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Anal Gland Issues

A comprehensive guide to anal gland issues in dogs

Does your prized pooch suffer with anal gland issues? Vet Surgeon John Burns’ guide to anal gland issues in dogs can help.

The anal glands are located on either side of the anus. They usually contain a strong smelling matter expelled at urination and/or defecation and acts as a territory marker. But that isn’t all they do.

Symptoms of anal gland issues

Scooting (rubbing the bottom on the floor) and an itchy/smelly bottom are signs that your dog has full anal glands. In extreme cases an abscess may form in the anal gland; this is painful and may bleed and exude pus.

What causes full anal glands?

Myth: A common misconception is that anal glands become overfull due to a lack of bulk in the stools.

Dog owners are often advised to add fibre, e.g. bran to the food to increase the volume of the stool.  In my opinion, this is unlikely to be effective as I don’t think it addresses the real cause.  If it were, we would not see the problem in dogs which are fed on low quality, indigestible foods which tend to create mountains of stools.

Prominent veterinary academic clinicians Grant Guilford and Donald Strombeck write that “the cause of full anal glands is usually not apparent” and among other things suggest a change of diet but without saying what.  (Strombeck’s Small Animal Gastroenterology). 

We have to look at this problem, not as a localised issue, but holistically, that is by considering the system as a whole.

In my opinion, the major cause of anal gland problems is build-up of toxic waste in the system.

Production and elimination of waste products (toxins) is part of normal metabolism. However, if waste production is excessive, these wastes accumulate throughout the body systems.  The anal glands fill up as the system attempts to isolate and expel the waste. The problem is NOT, in my opinion, caused by lack of bulky stools.

How diet can help

Here are several potential causes of excess waste production:

  • poor quality food like unsuitable ingredients and chemical additives.
  • overfeeding even of high quality food.
  • excessive protein and fat intake – both produce more waste than carbohydrate.
  • food allergy or intolerance causing inflammation, cell damage, production of toxins.

All of the potential causes mentioned here need to be addressed in order to avoid build-up of toxic waste in the system which causes full anal glands.

Tip 1: Feed a highly digestible, natural, wholesome, hypoallergenic food which is high in complex carbohydrate and low in protein and fat.

In addition to this, ensure the food is free from additives (other than essential vitamins and minerals).

I have found over many years’ experience that food which uses wholegrains as the mainstay of the diet gives excellent results, but other ingredients such as potato and buckwheat can also be effective.

Not every food suits every dog so it may be necessary to experiment with several foods to find the right one for your own dog.

I find many owners stumble from food to food in the hope of coming across one which will help their dog. Our nutrition team have the knowledge and experience to advise you on how a methodical process can help find the right food for your dog.

For example, one dog may not be suited to chicken but may do well on duck. For another, a potato or maize based food may be more effective than a rice-based one (or vice versa).

You can read more about food allergy and intolerance (page 9-10 of my Veterinary Guide to Natural Healthcare) – available as a download below.

Tip 2: Get feeding amounts right

This is where many pet parents fall down. Overfeeding even good quality food, contributes to toxic burden of the system causing anal glands to fill up and often leading to other health problems.  Manufacturers’ recommended feeding amounts should not be followed religiously.

Every dog is an individual with different needs from all others and must be treated as such.  Food should be fed as sparingly as possible, especially in the early stages.

Many pet parents believe they cannot be overfeeding as their pet is not overweight. Very often that is not correct; excessive weight gain is not the only health-related outcome of overfeeding. Toxin build up causes many health problems. See Veterinary Guide to Health and Nutrition “Development of Disease Stage 1”)

A bonus of digestible food fed in small amounts, is that less material reaches the lower bowel, meaning less dog poo to clean up!  Note that this is the opposite of the conventional approach to full anal glands!

How much food?

Our nutrition team can give you individually tailored advice on finding the right food and the right feeding amounts for your dog. See Daily Feeding Amounts for further info.

Can I still feed treats?

When trying to deal with anal gland problems, it is important initially, to have as little variety in the diet as possible, i.e. no treats, other pet food brands, fruit or even homemade foods containing meat and fat (vegetables are OK).

Keeping it simple helps to identify what works best. Treats may be tried at a later stage once the health problems have been resolved.

Extra Tips:

  • Weighing food each time is more accurate and effective than going by eye.
  • After changing the diet, you may find your dog still needs their glands emptied once or twice as the system catches up on waste reduction. More than once or twice – the feeding will have to be reviewed, probably requiring the daily amount to be reduced.

Remember, production of waste is a normal part of the metabolism of the body. If that becomes excessive, this becomes toxic to the system.

Speak to a Pet Nutritionist

Get in touch with the Burns Health and Nutrition Team for individually tailored advice on the right food type and amounts for your dog. At Burns we work to address pet health conditions brought about by unhealthy lifestyle and especially diet. Drawing on the link between health and nutrition, we developed dry pet food that offers the same benefits for your favourite furry friend as simple homecooked food.

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