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Anal Sacs in Dogs

One of the more noxious parts of your dog

 

MetPet.com Staff Writer

Anal sacs are two pea-sized glands located at the 5:00 and 7:00 positions under the skin around the anus.  Through small openings, they release a strong-smelling fluid with each bowel movement.  They can also release fluid when the anal sphincter is contracted when the dog is surprised, frightened or overly excited.  The sacs function as scent glands and are used to identify the individual and are probably the reason that dogs sniff this area.   The fluid from the sacs is normally liquid (versus thick) and brown in color. 

Anal sacs can exhibit a variety of problems:

- the openings become impacted or clogged
- they produce excess fluid
- they fail to empty completely
- they become infected
- they abscess
- they rupture in extreme cases

Anal sac problems generally occur:

- in small and miniature breeds
- in dogs with soft or small stools (firm bowel movements are required to empty the sacs)
- in obese dogs or those with poor sphincter tone

If your dog sits down and pulls himself forward with his front legs (scooting), he is probably trying to empty the sacs which have become uncomfortably full.  Other symptoms of anal sac problems include excessive licking or gnawing at the area, pain during bowel movements or even a visible swelling of the area.  Any pain or visible swelling of one sac or the other requires a visit to your vet as this could be signs of a more serious condition such as an abscess. 

Here are the basic steps to manually expressing (emptying) anal sacs:

- You will need paper towels, tissue or a small washcloth and thin latex or rubber gloves.  Thick gloves will make it more difficult to feel the sacs.

- You will need to place your dog in the bathtub, shower or on hard surface flooring covered with a towel or newspapers.  The bathtub or enclosed shower have the added advantage of making it more difficult for your dog to walk away. 

- Sit on one side of your dog and lift his tail up with one hand.

- With the thumb and forefinger of the other hand, feel for the firm, pea-sized sacs at the 5:00 and 7:00 positions on either side of the anus (think about the face of a clock, find the 6 and go just to the right and left of that position).  You can use a tissue or paper towel but it sometimes makes it more difficult to locate the sacs.
 
- Firmly but gently squeeze your thumb and forefinger until liquid is expressed.  Too much force can actually damage the sacs so be firm but stop if your dog is obviously in pain. 

- If you cannot feel the sacs or if there is no liquid expressed, you can move your fingers around and try another position.  Another option is to empty one sac at a time by placing the forefinger inside the anal opening and using the thumb to squeeze the sac as before.  This procedure appears to work better with impacted sacs. 

- Although relatively simply in theory, this procedure can be quite daunting and uncomfortable for both you and your dog.  When in doubt, ask your vet to show you how it's done for future reference.  If your dog has this problem continuously, the sacs may have to be regularly emptied (approximately once a week) so it's best to learn this procedure. 

If the sacs express a blood-tinged, yellow, black and/or thick pus-like discharge, the sacs could be infected.  As with pain in the area or a visible swelling, this requires a visit to the vet.  Anal sac infections are generally treated with antibiotics or, if an abscess is created and then ruptures through the skin, with a topical antiseptic.  In severe cases of constant anal sac impaction, the glands themselves may be surgically removed.   

 
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