Anal Glands – Expressing vs Removal

The presence of a mass in the anal gland area could indicate cancer.

When dogs scoot their bottoms along the ground, many owners and vets interpret this as a sign that their anal glands need to be expressed. What surgeon, Dr Scot Plummer believes, however, is that scooting is more likely a sign that the dog’s bottom and/or surrounding tissue is itchy. He says that, in most cases, simply washing the anus and surrounding tissue (including the vulva, in female dogs, and the tail base) with a medicated shampoo will stop the scooting behaviour.

If washing doesn’t work and you notice that your dog will not stop licking at their tail base or anal gland tissues or that they will not stop scooting, there may be a problem with the anal glands, and you should take your dog to see a vet.

What could be causing the problem?

Sometimes, an infection may be present. This is often identified by a discoloured discharge. In these cases, Scot usually recommends that the glands be removed, as the area can be difficult to treat using medications. Surgery offers a permanent cure and only takes around 45 to 60 minutes – it's a day procedure, so your dog will be able to go home with you later in the day.

The presence of a mass in the anal gland area could indicate cancer. As anal gland cancers are known to commonly spread to the sublumbar lymph nodes (which are under the dog’s back, just inside their pelvis), suspected cancerous masses are best examined via ultrasound. Scot’s recommendation would be to have the anal glands removed to stop the cancer from spreading. He would also have a medical specialist perform an ultrasound on the day of surgery to see whether the sublumbar lymph nodes also need to be removed during the procedure.

Are the glands ever removed without an underlying problem?

Some owners also choose to remove the glands prophylactically to keep anal gland material off furniture, bedding, carpets, and so on. While the procedure does pose a small risk of faecal incontinence, we will perform a gentle dissection with minimal disturbance to the anal gland musculature to minimise this risk as much as possible.

If you are interested in surgical removal of your dog’s anal glands, either due to infection, cancer or as a precaution, please see our Pricing Guide and book in a consultation for more information.

Is expressing ever an option?

In situations where the anal glands must be expressed, this should only be performed externally. Locate the glands on either side of the dog’s bottom, place your fingers around or behind the glands, and gently squeeze.

If you do take your dog to the vet to have their anal glands expressed, request that the vet does so externally rather than per rectum (that is, by inserting their fingers into the rectum). If the vet refuses, we highly recommend leaving and finding another clinic. Expressing the glands per rectum can actually be quite a painful procedure, especially in smaller dogs where the size of the human finger tends to be larger than the stools they produce.

Real Life Example

Scot recently saw a young dog in the clinic who wasn’t even 12 months old yet. The owner informed him that they had been advised to have the dog’s anal glands expressed every month, and that was the reason for their visit. The dog, who was otherwise very friendly, became very anxious and jumpy the moment Scot took hold of their tail base – he hadn’t even tried to palpate the glands yet. It was clear that this procedure had previously caused pain and the dog was fearful. He advised the owner to stop having the dog’s anal glands expressed and recommended washing the area instead, along with applying a topical cortisone cream to treat any itching.

If you suspect that your dog has an issue with their anal glands, bring them in to see one of the expert veterinarians at Melbourne Pet Surgery. We will able to advise whether the problem is just itching or whether there’s something more serious going on.