Dog anal gland problems are a common source of discomfort for our pets. Anal gland removal is usually a permanent solution for anal gland problems, but it is not always an appropriate solution, and it can have unwanted side effects
Many dogs experience some form of anal gland disease at some point in their life, and surgery to remove the glands altogether may be recommended to treat chronic cases. We’ll look at the pros and cons of anal gland surgery for your dog, and help you prepare the questions you need to ask your vet.
- What are anal glands?
- Why might you consider gland removal surgery?
- Pros of gland removal
- Cons of gland removal
- Alternatives to dog gland removal
What are anal glands?
Dogs’ anal glands are two small sacs, just under the skin, on either side of their anus. If you look directly at their butt, the glands are positioned at roughly 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock relative to their anus. They contain a brown fluid which has a powerful fishy and metallic odor. A small amount of anal gland fluid is emptied every time your dog passes a normal poop, and its purpose is to mark their territory. To other dogs, the smell includes information about your dog’s sex, age, and fitness. And unlike pee, anal gland fluid is extremely long lasting. It won’t wash away in the rain, for example.
Some dogs also involuntarily release anal gland fluid when they are startled or scared. This unconscious response to stress is smelly and unpleasant to clean up, but also quite normal and not in itself a medical problem.
Why might you consider gland removal surgery?
Dog gland removal, also known as anal sacculectomy, is sometimes recommended by vets to treat chronic anal gland disease. Anal gland diseases are among the most common canine health problems. Around 1 in 8 dogs will experience some kind of difficulty with their anal glands at some point in their life. Anal gland disease is an umbrella term, which includes:
- Anal glands that aren’t emptied properly by pooping, and overfill.
- Blocked anal glands which can’t empty, and overfill.
- Inflamed anal glands.
- Infected anal glands.
It also includes anal gland cancer, but the vast majority of anal gland disease cases are non-cancerous. Signs your dog is suffering from an anal gland disease include:
- Scooting their butt along the floor.
- Persistently licking around their butt.
- Straining and crying whilst trying to poop.
- Blood on (rather than in) their poop.
- Inflamed, broken, sore-looking or swollen skin around their anus.
Removing the anal glands is the first line of treatment for anal gland cancers, but the last resort for treating other types of anal gland disease. However, the number of dogs eventually needing anal sacculectomy for non-cancerous anal gland disorders is currently higher than it needs to be. This is because dog owners frequently overlook the signs of a problem, until it is quite advanced.
What happens during an anal sacculectomy
Your veterinarian will only offer to remove the anal glands from your dog if they have chronic (long lasting) or recurring anal gland disease which isn’t responding to less invasive forms of treatment. Or if they find a tumor in your dog’s anal glands. Veterinarians will not remove a healthy dog’s anal glands simply because they empty them at inconvenient moments due to fear or stress.
To remove the glands, your pup will be put under a general anesthetic, the skin around their anus will be shaved and cleaned, and the glands will be extracted via a small incision. If both glands are diseased, they will remove both of them via two incision sites. But if only one gland is diseased, they will only remove that one. Your dog will usually be able to come home the same day, once they have come around from the sedative.
Here are the dog gland removal pros and cons, if your vet has recommended this course of action.
Pros of gland removal
The pros of undergoing this procedure are:
- Permanently resolving the symptoms of chronic or recurring anal gland disease in most cases.
- Improved life expectancy for dogs with anal gland cancer.
Cons of gland removal
You also need to know that:
Administering general anesthetic inevitably carries some risks, including the risk that your dog will not come around after surgery. It’s an unlucky coincidence that some factors which increase the risk of persistent anal gland disease – being old, weighing less than 20lbs, and being overweight – are also factors which increase the risks of surgery.
Like all surgical procedures, anal gland removal can have unintended side effects. Roughly 15% of gland removal procedures result in complications, such as:
- Accidentally puncturing the wall of the anal passage during surgery.
- Infection after surgery.
- Short or long term incontinence caused by or damaging the muscles and nerves that control the anus.
In approximately two thirds of these cases further corrective surgery is needed. Your veterinarian can discuss the relative risks and benefits of performing anal gland removal surgery on your dog.
Alternatives to dog gland removal
Anal gland removal is the last resort for treating most cases of anal gland disease. Since most cases of anal gland disease are caused by the sac (or sacs) over-filling and getting infected, future cases can often be avoided by making sure they are emptied regularly. To achieve this and avoid the need for surgery, your vet might suggest:
- Adding more high-fiber food to their diet, such as pumpkin.
- Adding a dietary supplement such as Glandex to their meals. These supplements make your dog’s poop firmer, so the pressure of passing them squeezes the contents of the anal glands out too. They also include ingredients to stop the lining of the anus getting inflamed and blocking the glands from draining.
- Manual expression. For some dogs the solution is regular manual emptying of the glands by a veterinarian, veterinary nurses or dog groomer. This is a pretty straightforward procedure, and if you have a strong stomach they can show you how to do it at home yourself.
- Draining and packing with antibiotics. Deeply infected or abscessed anal glands may be treatable by draining the infected fluid and packing the empty sac with antibiotics.
Dog gland removal pros and cons – summary
Your veterinarian is unlikely to suggest removing your dog’s anal glands unless all other treatments have been exhausted first, or a tumor has been found and nothing else will get rid of it. Removing the glands is a surgical procedure, and as such it carries some risks, as well as potential benefits. Your vet can help you weigh up the dog gland removal pros and cons for your specific dog, so you feel confident about whether to proceed.
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