs can have multiple causes. Having the sacs manually squeezed out periodically can bring temporary relief when there is impaction (blocking of the duct), but can also cause some damage, inflammation and persistence of the underlying problem. Dogs will often scoot on their butts to relieve the irritation, sometimes removing the blockage in the process. Often, the sacs empty where the dog is lying, leading to a stinky sofa or carpet. (The stains are best removed with enzyme cleaners like Nature’s Miracle.)
As you mentioned, anal gland and sac problems can be associated with food allergies and intolerances, such as to corn, soy and beef, so you may want to look at the ingredients in your dog’s food. Often, the contents of manufactured pet food are difficult to discern from the labels, so you may want to try my home-prepared dog food (posted on my website, drfoxonehealth.com).
Dogs need to be physically active, especially before and between meals (but not immediately after). Less active dogs tend to have irregular bowel movements and are often constipated, which can interfere with the normal emptying of the anal sac contents when the dog defecates. Also, dog foods with low fiber content and/or high fat content can lead to chronically loose stools, which do not help empty out the anal sac. Dogs need a good, semi-firm stool to do the job.
In the final analysis, once anal gland problems are recognized, immediate attention is called for beyond periodic manual squeezing by a veterinarian or dog groomer.
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