In the movie The Fisher King there is a rather humorous scene in which Robin Williams’ character is scooting himself along the ground by digging his heels in and dragging his bare bottom across the grass. In a jubilant voice he calls out, Do you know why dogs do this? It feels great!
Actually, that’s not the only reason. Dogs will exhibit this behavior if the anus or hind quarters are itchy, but it can be a sign of an impacted anal gland which can be a problem for some dogs.
The anal glands are located on either side of a dog’s anus and, in the wild, serve as a method of marking the dog’s territory. When a dog defecates the glands are naturally compressed and secrete a dark, foul smelling liquid along with the bowel movement. When the sacs are functioning normally they empty whenever the animal has a bowel movement.
Sometimes, for various reasons, the dog’s anal sacs may become blocked. When this happens a number of problems can develop. Some are benign as a foul smell but the can lead to serious problems like diarrhea and infection. To intervene before a blocked anal gland becomes an issue, the glands must be expressed.
Expression of the anal glands is a simple medical procedure that can be performed at home or by a veterinarian. Some people prefer to let the vet take care of this task because they find it to be an unattractive duty. To save the expense of a vet, however, it is perfectly acceptable to express the anal glands yourself.
Expressing the Dog’s Anal Glands
Expressing the anal glands is a simple matter. You’ll want to hold the tail up and pull it gently toward the dog’s head. In the other hand hold a tissue or paper towel and place your thumb on the left side of the left gland and your forefinger on the right side of the right gland.
Squeeze firmly but not roughly and the glands should empty a brown or yellowish liquid onto the tissue or towel. Impacted glands will not empty as easily and may require an internal draining technique. You can do the internal technique at home as well, but you’ll need surgical gloves and a tube of KY jelly.
Internal anal gland expression requires that the sacs on either side of the anus be expressed individually and will require that you place your thumb on one side of the gland and your forefinger inside the dog’s rectum in order to squeeze and express the gland. Impacted glands will be harder to drain and the fluid may be thick and pasty with a foul odor and a dark brown, grey, or black color.
Infected anal glands may produce a discharge of bloody pus and can be an indication of a more serious problem. The infection should be fought with antibiotics so a vet should be contacted immediately if the dog seems to have such an infection.