Anal Gland Problems

The anal glands are 2 small scent glands next to the anus. They coat the faeces with scent and they are why animals sniff each others bottoms. It is very common for them to become blocked and sore, but this can be easily treated by your vet emptying them. Pets can also suffer from anal gland abscesses and anal gland tumours.

What are the anal glands?

  • The anal glands are two small scent glands that sit either side of the anus, at about 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock.
  • They are a scent gland for the faeces, they are why dogs sniff each others bottoms.
  • They are thin walled sacs, with a small hole in the top. The anal gland liquid is very thin and is squirted out of the gland when the animal defacates.
  • Cats also have them, but problems with them are more common in dogs
  • People don’t have them, which is why often people are unaware of them and the problems they can cause.

What are the symptoms of anal gland problems?

  • If your pet shows any signs of discomfort around their backend, the anal glands should be considered as a cause.
  • Symptoms can include:
    • Scooting – this is when dogs rub their bottoms along the floor. It is more common the small breed dogs.
    • Nibbling or licking excessively at the skin around the bottom, base of the tail, or even the hind legs or feet
    • Baldness ( alopecia) or sore, red skin at the tail base
    • A foul smell, this will occur if your pet manages to empty a block gland, the smell is a very unpleasant, ‘fishy’ odour
    • Swellings around the anus, these are often abcess and can burst and drain pus.
  • Some of these symptoms can be mistaken for signs of worms or fleas. If you treat your pet for both, and they do not improve, you should seek veterinary advice.

Anal gland problems

Blocked anal glands


  • The mechanism of emptying of the anal glands is very simple. As the faeces slides past the gland, it gets squashed, which forces the liquid out of the small holes and coats it. Also, the contracting of the muscles around the gland as the animal defecates helps to empty them as well.
  • If the glands are not emptied for a few days, the liqiud scent inside them will start to thicken and solidify, which means it is more difficult to force out of the small holes.
  • The glands might not empty because
    • Your pet doesn’t defecate for a few days, for example they are constipated, or don’t eat.
    • The faeces is very soft, so it doesn’t have the strength to squash the gland and force out the faeces. This can occur if you pet has diahorrea, or if they are fed a rich diet.


  • The blocked glands become painful and swollen, your pet will display the typical symptoms listed above of discomfort and soreness.


  • The only way to treat blocked anal glands is to express them manually. Your vet will be able to do this very easily.
  • The glands are squeezed by hand and emptied, this provides immediate relief, and your pet will feel much better.
  • Of the glands blocking become recurring problem, they can be ‘flushed’ under a general anaesthetic or sedation. Your vet will place a catheter in the anal gland hole, and flush the gland out with sterile water or an antibiotic wash. They will often pack the gland with antibiotic gel when they have flushed it out, to aid healing and prevent infection.
  • In cases with severe recurring anal gland problems, the glands can be removed. However, this is not an operation to be undertaken lightly as there is a small, but significant, chance that the muscle of the anal sphincter can become damaged. This can make an animal faecally incontinent, which is obviously generally incompatible with life as a family pet.


The easiest way to treat blocked anal glands is for your vet to empty them.

On Going Care

  • For long term care, it is important your pet has firm faeces,. They can be fed a high fibre diet for a few days after the glands have been expressed, for example add brown bread or all bran to their diet.
  • If your pets faeces is consistently soft, consider changing their diet. Wet food diets, or high fat, rich diets, often don’t contain much fibre, which bulks out the faeces.
  • Most of the time once the glands have been expressed, and the faeces is firm, the glands will settle, but in some cases it can become a recurring problem.
  • This is because if the glands have been very irritated or block a few times, the thin walls will swell and scar, this means the tiny holes in the glands become even smaller and therefore more prone to blocking.
  • Some animals need to visit the vet for regular gland emptying, their owners become adept at noticing the signs of their discomfort. It is a very quick procedure and not expensive.

Anal gland abscesses


  • These will occur if the gland has been blocked for a while, or if bacteria get into the gland and set up an infection.


  • Often the first symptom noted is a swelling around the anus, or when the abscess bursts and pus starts to drain out.
  • Not many animals with anal gland abscess show the typical signs of blocked anal glands in our experience. You would expect them to as the glands must be uncomfortable, but they are often fine until the swelling is large, or the abscess bursts.


  • The treatment of anal gland abscesses is first to lance or drain the abscess. This will either involve expressing the gland as normal, or making a hole with a needle or scaple blade to drain the pus from the outside.
  • Your vet will more than likely put your pet on antibiotics, which will clear the infection.
  • If your pet is in discomfort or sore, anti-inflammatory painkillers may also be prescribed.


  • Anal gland abscesses generally heal very well, and having had one, does not usually make your pet prone to any more.
  • Keeping the faeces solid is important to prevent anal gland abscesses, feed your pet a good quality dry diet, or bulk out their food with high fibre extras such as brown bread or all bran.

This dog has an anal gland abscess at about 7 o’clock. It was very painful and needed to be drained, but cleared up well with anti-biotics

Anal gland tumours

  • Anal gland cancer is not common, but they tend to be quite aggressive and spread quickly when they do occur.
  • They are most commonly seen in female dogs, both neutered and entire, and in castrated male dogs. They are very rare in cats.
  • Cocker spaniels are a breed which is prone to developing these tumours.

Clinical signs

The signs that your pet has an anal gland tumour are very variable, but include

  • Visible swelling around the anal area, generally just on one side
  • Signs of blocked anal glands ( see above)
  • Constipation – sometimes the growth is inside the dog and blocks the rectum, which makes it difficult for them to defecate.
  • Drinking and urinating large amounts – a normal dog will drink about 50ml water per kilo body weight per day, dogs with this tumour can drink easily twice this amount.
  • On occasions, the vet may find a mass in the anal gland by chance when they are expressing them.


  • If possible, the tumour in the anal gland should be removed. However, often this is difficult as the tumour will be very close to the muscle of the anus, and removal or damage of this can lead to faecal incontinence.
  • If the tumour is large, it may only be possible to remove a portion of it.
  • Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can both be used to help shrink the tumour and try to stop its spread.
  • This tumour can cause abnormally high levels of calcium in the body, which is the the reason these animals drink and urinate a lot. The calcium can lead to kidney damage, and often your vet will prescribe treatments to lower the calcium levels, on top of the tumour treatment.


  • The prognosis for long term survival is poor, the average survival time from diagnosis, if both surgery and chemotherapy or radiotherapy are used, is about 14 months.
  • The treatment for this cancer is intensive, but it is possible for your pet to have a good quality of life at the same time.
  • However, remember that these tumours are rare, if you are concerned, speak to your vet.

Please note, this is an advice only website, if you can any specific concerns or queries about your pet, you should speak to your vet.

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