Dog Anal Gland Infections: A Comprehensive Guide

Learn everything you need to know about anal gland infections in dogs, from recognizing the clinical signs, to understanding the diagnostic process, exploring treatment options, learning preventative measures, and overall care tips.

Feb 14, 2024·12 min read
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Dog Anal Gland Infections: A Comprehensive Guide

Taking proper care of our canine companions is a top priority. Yet sometimes, our pups can face health issues that are not only uncomfortable but also potentially dangerous.

One such issue is an anal gland infection, a common problem that is often overlooked. As responsible pet owners, we must ensure our dogs are not only happy but also healthy, and that includes maintaining the wellness of their anal glands.

In this article, we will walk you through everything you need to know about anal gland infections in dogs, from recognizing the clinical signs, to understanding the diagnostic process, exploring treatment options, learning preventative measures, and overall care tips.

Read on to learn more about why regular anal gland maintenance is important and how you can keep your pup’s tail wagging at its very best.

Key facts:

  • Anal glands, or anal sacs, are small structures located near a dog’s rectum that produce a fluid that dogs use to mark their territory and communicate with other dogs.
  • The dog’s anal glands are normally emptied during bowel movements.
  • Failure to empty properly can lead to anal gland infections, a serious condition where harmful bacteria invade the glands.
  • Signs of anal gland infection include scooting, excessive licking, foul odor, discomfort, swelling, changes in bowel movements, lethargy, and changes in behavior.
  • Risk factors for anal gland infections include poor gland emptying, allergies, impacted glands, breed predisposition, diet, obesity, trauma, stress, and poor hygiene.
  • A veterinary examination is required for the proper diagnosis and treatment of dog anal gland infections.
  • Treatment includes antibiotics for infections, gland drainage to remove fluid buildup, anti-inflammatory medications for swelling, and possibly surgery for advanced cases. Lifestyle changes like weight loss and increased dietary fiber may also be recommended.

What are anal glands and why do dogs have them?

Anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are small sac-like structures located on either side of a dog’s rectum, near the anus. They normally range from about the size of a pea to the size of a grape, depending on the size of the dog.

These glands contain a fluid that has a distinctive scent, unique to each dog. The fluid is released from each gland by a small duct that empties just inside the anus.

By releasing the scent from their anal glands, dogs can leave behind a signature smell used to mark their territory and communicate with other dogs. These scent glands are also the reason why dogs often sniff each other’s anal area as part of their social interaction.

Normally, anal gland fluid is emptied each time the dog has a bowel movement. The fecal material pressing against the wall of the rectum naturally expresses the fluid as it passes. This keeps the glands healthy and prevents a build-up of fluid. 

However, sometimes the glands do not empty, which leads to impactions or infections.

A small black and tan dog is having their anal glands examined by two vets wearing blue gloves.

Anal gland infection vs. impaction: what is the difference?

Anal gland problems are a common occurrence in dogs. Most often, the issue is either an infection or impaction. But what is the difference between these two conditions?

An anal gland impaction occurs when the fluid inside the anal glands thickens and becomes more viscous, making it difficult for the glands to empty properly. Fluid will continue to be produced, causing the glands to fill and swell. This can lead to discomfort and irritation for the dog.

An anal gland infection, on the other hand, involves the invasion of harmful bacteria into the anal glands. This can occur when an impaction is left untreated or due to other factors that compromise the gland’s health.

Dogs may show signs of distress, as infections can lead to more pronounced discomfort, pain, swelling, and even the presence of pus. Left untreated, infected anal glands in dogs can lead to abscesses and even rupture.

9 risk factors for dog anal gland infection

A dog anal gland infection can arise from a variety of factors, primarily involving a disruption in the natural balance and health of the anal glands. Here are some common causes of these infections, along with associated risk factors:

