Anal gland issues: how real nutrition can help

Reviewed by our experts. More info
Louise Hawkins

Does your pup scoot along the ground, leaving behind an unpleasant smell? They may be experiencing anal gland issues.

Anal glands — two tiny, fluid-filled sacs can cause big health problems for your dog. When a problem does arise, it’s unmistakable and needs to be addressed early on to prevent further issues.

Identifying what's triggering your pup’s rear-end problems is the first step in prevention, and a diet that lacks the right macro and micronutrients, along with the right amount of fibre is often the culprit. Real, nutritionally balanced food can support your dog's overall health and put an end to anal gland problems.

What are anal glands?

Your dog’s anal glands are two small pea-sized sacs located on either side of their anus. They produce an oily substance with a pungent, fishy smell that’s unique to your dog. When they defecate, the movement puts pressure on these sacs causing them to release their contents to mark their territory.

When dogs greet each other with a quick sniff of their behind, the secretions from their glands communicate vital information including sex, hormones and health.

7 signs of anal gland disease

For most pups, passing a healthy, firm poo is enough to empty their anal glands. But if your dog’s stools are often very soft, defecation might not put enough pressure on the sacs to squeeze the fluid contents out. The build-up of this fluid can lead to anal gland/sac disease which can cause inflammation, impaction and abscessation of the sacs.

For example, if a gland becomes inflamed the swelling can tighten the ducts that connect to the rectum, making it hard to release the fluid. When this happens, the fluid thickens and becomes impacted. An impacted gland is more likely to develop an infection as the bacteria builds up with nowhere to escape, which can lead to a nasty, painful abscess. If the abscess isn’t treated it can rupture through the skin next to the anus.

Make sure to treat anal disease early, before the issue becomes serious and requires invasive procedures. So, if you notice your dog displaying any of the following signs, it’s time to make an appointment with the vet:

  • Excessive licking or biting their anus

  • Scooting their bum on the floor

  • Difficulty or discomfort when going to the toilet

  • A stinky discharge

  • Blood and pus in their stools

  • A red and swollen area on one or both sides of their anus (a sign of an abscess)

  • Signs of pain like yelping or whimpering

Should anal glands be manually expressed?

If your dog is having trouble emptying their anal glands naturally, your veterinarian may need to manually express them. This common and relatively quick procedure applies internal pressure to the glands just inside the anus, to squeeze out the contents by hand.

It can be tricky to apply the right amount of pressure in the right place to ensure the sacs are emptied. Too much pressure on swollen, impacted glands can lead to ruptures, creating more serious health problems. That’s why we highly recommend asking your vet to perform the procedure rather than trying it yourself.

A manual expression of your dog’s anal glands shouldn’t become a regular occurrence. If you find your dog has a chronic problem with their anal glands, it may suggest another underlying health issue that requires professional help from your veterinarian.

Repeated expression can affect the muscle tone of the sacs and the anus which can make natural excretion more difficult. It’s why we don’t recommend your groomer do it as part of their routine either.

If in doubt, let your vet check it out.

5 common causes of anal gland disease

When your dog’s anal glands are healthy, you’d be forgiven for never thinking about the two stinky sacs in your dog’s bum. But when they become an issue for your dog, they soon become an issue for you too.

Anal gland health issues can be caused by the following:

  • Soft stools that do not apply enough pressure to their glands to release the fluid inside. Loose faeces or ‘soft-serve’ can be caused by parasites as well as dietary fibre. It’s always worth making sure they’re up to date on their regular parasite medication and feeding them a real food diet that contains the right amount of soluble and insoluble fibre to treat the underlying cause of their anal gland problems.

  • Obesity can impact your dog’s movement and agility. An overweight dog won’t be able to exercise adequately, which can impact their bowel movements. They also can’t lick their anus or scoot effectively to promote the secretion of the glands.

  • Allergies trigger an immune response within your dog. Common signs of an allergic reaction in dogs are itchiness, hives or inflammation of the skin, often seen in response to flea or environmental allergies. Your dog’s anal sacs are lined with modified skin cells that can become swollen in response to an allergen too.

  • Inflammation can block the duct, preventing the release of the fluid. If your dog is unable to express his glands over time it can lead to a build-up of fluid and bacteria, which can create further inflammation and infection. This can lead to developing a nasty abscess. If untreated, abscesses can rupture and leave an open hole near their rectum that’s likely to require surgery.

  • Breed genetics can also be a factor in anal gland issues, as it tends to be more prevalent in smaller breeds like chihuahuas, miniature and toy poodles, cocker spaniels and beagles. Although, any breed can experience anal gland problems.

