Anal gland infection can affect your puppy, prompt scooting behavior and need veterinary attention. All dogs have two anal glands, or sacs, located beneath the skin at about eight and four o'clock on either side of the rectum. The pea-size glands are similar to a skunk's scent organs, but in the dog's case are used primarily for identification rather than protection. They give your puppy’s feces an individual scent.
In other words, when another dog happens to find your puppy’s—ahem—pile of creativity, a quick sniff tells him all about your puppy including age and sexual status. Yes, dogs can tell by sniffing each others' waste if the product came from a pet that’s been spayed or neutered, or is intact. Dogs sniff each others' tail regions when the meet as a way of "reading" each others' scent-name. And it’s polite puppy behavior to allow older dogs to get rude and sniff their nether regions.
What Are Anal Glands?
The glands secrete a liquid or sometimes creamy brown to yellow substance that may smell good to your puppy but can be quite offensive to the human scent sense. Fortunately, anal glands usually self-express whenever the puppy passes a stool.
Anal glands also may be expressed when the puppy suddenly contracts the anal sphincter, the circular muscle that controls the rectum. The contraction can happen when your pup is frightened or stressed. You’ll notice a pungent odor quite different than the odor from flatulence.
Anal Gland Infection
Most puppies don't require help with anal gland maintenance. But others have overactive sacs that can cause an odor problem, and these dogs need help keeping the glands expressed.
Smaller breeds most typically develop impacted anal glands if the sacs fail to empty normally. This can be due to soft stools or diarrhea that fails to supply enough pressure to empty the sacs, be due to overactive glands, or to smaller-than-normal gland openings. The secretions become pasty and thick when not regularly expressed, and simply plug the normal exit.
Left untreated, impacted anal glands can become painfully infected. The area on one or both sides of the rectum will swell. Your puppy may lick herself to relieve the discomfort, or scoot on her bottom to try to clear the blockage. When infected, the secretions from the glands will contain blood or pus. In severe cases, an abscess may develop at the site, characterized by a soft red to purple hairless swelling on one or both sides of the rectum. Puppies with an abscess will run a fever and feel bad.
Treating Anal Gland Infection
The treatment in all instances is manual expression of the anal glands. When the glands are infected your veterinarian will need to treat the puppy. The area can become so sore that the dog needs sedation for the procedure—and besides, you don’t want your puppy to blame you for the discomfort!
Infected anal glands need to be expressed every week and an antibiotic infused directly into the sac itself. Ointments like Panalog work well; the tip of the tube is inserted into the sac opening, and the gland filled with the medicine. Usually it's best if your veterinarian applies the medication into the anal gland. An oral antibiotic administered at home may also be prescribed and you’ll need to learn how to pill your puppy.
Warm wet compresses applied to the infected area for fifteen minutes two or three times daily will help the infection resolve more quickly. Basically, you soak a washcloth with warm water and have your puppy sit on it. Pet her or offer a chew toy to keep her occupied during the compress treatment.
Infected anal glands may abscess which requires surgical lancing so that the infection inside can be flushed out and drained away. The incision is left open so that the wound will heal from the inside out. The opening should be rinsed daily with a 50/50 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. Your vet can show you how to do this. Filling a squeeze bottle with the solution can work well, or for small pups you can set her in the sink and use the spray nozzle. The pup will also need antibiotics.
In most cases, the abscess heals without complications. Puppies that suffer recurrences of impaction or infection require that their anal glands be expressed on a regular basis, at least once a week. In some instances, surgical removal of the problem glands may be necessary.
For routine anal gland maintenance, you can learn how to express anal glands yourself. It’s best to ask your vet or the dog groomer for a demonstration first. Improper manipulations of the glands can force the matter deeper into the tissue, causing further problems, so asking a professional to maintain your pup’s anal gland health is also a good option.