Are manual anal gland expressions for dogs necessary?
September 29, 2009 12:46 PM   Subscribe

Anal gland expression for dogs - How does one keep a dog's anal glands in optimal shape?

Having a minor disagreement with someone about this issue:

1. I've heard that dogs need to have their anal glands expressed regularly otherwise it can lead to an infection and impaction. My dog goes to the vet two times a year to get his anal glands expressed. It's obvious when he needs to get it done because he starts smelling fishy (TEEHEE) and is very sensitive/irritable and is constantly sniffing and licking his hindquarters. Once he comes back from the vet he's a happy camper and not at all preoccupied with his backside.

2. Someone else said that it's insane to take a dog to a vet to get anal glands expressed, and that it's just something dogs are able to take care of on their own.

What the what?

3. Then I googled it and it seems most people are saying dogs do need need regular expression, but the more you manually express the more frequently it will need to be done (?). A few sources say that feeding your dog high quality food and pumpkin will take care of the need for manual anal expression.

Do dogs need manual anal gland expression or not? Can a higher fiber diet really take care of the need for manual expression? How do you handle your dogs anal gland needs?

Help me help my dog please!
posted by wiretap to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: Okay, so, dogs are supposed to be able to express the glands...when they poo. Sometimes (usually) the force of the...poop isn't enough to express the glands, so YES, you do need to have the dog's anal glands expressed on a regular basis. It CAN lead to a serious impaction/infection.

Whether or not you want to do it to yourself or bring your dog to the vet is a topic for another conversation.
posted by InsanePenguin at 12:55 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: Nature hasn't. The dog was created by man through centuries of genetic engineering. There are some kinks to work out.

I used to work at a vet clinic and this is the exact issue that made me think... Maybe I don't want to be a vet. Only certain breeds needed this done regularly, and some only at older ages. Cocker spaniels come to mind, although, good lord what concession don't those dogs need.
posted by letahl at 12:56 PM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a (young) vet. I am not your vet.

It depends on the dog, but most dogs do not need regular expression. Some dogs/breeds, for whatever unknown reason, have anal sac issues. Many think that crappy, cheap diets contribute to anal sac problems - main idea here being that the softer poop that results from these diets doesn't "push" the secretions out of the sacs like hard poop does. Can a high fibre diet/higher quality diet/etc help your dog? There is only one way to find out - try it.

Sorry for the vague answers, but like humans, all dogs are different.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 12:57 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: None of my dogs have ever had to have this done. They've never scooted along, either. The breed appears to make a difference.

It looks pretty simple to do.
posted by Solomon at 1:00 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: My dog is older, so YMMV, but:
Last time we took our dog the vet, one of her anal glands was swollen and the vet recommended having them expressed regularly from here on out. If I understood the vet correctly, the glands are supposed to void themselves naturally with each bowel movement, but once dogs reach a certain age, things start to go haywire (same reason I have hair in my ears, I guess). Diet can be a factor; softer stool doesn't allow the glands to void themselves properly. But our dog doesn't have that problem.
So, it sounds to me like the answer to your question is both you and the person from #2 are correct. They glands void themselves naturally, but not without fail. So some, but not all dogs will need expression.
My guess is that there isn't really a consensus about this in the dog-loving community, and possibly even among vets (and FWIW, I've gotten some seriously stupid advice from well-meaning dog lovers). If your dog seems to benefit from it (mine does, and visibly), I can't imagine why you wouldn't do it.
posted by willpie at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2009

We also were told to go with higher fiber feeds and avoid the cheapest dog foods. It seems to have made a difference in our retriever cross; it greatly increased the times between expressions. But who knows if increasing age also played a factor?

And as mentioned above - it may be simple to do, but man, that is the foulest stench I've ever had the misfortune to breathe. Pass on the DIY for me.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 1:09 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: I don't see how regular expression would speed up the required times for it, as most dogs express themselves naturally when they poo, as mentioned above.

As for whether it's required, this does seem to fall down breed lines. Some breeds just seem to be more prone to anal gland issues. When I worked at a vet clinic, some dogs were in monthly, some were in twice a year, and some never had one bit of trouble.

For what it's worth, if your dog needs regular expression, you can learn to do it yourself. Just ask your vet to show you how next time you go in, all you need are gloves, some paper towels, and a strong constitution.

Oh, and for those of you who have never been up close and personal with anal gland expressions, the stuff that is expressed is the foulest thing known to mankind. If we could weaponize it, the military would stop making nukes and start farming pugs. Yowee.
posted by internet!Hannah at 1:11 PM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

peanut butter milkshake said: Can a high fibre diet/higher quality diet/etc help your dog? There is only one way to find out - try it.

