Dog Anal Gland Smell: What Causes It and How to Get Rid of It

All pet parents can agree that the fishy, metallic dog anal gland smell is pretty gross. Learn what causes it and how to support your dog’s anal gland health.

Jun 28, 2024·8 min read
Dog Anal Gland Smell: What Causes It and How to Get Rid of It

Being a dog parent comes with its fair share of ups and downs — and smells. And the dog anal gland smell that comes from impacted glands is unpleasant (to put it mildly).

But that foul smell indicates a problem that needs treatment sooner rather than later to eliminate the odor and help your dog’s hind end feel better. 

In this article, we’ll explain why anal glands smell so bad, the signs of an anal gland issue, how to get rid of the smell, and how to keep your dog’s anal glands healthy. 

Dog Anal Glands: A Brief Overview 

Anal glands are also called anal sacs and scent glands. They are small and oval-shaped and are located on the sides of your dog’s anus under the skin.  

Dog anal glands produce a greasy, smelly fluid that serves several purposes (not just to make you turn up your nose). These include: 

Identification 

Have you ever wondered why dogs sniff each other’s butts when they greet? Each dog has a unique scent of their anal glands. When dogs greet each other, they’re sniffing the anal glands to say hello and find out who the other dog is. 

Make pooping easier 

When a dog squats to defecate, the effort to push out the poop causes a muscular contraction around the walls of the anus. This contraction squeezes and empties the glands, releasing the fluid and making it easier for the dog to poop. 

Mark territory 

A dog’s poop will have the smell of their anal glands. This smell serves as a signal, as a way for a dog to mark their territory. 

Emotional response 

Dogs may secrete anal gland fluid involuntarily when they are nervous or excited. 

What Do a Dog’s Anal Glands Smell Like? 

Given their location on your dog’s rear end, anal glands do not smell like a bed of roses. Instead, they smell a lot like poop. However, the scent shouldn’t overpower you if the glands are functioning correctly. 

If a dog’s anal glands become impacted — meaning that the fluid gets ‘stuck’ within the glands — the smell can become particularly pungent. Some pet parents explain this odor as smelling like fish or metal. 

If a whiff of your dog’s backside sends you running in the other direction, it’s time to figure out why the anal glands smell so bad. 

Why Do My Dog’s Anal Glands Smell? 8 Common Causes 

Anal glands become impacted when something prevents them from emptying normally. When a dog’s anal glands are full and impacted, they become swollen, causing significant discomfort in your dog’s hind end. 

In addition, anal gland fluid is an ideal environment for bacteria. Therefore, the longer the glands are impacted, the more likely they’ll become infected and form an abscess. An abscess is a pocket of bacterial infection. Eventually, the abscessed glands may rupture, which could require surgical treatment. 

Here are some common causes of overly smelly anal glands in dogs: 

Too little dietary fiber: Fiber adds bulk and firmness to the feces. Without enough fiber, the feces will be too soft to stimulate the muscular contractions necessary to squeeze out the anal gland fluid. 

Diarrhea: With diarrhea, the feces are watery and move through the digestive tract quickly. The anal glands won’t be prompted to empty when a dog has diarrhea. 

Constipation: If no poop is coming out, the anal glands have no reason to squeeze out their fluid. 

Abnormal anal tone: Sometimes, the musculature of the anus is too weak to stimulate the muscular contractions needed to squeeze and empty the anal glands. 

Anal gland tumors: An anal gland tumor is a physical obstruction that prevents the glands from emptying when a dog poops. 

Other causes include chronic dermatitis, obesity, and allergies. 