  1. Poor Gland Emptying: Dogs that have difficulty emptying their anal glands naturally during bowel movements are at an increased risk of infections because the fluid accumulating in the glands causes an ideal environment for bacteria growth.
  2. Impacted Anal Glands: The swelling and inflammation caused by impaction damages the gland tissue, making it more susceptible to bacterial infection. The stagnant fluid is also conducive to bacterial growth.
  3. Allergies and skin disease: Dogs with chronic inflammatory conditions that affect the anal area, such as allergies or dermatitis, can be more susceptible to anal gland infections. Inflammation can compromise the integrity of the glandular tissues, making them more vulnerable to infection.
  4. Breed Predisposition: Certain dog breeds are more prone to anal gland issues. Breeds with smaller body sizes or specific anatomical features might have a higher risk of impactions and infections. Breeds such as the Bichon Frisé, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cockapoo, Cocker Spaniel, and Shih Tzu are known to be more at risk.
  5. Diet: Adequate fiber intake helps maintain consistent stool firmness, which is necessary for the natural expression of anal gland fluid during bowel movements. A diet lacking sufficient fiber can contribute to irregular bowel movements and poor gland emptying.
  6. Obesity: Overweight or obese dogs might have difficulty naturally emptying their anal glands due to reduced muscle tone and increased pressure on the anal area.
  7. Trauma or Injury: Any trauma or injury to the anal area can disrupt the integrity of the glandular tissues, making them more susceptible to bacterial invasion and infection.
  8. Stress and Anxiety: Emotional stress can lead to loose stools and contribute to the development of anal gland issues.
  9. Poor Hygiene: Inadequate hygiene practices or improper cleaning of the anal area can contribute to the buildup of bacteria and increase the risk of infection.

Does your dog have an anal gland infection?

Detecting an anal gland infection involves observing your dog’s behavior and paying attention to certain signs. Here’s what you should look for:

Scooting: If you notice your dog dragging its bottom along the ground, it could indicate discomfort or itching around the anal area.

Excessive Licking: Dogs may excessively lick or bite their anal region due to irritation caused by an infection.

Foul Odor: A strong, unpleasant odor around your dog’s rear end could be a sign of an anal gland issue.

Discomfort or Pain: Your dog might display signs of discomfort, like whining or yelping when sitting or showing sensitivity when their hind area is touched.

Swelling or Redness: Look for any visible swelling, redness, or inflammation around the anal area.

Changes in Bowel Movements: Difficulty defecating, diarrhea, or straining during bowel movements can be linked to anal gland problems.

Lethargy or Changes in Behavior: An infected anal gland might make your dog feel unwell, leading to changes in their overall behavior and energy levels.

If you notice one or more of these signs, consult your veterinarian.  Left untreated, anal gland infection in dogs can worsen and lead to other more serious issues.

Diagnosis and treatment of anal gland infections

A veterinary examination is important to distinguish between impaction, infection, or other potential ailments. This allows the correct treatment strategy to be developed.


The veterinarian will first assess the dog’s overall health and then perform a physical examination of the anal area to check for signs of inflammation, swelling, or discharge.

Then, a rectal palpation will be done. Using a gloved finger, the veterinarian will gently feel the anal glands to check for blockages, pain, or abnormal texture. If an impaction rather than an infection is suspected, they will also check to see if it is possible to express the glands at this time.

The veterinarian may recommend additional tests in cases of suspected infections. A sample of fluid from the anal gland may be taken and sent for analysis to determine the type of bacteria present and which type of antibiotic needs to be prescribed.

Ultrasound may also be recommended to assess the health of the glandular tissues and to see if the glands are abscessed. A tissue biopsy may be done if there is suspected tumor involvement.


Dog anal gland infection treatment options vary depending on the severity but generally involve expression of the glands to remove fluid buildup, antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain in the anal area.

In advanced infections, surgery may be needed to drain abscesses, remove infected tissue, or correct structural issues that contribute to the problem. The glands may be removed altogether if the condition is very severe or if the dog has recurring infections.

Depending on the cause of the anal gland infection, diet and lifestyle changes may be recommended by your veterinarian to reduce the likelihood of repeated problems in the future.

Close-up view of the rear end of a brown and white dog, focusing on its tail and hindquarters, with the backdrop of a softly focused green field.

How to prevent anal gland problems in your dog

The best approach to managing anal gland infections in dogs is prevention. Prevention not only avoids the discomfort and pain your dog may experience from an infection, but it also spares them from potential side effects of treatment.

Preventing anal gland problems in your dog involves several key strategies that prioritize their overall health and well-being.

