Let’s be honest, the idea of talking about or even thinking about anal gland expression probably seems uncomfortable at best and revolting at worst for even the most loving pet owner. It’s completely normal and understandable to be squeamish, but because the topic is so unappealing, it’s often overlooked despite being an important part of keeping your pet healthy. We never want pet owners to find themselves in a position where their pet needs emergency care because they weren’t familiar with the care their pet needs and didn’t know what warning signs to watch for.

We’ll cover everything you did (and didn’t) want to know about anal glands so you can be a more informed pet parent and take an active role in keeping your pet healthy from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail.

Everything You Did (And Didn’t) Want To Know About Anal Gland Expression

A illustrated  dog on a bright yellow background with text reading, "Everything you did and didn't want to know about anal glands".

What are anal glands, and why does my pet have them?

Anal glands, which are frequently also referred to as anal sacs, are two small pockets located under the skin surrounding your pet’s anus. They’re located at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions. Their size can vary based on the size of your pet. The walls of your pet’s anal sacs are lined with sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are the same glands responsible for producing sweat, which is why the fluid found in anal glands has a distinctive and less than fresh odor that is generally described as “fishy”. When people think of anal glands, they commonly think of dogs, but anal glands are found in both dogs and cats, though cats are less likely to have anal glands issues when compared to their canine friends.

The glands produce fluid that is naturally excreted during bowel movements due to the pressure placed on the walls of the anus. Occasionally your pet may also excrete anal gland fluid during other activities. For example, pets that are nervous or frightened may also excrete anal gland fluid. This fluid can vary in color and texture and can range from clear, thin, and watery, to brown, gritty, and paste like.

While we don’t know the exact reason pets have anal glands, it’s believed that they’re a leftover from their much older ancestors and may serve as another way for your pet to mark their territory and spread their scent.

What are anal gland expressions, and why are they so important?

Anal gland expressions are the process of manually emptying the anal glands of your pets.

You might be thinking to yourself, “if my pet naturally empties their anal glands during bowel movements, why do they need anal gland expressions?” It’s a good question!

Many factors can influence your pet’s anal glands, and it’s common for pets to struggle with emptying their anal glands on their own, even if they have no other health issues. If illness, injury, medication, or diet change leads to a period of constipation or diarrhea for your pet, that can be enough to lead to an anal gland that needs to be expressed.

If not emptied or expressed regularly, the fluid in your pet’s anal glands can build up over time and harden or even lead to infection. With so many factors affecting the health of your pet’s anal glands, regular expressions are the best way to avoid the potential for more serious health issues.

What are the symptoms of an impacted or infected anal gland?

The most obvious symptom of an impacted or infected anal gland is one you’re probably already familiar with; scooting. If you’ve ever witnessed your pet scoot across the floor or your carpet, there’s a good chance they were having issues with their anal glands at the time. 

Other symptoms can include a sudden surge in bathing or chewing the impacted area, redness, swelling, and a noticeable odor coming from your pet. In severe cases, the anal glands may swell and take on a pimple like appearance and you may notice the presence of pus. 

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact a veterinarian immediately, especially if you see pus, swelling, or inflammation. While an impacted anal gland is rarely an emergency, it can lead to infection and abscesses which require antibiotics and occasionally surgery. If you suspect an infection or abscess, seek medical care for your pet immediately. Never try to treat it on your own and do not express an infected or abscessed anal gland. 

Can I express my pet’s anal glands myself?

If you are comfortable with the idea of expressing your pet’s anal glands on your own, the answer is yes! It is entirely possible to express your pet’s anal glands on your own, though most pet owners would prefer to leave the anal gland expressions to someone else. 

We recommend having your pet’s anal glands professionally expressed to ensure your pet’s glands are fully emptied. Having your pet’s anal glands professionally expressed is also safer for both you and your pet, especially if they’re not used to having their anal glands expressed. If your pet is not familiar with the process, they may become anxious and frightened, and an anxious or frightened pet is a pet that may bite, scratch, or struggle to get away. 

If you are going to attempt expressing your pet’s anal glands on your own, remember to put safety first. Always have a second person to help you express your pet’s anal glands, take steps to prevent injuries to both you and your pet, and don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian or groomer to demonstrate the proper technique. 

An illustrated graphic showing the location of the anal glands for anal gland expressions

How do you express a pet’s anal glands?

There are two methods for anal gland expressions: external and internal. Most pet owners who express their pet’s anal glands on their own opt for the external method of anal expressions. 

To externally express your pet’s anal glands: locate your pet’s anal glands at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions. Using a soft cloth or napkin, hold the napkin to your pet’s anal glands and use gentle but firm pressure to squeeze your pet’s anal glands between your thumb and forefinger. Note the texture and consistency of the anal gland fluid. If the texture is thick or paste like, external expression may not be enough to fully express the anal glands. 

To internally express your pet’s anal glands: Using a gloved and well-lubricated finger, insert your finger into the opening of your pet’s anus and locate the anal glands at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions. Use your thumb and forefinger to apply firm but gentle pressure to the anal glands while using your other hand to catch the expressed fluid in a cloth or napkin. 

Internal expressions allow for more through anal gland expressions, but please note that you have may to express your pet’s anal glands multiple times to achieve a full expression. 

A collage of the products we recommend for anal gland health

What products do you recommend to keep my pet’s anal glands healthy?

Companion Animal Medical Centre is proud to offer several products that support anal gland health such as No Scoot Soft Chews, Express Ease, and Glandex. All are vet approved and use all natural and organic ingredients to support anal gland health, stop scooting, and promote healthy bowel movements.

If you do not want to add additional supplements or products to your pet’s life but still want to support your pet’s anal gland health, we recommend increasing the amount of fiber in your pet’s diet. More fiber supports healthy bowel movements and can prevent digestive issues such as diarrhea and constipation, which in turns supports anal gland health and helps your pet more naturally excrete anal gland fluid during bowel movements to avoid the buildup of anal gland fluid.

In conclusion

Congratulations! You made it to the end and hopefully it wasn’t as you expected it’d be. You now have the tools and knowledge to recognize the warning signs of an impacted anal gland and know how to prevent potentially serious health complications.

Alternatively, if you’ve reached the end of this article and have realized you would prefer to never express your pet’s anal glands on your own, that’s understandable too! CAMC offers anal gland expressions, and we’re always happy to care for your dogs and cats in any way they need. You can schedule an exam for your dog or cat by calling us at (513) 999-2262.