Other Signs of Occasional Dog Anal Gland Issues 

A foul dog anal gland smell isn’t the only clue that something isn’t right with your dog’s anal glands. Here are some other signs to look for: 

  • Scooting across the ground 
  • Licking or biting at the rear end 
  • Discomfort when pooping 
  • Reluctance to poop 
  • Redness and swelling around the anal sphincter 
  • Blood or pus in the poop or on the ground after scooting 
  • Tail held down 
  • Sensitivity to being touched in the hind end 

How to Get Rid of Dog Anal Gland Smell 

If your dog’s anal glands are super smelly, it’s time to get rid of the smell. To do so, you will need to work with your veterinarian to determine what’s causing the smell and then use the most appropriate and effective treatment. 

First, your vet will perform a physical exam and ask about the history of the problem, including how long you’ve noticed the smell, what other symptoms your dog has, and your dog’s diet. The history and physical exam will help your vet recommend the best course of treatment. 

Anal Gland Expression 

A man expressing his dog's anal glands

Manual expression of the anal glands empties the glands and relieves the impaction. It’s a smelly and potentially messy job that requires some skill to do safely and effectively. 

Although it may be tempting to ask your groomer to express your dog’s anal glands during a grooming session, this is not advisable. This is because groomers perform external anal gland expression, squeezing the outside of the glands. The external expression does not fully empty the glands and may rupture them. 

Veterinarians perform internal anal gland expression, which completely empties the glands and allows your vet to examine the glands for anything abnormal, like tumors. 

The veterinary staff can teach you how to express your dog’s anal glands at home, but it’s certainly understandable if you’d rather not do this yourself. 

Given that your dog’s hind end will be very uncomfortable, your vet might sedate your dog before expressing the anal glands. Afterward, your vet may examine the expressed fluid under the microscope for evidence of inflammation or an infection. 

Although anal gland impaction can recur, it is important not to over-express the anal glands. Doing so may inflame the glands and damage anal gland tissue. 

High-Fiber Diet 

Increasing your dog’s dietary fiber will help add bulk to your dog’s feces, making their poop large and firm enough to stimulate the anal glands to squeeze out their fluid. 

Canned pure pumpkin is an excellent option for adding fiber to your dog’s diet. You can also talk with your vet about switching to a high-fiber commercial dog food. 

Proper Cleaning and Hygiene 

Keeping your dog’s anal area clean can help relieve some of the smell. However, if your dog has an underlying medical issue, that issue will need to be treated and managed to get your dog’s anal gland smell under control. 

Antibiotics 

If your dog has a bacterial infection due to anal gland impaction, your dog will need to be treated with antibiotics. Your vet will likely want to see your dog after they’ve completed the treatment course to ensure the anal gland fluid is cleared of infection. 

How to Support Your Dog’s Anal Gland Health 

Your dog’s anal glands will always smell to some extent, but there are things you can do to keep the glands healthy and prevent the smell from getting worse. 

Monitor your dog’s poop consistency. Healthy dog poop is brown, relatively firm, and formed. If your dog has diarrhea or you notice that the poop is soft, the anal glands probably aren’t being emptied properly. Contact your vet if your dog’s poop has changed consistency. They can provide tips for firming up your dog’s stool

Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Carrying extra pounds is a risk factor for anal gland problems in dogs. Maintain your dog at a healthy weight by feeding them the recommended amount of food (according to the food label and your vet’s recommendations) and ensuring they get plenty of physical activity every day. 

If your dog is overweight, work with your vet to help your dog lose weight and maintain the weight loss. 

Keep your dog well hydrated. Water is vital to helping your dog’s digestive system function properly. Make sure your dog has free access to clean, fresh water at all times.  

Support your dog’s joint health. As dogs get older, their joints can become painful, making it harder to squat for pooping. Work with your veterinarian to ease joint pain and inflammation. This will make it easier for your dog to squat and poop. 

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVMJ
WRITTEN BY

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. As the founder and owner of JPen Communications, JoAnna is passionate about educating pet parents and empowering them to make informed health decisions for their pets. Since 2016, she has written hundreds of articles on a variety of topics in pet care, including behavior, wellness, and nutrition. In her free time, JoAnna enjoys playing the viola, baking, and seeing the world through the eyes of her fearless toddler.

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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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