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What’s That Awful Smell?

By:  Sarah A. Balaguer, DVM, MS

Have you ever found yourself wondering this very thing after your pet has scooted across your living room carpet or after jumping off your lap?  If so, chances are they have inadvertently expressed their anal glands.  Common observations by clients include excessive hind end licking or difficulty having a bowel movement.  One of the worst case scenarios is when the anal glands have ruptured, leaving what appears to the owners to be a painful bloody and horrible smelling mess.

Anal glands are basically liquid reservoirs that live at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock if looking at your pet’s anus straight on like a clock face (with the tail at 12 o’clock).  There are two tiny slit-like openings with which the liquid contents of each gland are normally expressed around the time of defecation.  Many pets have trouble with the natural expression of their glands, especially small breed dogs, and thus the liquid contents begin to accumulate.  The liquid becomes thickened similar to toothpaste in consistency and therefore is difficult to pass naturally out of the tiny openings.  Enlarged anal glands are often uncomfortable or even painful and make it difficult for pet’s to defecate.  Often times when the glands need to be manually expressed the pet will exhibit signs as mentioned above like scooting their bottoms as if to provide some relief.  If the anal gland contents become infected they can abscess internally or externally leading to a very painful hindquarter for your pet.  Should this happen, your pet should immediately be taken to their doctor for an evaluation and for immediate care for pain and for the infection associated with the ruptured gland.

The anal glands can be manually expressed both externally and internally.  Experienced veterinary staff members commonly teach clients how to express glands externally.  This is certainly not for everyone especially if the pet requires internal expression.  Most clinics offer this service for your pets on a regular basis if needed.  Many grooming facilities offer this service as well.  Keep in mind that if your pet has a persistent problem with anal glands you can speak with your family veterinarian about having them surgically removed as this carries a good to excellent prognosis with an experienced surgeon.