If you witness your dog scooting on her butt across the floor or desperately trying to reach for her back, all that accompanied by a fishy smell, you may likely be dealing with some anal gland (= anal sac) issues.
Or maybe you just notice that fishy smelling “souvenir” on the couch after your dog has left her favorite hangout spot. That may be a sign that the glands eventually emptied on their own, after they probably did not during your dog’s last #2 potty business.
What re anal glands and how do they work
Dogs have two small glands located internally to the left and right directly below their anal opening. When healthy and working properly the glands usually do not produce any unpleasant smells.
The glands produce a secretion for the purpose of marking territory. It is usually clear or slightly milky.
Normally the anal glands empty naturally during defecation. Their ability to empty however is depending on different factors, one of them nutrition. Stools need to be firm enough to automatically express the glands in the process. If the stools are too soft, the fluid can accumulate in the glands, clog them and cause a stinging pain and the fishy smell.
This is when you notice your dog scooting, trying to relive the pain.
Anal gland problems can even become more serious, if not treated.
If the glands can not empty naturally, expressing is necessary. Because besides the pain the clogging can cause serious inflammation that can eventually affect the entire body of your dog.
Some dogs hardly ever have any problems with their anal glands. Some dogs experience temporary problems caused by softer stools after surgery, illness or after food changes, for example.
There are also dogs seemingly predisposed to experience anal gland problems on a regular basis.
These dogs should have their anal glands expressed frequently in order to avoid problems. Usually vets perform the procedure, but it is also possible to do it yourself. Mostly the expression is done by putting pressure on the glands externally, starting just below the glands. If that does not help, it may be necessary for the vet to reach a tiny bit into the anus and express the glands from the inside.
Be prepared for stinky business
If you want to express the glands yourself, your vet will surely be happy to explain the entire procedure to you. It is not rocket science, but be prepared to deal with stinky business.
Normally only a few liquid drops are released by the glands at a time. When clogged and expressed, that fluid can literally squirt out of your dog’s anus in quite an amount of a thickened brown and smelly mass.
You should wear rubber gloves, have tissues ready and stay away from anything that could be hard to clean after being hit by such a squirt (I prefer to do it in the bathroom or outside with Mila).
If your dog currently feels some pressure or even slight pain from the glands, she will probably be eager to promote the expression by holding still and leaning into your pressure. However, that will only be the case, if there is not too much pain involved already with expressing.
If you know that your dog tends to have problems with the anal glands, their examination should be part of every routine vet check-up also, just in case. Sometimes the glands frequently cause so much pain for the dog that expressing is only possible under sedation.
If severe inflammation is in progress, antibiotics may be necessary to clear the infection either.
If severe problems persist, some vets even suggest surgical removal of the glands.
Usually with persisting anal gland problems vets recommend to try changes in the diet of your dog to firm the stools. A high fiber diet is likely helpful. Often it is recommended to add pumpkin to the diet for that purpose. A food switch to a different brand or variety can also help. So can feeding less (to calm the digestive system) or switching from kibble to raw food.
Yet, every dog is different and there is no patent remedy valid for every dog. You will need to find out on your own what is the best for your dog.