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Mia Carter
Mia Carter, Animal Expert
Category: Dog
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Experience:  Specializing in the training and care of ill pets and special needs animals! Mom of 22 pets!
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My dog was diagnosed with backed up anal glands today. (He ...

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My dog was diagnosed with backed up anal glands today. (He is an Australian Shephard about 93 pounds and is 9 years old.) He had a bout with whip worms/diarhea about three weeks ago and has been out of sinc since. Upon the suggestion of our vet, we are trying a different high quality food for him but his yelping is making us nuts. We feel completely helpless to help him! Our vet said she had never felt a gland so backed up - his right was the size of a golf ball and his left was swollen, too. However, she did not try to express them or flush them. She said he should be able to correct it by going to the bathroom on his own. Is that true? Is there something else we can give him (medicine wise) to help push this process along? How long should it take him before I contact the vet again? Is it considered a type of blockage which inhibits him from pooping?
Hello there.

I'm sorry to hear that your dog is unwell.

I'm a bit surprised that your vet did not prescribe an antibiotic because there's a good chance, if it hasn't occurred already, that the glands will become infected. As for whether the problem will correct on its own - it's possible. I would just keep a very close eye because he's at high risk of infection.

There are some things you can do at home to help speed the process along, but I would monitor this VERY closely. The swelling should be going down and the situation should be improving. If this is not the case, you need to get back to your vet. So I would be photographing and/or measuring the lumps daily to monitor progress.

Here's more than you ever wanted to know about anal gland problems and how to fix them:

Here's what I think occurred when he got ill: when he got ill, or if he eats unfamiliar foods (something he doesn't eat every day), it causes a degree of digestive tract upset. This isn't uncommon - if you ate the exact same food everyday, your stomach would become upset too if you ate a new food. So, when a virus moves in or when a new food enters the intestines, it causes some irritation and inflammation. The body's natural response is to get the food or virus out of the body as soon as possible - it's a protection mechanism. So the food moves through the digestive system quicker than normal, and therefore, the intestines do not absorb as much water from the food. This is what causes loose stools and diarrhea. When a stool is looser than normal, it does not apply pressure on the anal glands, and the anal glands, and then fluid begins to accumulate.

I think a good possibility of what caused your dog's problem is sort of related to the soft stool issue that I just mentioned.

Normally, the glands discharge a liquid. But when the liquid stays inside the glands for an extended period of time, it thickens. So a dog who has thicker or pasty anal gland excretions is likely having a difficult time naturally removing the fluid. Furthermore, the thicker, pasty fluid is harder to naturally excrete - I think this may be the case with your dog - so the pasty fluid builds up, causing discomfort, infection, and you may also see the dog to scoot, lick at the area and of course, there's the terrible odor. This is difficult to resolve naturally, but soaks in the bathtub will help significantly (I'll get to that in a bit), as it will soften the liquid and promote natural expression.

A dog with soft stools or thick excretions would be more likely to develop an infection or accumulation of fluid, that then leaks out randomly. I think that your boy may have a case where the fluid has accumulated and thickened, making it difficult to express, uncomfortable and prone to infection. Soft stools don't provide sufficient pressure on the glands, causing the fluid to accumulate and eventually get infected. Symptoms of a problem with the anal glands, such as an infection, include odor, scooting, licking at the area of the rectum or sudden and unexplained changes in bathroom habits. A dog suffering from an infection may also exhibit more generalized symptoms, such as weight loss, poor appetite, lethargy and depression, and a general off-colorness. Here's a good couple links that goes over some things to check:

* Begin by altering your dog's diet (gradually mix in the new food over a couple of weeks) to the higher quality food. Don't switch him all at once - this will give him diarrhea and worsen the problem! (Some vets forget to mention this) A poor quality food results in softer stools, and the softer stools don't naturally drain the glands.

* Give your dog high-fiber vegetables. Carrots work the best. Many dogs will chew at them like a bone. If they're not so cooperative, you can mince them and mix them in with their normal dinner. This is another great way to give fiber, in addition to the pumpkin, which usually works great.

* If your dog is out of shape, get him walking regularly. Dogs who are out of shape and don't have good muscle tone have a more difficult time emptying the anal glands, since the muscles play a big role in this process.