I have a little frenchie that needs regular expression. She is on a diet of mixed wet/dry wellness which the vet suggested, but she is often very soft and stinky. How can I introduce a high fibre diet into her life?
posted by avex at 1:17 PM on September 29, 2009

avex, (and wiretap) the best advice I can give is talk to your vet. Most vets won't mind if you go in and say, "I've been doing a little Googling, and read that high fibre diets might help with anal sac issues. What do you think? Is this something we could try?" Just remember to 1. take everything from the internet with a pinch of salt and 2. ultimately listen to your vet and what they think about what you've found.

Most vets are open to dialogue and new ideas. We really like to debunk stuff from teh intarwebs, but sometimes we can be educated or open to new ideas, too.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2009

@peanut butter milkshake thanks for replying. I did ask my vet about it and he wasn't really that forthcoming with details. I know you are not my vet but what ideas do you suggest to your doggy's?
posted by avex at 1:34 PM on September 29, 2009

I just started expressing my dog's glands. It's true that not all dogs need it done manually. I grew up with an akita that never needed it. My current dog, a chihuahua/doxie mix needs it done @ every six months. Ask your vet to show you how to do it if you want, it's very simple if you're not squeamish... you just need some rubber gloves, some lube and some courage. For me it was worth learning so I could save the vet fees and the hassle of an appointment.
posted by gnutron at 1:51 PM on September 29, 2009

My dog has had anal gland problems in the past. We started feeding our dog "Missing Link" dog food supplement, and the issue seems to have gone away. Or maybe they are just handling it at the groomer/vet and I don't know it.
posted by monkey_toes at 1:57 PM on September 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers thus far! With my first two dogs (10+ years ago) I had never expressed their anal glands because frankly I'd never even known dogs could have this problem. On hindsight, in the latter years of ownership they did seem overly sensitive about their tail area and were a bit scooty.

I read up on tons of dog ownership advice after getting my newest dog and this anal sac expression came up quite a bit, so I assumed it was something everyone did for their dogs.
posted by wiretap at 1:59 PM on September 29, 2009

I feed my dogs raw chicken necks on a regular basis, which causes slight constipation for about a day and then a very firm stool. I have read that this firm stool can help a dog express its own anal glands. I don't have any data on that except to say that my dogs have never had an anal gland problem.

Despite my total lack of scientific evidence in support of this theory, I think it would be worth a try. Chicken necks are super cheap, they clean the heck out of a dog's teeth (my main motivation for feeding them), and dogs go crazy over them. Make sure the necks are RAW--cooked chicken bones are dangerous.
posted by HotToddy at 2:53 PM on September 29, 2009

Our 5 year old, healthy 55lb mutt seems to need help with this these days, despite a high quality diet and various sources of fiber.

I'm trying to make a habit of doing it before starting her ~bi-weekly bath. Sometimes its productive, other times, not. It is an unspeakable experience, but I decided it wasn't so unspeakable that I needed to pay the vet to deal with it a few times a year.
posted by Good Brain at 3:35 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: I had a dog that we got when he was already old and from a rescue service. He had various health problems, one of which was that he needed this done every two weeks. It was a huge hassle, and the poor vet tech. So after a couple of months we got his anal glands removed. Problem solved. Maybe when he was young and healthy it was all good, but I can assure you that not every dog can be comfortable without human intervention in this regard.
posted by Dasein at 4:31 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: Canned pumpkin does work well, just get the stuff from the grocery store (NOT pumpkin pie filling, just 100% pumpkin) and add a few spoonfuls to his kibble. Canned pumpkin has long been used for this purpose and also to help during periods of mild intestinal distress.

For my long haired dogs, brushing their tail triggers the glands to dump after a few minutes. I never need rubber gloves and the fact that it gets cleared out more often seems to make the smell less HIDEOUS STINK OF EYEWATERING DOOM and more a strong doggy odor. Just make sure you don't do this on the carpet.
posted by hindmost at 4:40 PM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can also get the anal glands expressed at a groomer's, may be cheaper than the vet--the place we go charges $5, and it only takes 5 minutes as a walk-in.
posted by lemonade at 5:08 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: My dog is on a relatively high-fiber diet and gets quality dog food; her diet is Wysong Anergen (dry) plus home-cooked brown rice + cottage cheese + carrots -- and she still needs her anal glands expressed sometimes. Today was a good example -- she stunk, I expressed, she stunk worse briefly and then she didn't. She's an English bulldog. She requires a high level of this kind of crazy intervention.
posted by mmw at 6:15 PM on September 29, 2009

Oh and I should mention that some dogs "clench" when scared and express anal glands that way. Nothing like going to take a dog's temperature at the vet clinic and getting squirted with pure vile dog-butt juice. Yeargh.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:57 PM on September 29, 2009

Response by poster: It's good to learn how everyone else handles this situation with their dogs, your answers have been interesting and helpful!
posted by wiretap at 6:43 PM on September 30, 2009

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