If your dog’s anal glands become a chronic health problem, they’re not vital for life and can be removed.

How can diet and nutrition improve my dog’s anal glands?

Diet and nutrition play a central role in your dog’s overall health and wellbeing and this includes the healthy function of their anal glands.

A natural expression of the glands by passing a firm and healthy poo is always the preferred method. If you find that your dog’s stools are loose or too soft, then it’s worth considering how an improvement to their diet could be the simple solution to your problem.

Real food that goes above nutritional standards

A highly digestible diet that contains the right amount of fibre is the best food for anal gland health. More nutrients are absorbed by their digestive system, leaving relatively little waste and creating firm stools — the ideal consistency to put pressure on their anal glands.

Dry food, like kibble, is highly processed and often contains ingredients that have little nutritional value. This means that your pup will probably have to go to the toilet more often and produce bigger, softer stools that are unlikely to empty their glands.

Lyka’s vet-formulated meals are made from real ingredients. Each tailored serving contains the right amount of macro and micronutrients for your pup’s daily needs, leading to smaller, firmer, healthier poos. After all, good poos are a sign of good health!

Increase dietary fibre

Increasing the fibre content of their diet can be an excellent way to promote regular bowel movements and make their poo firmer. Pumpkin is a particularly good fibrous vegetable to add to your dog’s bowl. Start by adding a small amount of cooked pumpkin to their meal to avoid adding too much fibre and to allow their system to get used to digesting it. If you are using canned pumpkin, make sure that it does not have any additional ingredients like sugar, salt or spices. Always check that it doesn’t contain any xylitol as this is highly toxic and deadly for dogs.

Although you can feed your pup raw pumpkin, it can be very difficult to digest, so we recommend you cook it first.

Lyka’s Chicken, Turkey and Kangaroo meals all include a healthy amount of butternut pumpkin to keep your pupper’s stools firm and healthy.

Anti-inflammatory ingredients

Inflamed anal glands can affect their function and lead to other health problems including impaction and abscesses.

A diet that’s rich in powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients like omega essential fatty acids (EFAs), ginger, spirulina and turmeric can alleviate the swelling and prevent inflammation from occurring in the first place.

In addition to these potent bioavailable ingredients, our meals only contain grass-fed, free-range, barn-raised or wild-caught proteins, which are less prone to cause inflammation than grain-fed proteins.

Fresh water

Dehydration affects the efficiency of a dog’s digestive system and can often lead to constipation. If your pup suffers from anal gland problems, straining to pass a hard poo can make matters worse.

Give your dog access to plenty of fresh water to keep them hydrated or encourage them to drink more by using a water fountain.

Lyka meals are made from fresh food and are gently cooked to maintain nutritional value and high moisture content for healthy, hydrated pups.

Hypoallergenic food

Food allergies or intolerances trigger a dog’s immune response which can also inflame their anal glands. Food allergies are very rare and most issues stem from an intolerance to a certain ingredient in their food. If you suspect your pup has a food sensitivity, speak to your vet about an elimination diet to identify the offending food.

Lyka’s meals are free from common allergens including wheat, corn, soy and dairy. Our hypoallergenic Chicken, Fish, Turkey, Kangaroo and Lamb meals contain limited proteins — great for pups with allergies or sensitivities.

Choose real food for good guts

Your pup’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract goes from their mouth to their stomach and intestines and ends at their colon and anus. Their anal glands are part of their GI tract and digestive system. In addition to processing the nutrients in their food, more and more research points to the central role of your dog’s gut in sustaining their overall health and wellbeing.

The microbiome is the powerhouse of your dog’s digestive system. A strong microbiome contains trillions of diverse microorganisms that regulate hormones, neurotransmitters, metabolism and the immune system.

The best way to boost your pup’s gut microbiome is by giving them a nutritionally complete diet that’s chock-full of bioavailable nutrients — it’s as simple as that.

How Lyka helps dogs with anal gland disease

Lyka’s gently cooked dog food has been designed by our in-house Veterinarian, Dr. Matthew Muir, alongside a team of Board-Certified Vet Nutritionists. We only use 100% human-grade, fresh ingredients in our dog food, and each meal contains natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients for optimal and preventive healthcare — ideal for dogs with digestive and GI issues.

Don’t just take our word for it, read about Melissa’s experience with her dachshund, Billy:

Billy was eating dry food for years and needed his anal glands expressed every two weeks. We changed to Lyka and he has been one super happy pupper. He doesn’t scoot along the ground anymore and he hasn’t needed his anal glands expressed since we started Lyka just over a year ago. We couldn’t be happier with Lyka! — Melissa, Billy’s fur mama

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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