* Soak your dog's rear end in the tub for about 15 minutes. (Put her in a sitting position) Warm water with epsom salts (one cup of salts per two gallons of water) can help liquify the fluid inside the sacs, making the draining process much easier. Note that the salt can be drying to the dog's skin, so apply a bit of mineral oil after the bath. Do this twice a day for two days. As I'll mention shortly, this is one measure that I would try with her, as I suspect there's probably more fluid present - it's just thickened so it's not draining naturally.

* After two days, begin applying warm compresses of water and epsom salt to your dog's rear. Do this for 15 minutes twice a day for a week. If you can't get your dog to sit in the bath, this can work as an alternative.

* Following the bathtub soaks and/or compresses, put a washcloth or paper towel over your dog's anal opening. Put the palm of your hand and rock it back and forth, applying a bit of pressure. This will help the glands empty naturally without actually manually draining them.

* You should also learn to drain the anal sacs yourself. (Some full service groomers will do this as well, so if you're squeemish, this could be an alternative to the vet.) This can be done after the bathtub soaks and/or compresses.

If you'd like to try to drain the glands yourself, here's what to do: Lift your dogs tail. Position a washcloth or paper towel over the anal opening. Position your fingers on either side of the glands and apply pressure while you move your fingers over the glands, toward the center. I would wait to do this for a couple days - let the swelling go down for a couple of days and let the natrual draining process begin before you try this.

There's a good diagram and write up on expressing the anal glands this website:

The following link will take you to an animation that will show you where the anal sacs are positioned (at approximately the 8:00 o'clock and 4:00 o'clock position).

For more information on the types of problems that can occur with the anal glands, visit

So, with all of this in mind, at this point, I would recommend getting him in a warm tub for a nice long soak for his bum. You may want to try this twice a day for your dog when he experiences gastrointestinal upset in the future. And I would be doing it twice a day until this resolves. We should assume that when he gets sick or eats an unfamiliar food, his stools will be softer than normal, and this will cause improper gland drainage, so taking the extra step to soak his rear end in the tub to soften the liquid, and then express it.

Here's a good article on anal glands that I recently wrote:

I hope your boy is feeling better soon! Don't hesitate to let me know if you have any additional questions!

***Please ACCEPT if my answer was helpful!***

-Mia Carter
Pet Expert

*As experts, we do not get compensated for our time and efforts unless you "accept!"*
Customer: replied 9 years ago.
Thank you so much for your help! I will accept without hesitation and appreciate so much helpful information - I wish my vet had taken the time to be as helpful as you. Regarding his food, he has completely stopped eating his food that he has been on for almost 8 years (Science Diet Light) as our vet feels with all his sickness lately that he has developed an aversion to it. We went to Science Diet canned food over the weekend because he just would not eat and we were worried about him being hungry. I am sure that has just aggravated his problem, though! I did feed him tonight and gave him part old food and part new food (Royal Canine). How much pumpkin would you recommend? Also, is his yelping because of pain like a blockage and he needs to go to the bathroom or pain like a cramp? We have checked his poop since this morning and there is none to very little. He is even yelping when he urinates.   I forgot to mention that he did not have a fever when they checked him today at the vet.
Hello there!

I'm glad I could be of assistance! You have no idea how often I hear that - that a vet didn't take the time to explain things properly. The sad thing is, that's such an important part of effective care, and I think many vets simply fail to recognize that.

As for the food, if it's a matter of him eating nothing or eating a new food, then by all means go with the new food! You were on the right track in that respect. And if you can mix in some of his old food, then all the better. We just want to lessen the upset to his system so that his problem does not worsen. It's not at all uncommon to see a dog stop eating their food when they're ill - in fact, it's often one of the first signs that something is off kilter.

Three spoons of pumpkin sounds about right to me. It usually works very well - and it can also be used for constipation. It basically serves to help treat the extremes. If he's still really loose and having diarrhea, try a little bit of Benefiber or one of those other human fiber supplements for a day or two.

