Q: My friends all have their little dogs’ glands treated by the groomer. My dog is a shepherd and doesn’t need a groomer, but should he have his glands expressed?
A: You’re talking about anal glands, of course.
Anal sacs (also referred to as anal glands) are a pair of glands just under the skin adjacent to a pet’s anus. The anal sacs fill with a nasty-smelling fluid that’s normally expressed through tiny ducts during defecation. Though dogs and cats have historically used their anal gland secretions to mark their territory, our pets often express these glands when they’re anxious or frightened.
When these sacs become inflamed, we call the condition anal sacculitis. Affected pets — usually dogs — experience a build-up of fluid in their anal sac, an uncomfortable condition that can lead to pain and itching. Should this condition progress, the anal sacs can become infected or abscessed (filled with pus), usually only on one side.
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Routine manual expression of these glands is widely believed to prevent anal sacculitis and/or prevent the foul-smelling leakage of these glands onto fur, floors or furniture. The truth, however, is that every dog and cat is different, and it’s unclear whether expressing anal glands helps prevent this condition.
While often correlated with allergic skin disease, perianal fistulas, and gastrointestinal disease (and, anecdotally, with obesity in cats). anal sacculitis is primarily considered idiopathic, which is to say we don’t properly understand its cause.
What is clear, however, is that some dogs and cats will experience inflammation or irritation after having their anal sacs routinely expressed, either by a groomer, a veterinary technician or a veterinarian. Some veterinarians therefore recommend that pets not have their anal glands expressed unless one or more of these conditions is met:
1: Evidence of irritation as evidenced by scooting (dragging the backside on the floor), licking or other means.
2: The presence of an unusually unpleasant smell or fluid coming from the tail end or on areas where the pet sits/lies.
3: Visual confirmation of irritation or inflammation (redness, swelling, hair loss) in the area.
So you ask: Is your shepherd somehow missing out because he doesn’t go to the groomer’s? Um … no. Consider him really lucky that he’s been spared.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is
drpattykhuly.com. Send questions