  1. Diet and hydration: Feed a balanced diet with fiber-rich foods to promote regular bowel movements. Ensure constant access to clean and fresh water to keep your dog well-hydrated.
  2. Exercise and weight management: Regular exercise helps your dog maintain a healthy weight to avoid excess pressure on the anal glands.
  3. Hygiene and cleaning: Keep the hair around the bum area clipped short to promote good air circulation and eliminate fecal material sticking to the hair around the anus. Between baths, keep your dog’s anal area clean by using a damp cloth or specialized pet wipes.
  4. Regular veterinary visits: Schedule routine veterinary checkups to ensure early detection and prevention of anal gland problems.
  5. Professional anal gland expression: Dogs that have chronic anal gland problems can benefit from regular expression by trained experts who can perform this procedure safely.
  6. Dietary supplements: Fiber supplements can help prevent anal gland problems by maintaining healthy stool consistency, while supplements such as prebiotics and probiotics help support gut health and bowel functions.
  7. Observation and prompt action: If you notice signs of discomfort, scooting, or excessive licking around the anal area, consult your veterinarian promptly for professional guidance.

Addressing the underlying factors that contribute to anal gland problems can significantly reduce the likelihood of infections occurring in the first place. This way, prevention works to ensure your dog’s comfort, health, and happiness in the long term.

Final words about anal gland infections in dogs

Anal gland infections can cause serious discomfort and pain in your dog. Understanding the role of anal glands in your dog’s health and learning how to prevent potential issues is an important aspect of responsible pet ownership.

Recognizing signs of problems and seeking prompt veterinary care is critical for effective treatment and management of anal gland infections. Implementing proactive measures like a balanced diet, regular exercise, proper hygiene, and timely veterinary attention can significantly reduce the likelihood of repeated anal gland problems.

By being proactive, you can help ensure your dog’s comfort and health now and in the years to come. Your dog will thank you for taking the time to learn about their anal glands and what it takes to keep them healthy.


How do you know if your dog needs its anal glands expressed?

Most often, dogs with anal gland problems are seen scooting their bums across the ground or excessively licking at the area. If your dog is one of those that regularly needs their glands expressed, this is probably your best sign. However, it can also be a sign of something more serious, and a veterinary exam may be in order.

How often do dogs’ anal glands need to be expressed?

This varies depending on the individual dog and their specific needs. In general, most dogs naturally express their anal glands when they have bowel movements. For dogs that require manual expression, some may need their anal glands expressed every few months, while others might require more frequent expression, such as every 4-6 weeks.

Can dogs express their glands by licking?

Dogs can sometimes express their anal glands by licking the anal area. The pressure and motion from licking can help release the fluid from the glands. However, this is not always sufficient, and some dogs may not be able to effectively empty their glands through licking alone. Additionally, excessive licking can lead to further irritation or even skin issues around the anal area.

Is it painful to express a dog’s glands?

Anal gland expression is typically not painful when done correctly by a trained professional, such as a veterinarian or groomer. The process involves applying gentle and controlled external pressure to the glands’ sacs to release the accumulated fluid. The dog might feel a mild sensation or pressure, but it should not be outright painful.

However, if the anal glands are already inflamed, infected, or impacted, the process might cause discomfort or even some pain. This is one of the reasons why it’s essential to have anal glands expressed by a skilled and knowledgeable individual who can assess the dog’s condition and perform the procedure safely.

Should groomers express glands?

Groomers can express a dog’s anal glands if trained and experienced and if the anal glands are not inflamed, infected, or abscessed. Groomers must know their limits, refer to a veterinarian if needed, and maintain open communication with owners. Coordination with a veterinarian is advised, especially for complex cases.


Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhDW

Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD

A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a PhD in Veterinary Epidemiology, Dr. Wendy Wilkins boasts over 20 years of diverse expertise in clinical practice, research, academia, and regulatory medicine. Her childhood growing up on a mixed farm instilled in her a lasting love for all animals, but especially dogs.

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The information contained within this site is not intended as a substitute for professional medical or veterinary advice. PetLab Co. is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If your pet has, or you suspect your pet has any medical condition, you are urged to consult your veterinarian. Medical conditions can only be diagnosed by a licensed veterinarian. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Results May Vary. Not intended for human consumption. Please consult your veterinarian regarding any change in treatment or supplementation.
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