The yelping very well may be due to discomfort. The anal glands are located on either side of the anal opening, so when they swell, you can imagine that going to the bathroom would be quite painful. And clenching the muscles used to go to the bathroom may "squeeze" the painful anal glands, causing discomfort. In severe cases, I have seen pain sitting, going to the bathroom and virtually anything else involving the rear portion of the body. Also, if he wasn't eating over the weekend, that could explain the lack of a stool - it can take up to 48 hours for a meal to come out the other end. This sort of thing shouldn't prevent him from going to the bathroom per se, but it can make it painful to the point where he puts off going until he absolutely has no other option. To go to the bathroom, you need to contract muscles and if that causes pain, he may not be contracting the muscles sufficiently (due to discomfort) to the point where he actually has a bowel movement.

The lack of a fever is good, but it's no guarantee that a localized infection is not brewing. Anal glands are known for forming abscesses - a pocket of infection, and they can even burst, requiring surgery to close up the wound. So PLEASE be careful with your boy. If it's not improving within the next 24 hours, get him back in for a follow-up.

I would definitely get him into the tub for a nice long soak tonight. That should help ease some of the discomfort. And try the method I mentioned where you rock your hand back and forth to gently work out some of the fluid. It's not the same as properly expressing the glands, but it could help lessen some of the pressure and discomfort.

Here's some other things to monitor on him. I'd check these a few times each day and write down what you see so you can track his condition:

Temperature can be checked rectally with a bit of vaseline on the thermometer - this can give you an idea of general condition. It should be between 100-102. Anything below 100 or above 103 is a serious problem. A fever can result from infection so this is an important thing to check.

Checking the gums is an indicator of your dog's circulation. If there's internal bleeding, anemia, a disruption of normal blood flow, or serious illness, the gums will turn very pale, almost white in appearance. This means that the blood is not properly receiving oxygen or there's a loss of blood or red blood cells.

Normal gums will be bright pink to a pale pink. Abnormal gums are white with greyish, blue, or yellow.

Here is a link to a photo of normal gums:

Here is a link to a couple of photos of pale gums:

I should note that I've seen perfectly healthy dogs with gums that are slightly paler than those pictured in the "normal gums" picture, but there's always a distinct pink tone.

For more information on checking your dog's gums, visit:

The normal heart rate varies depending on the size and age of the dog. A puppy has a heart rate of about 180 beats per minute. And adult dog will have a rate between 60-160 beats per minute. Small toy breeds can have normal heart rates of 180 beats per minute. The rule is the younger the dog, the faster the heart rate (for puppies). And the smaller the dog, the faster the heart rate.

Normal pulse is between 60 and 120.

Also, you can check capillary refill time. If you apply firm pressure to the gums, the area should turn pale and then quickly return back to normal (you can try this on your own skin to see what I mean). If there's no difference, or if your dog's gums take a long time to return back to normal, there could be a problem. The gums should return to normal in no less than one second and no more than two 1/2 seconds.

If he stops eating entirely (now or in the future), you can give a couple of spoons of pancake syrup every six hours to keep blood sugar from dipping too low until he either recovers or until you get to the vet. This will be required to keep him feeling well. If your dog won't lick it from a spoon, you can rub it directly onto the gums.
Hypoglycemia triggers all sorts of other parallel problems that you'll want to avoid and pancake syrup is a good way to to that.
For more info on hypoglycemia, visit:

To determine how dehydrated he is, look at the skin. If you pinch the skin between the shoulder blades up into a "tent", ideally, it should flatten right out. The more dehydrated he is, the longer it will take the skin to return to normal. So I would monitor this several times a day to ensure that he's not getting worse. If he's really dehydrated, a vet visit is in order. You can also feel his gums. They should be slick and wet. If they're sticky and not slick, then that's a sign of dehydration, which can be really bad because it starts the organs shutting down.

To help combat dehydration, you can add some unflavored pedialyte to his water in a 50/50 mix. If he won't go for that, offer some chicken or beef broth (no onions in the ingredients - they're toxic) or water with a bullion cube, as this will give it an appealing flavor. We want him to drink more than usual because his body will need extra fluids to recover.

I hope your boy is feeling better soon! Just let me know if you have any additional questions!

***Please ACCEPT if my answer was helpful!***

-Mia Carter
Pet Expert

*As experts, we do not get compensated for our time and efforts unless you "accept!"*
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