Skip to main content

Why do dogs’ anal glands fill up? Here’s what to know

How often you may need to take your pup to the vet to relieve this issue

A small dog sits on the table at a vet office
Karsten Winegeart / Unsplash

In pet ownership, as in all life, you run into hurdles. Some dogs never have an issue with their anal glands, but they can come as a surprise to even veteran owners who suddenly see or smell something off. Unfortunately, you’ll quickly discover how difficult (and gross) these little sacs can be. But dogs with particularly tricky bathroom issues will require a little maintenance and extra attention to the butt area.

What are anal glands?

There’s no delicate way to say this: They’re two smallish glands on either side of your pet’s butthole. From an evolutionary perspective, the anal glands give off a unique scent, and the idea is that it acts as a canine’s signature. Anal glands aren’t analogous to anything we have as humans, so definitely don’t worry about your own body expressing anything like this. However, many pups wind up having issues in this department and find themselves unable to empty them on their own.

Why do dogs’ anal glands fill up?

Certain underlying problems, like obesity and poor diet, might make a dog more susceptible to gland issues. Smaller breeds also tend to struggle a bit more since their whole area is more compact. You may find your pooch expressing their own glands, licking the area, or scooting. That means it’s time for an inspection.

A golden retriever stands on a table as a vet checks under their tail
ESB Professional / Shutterstock

How do you prevent anal gland issues?

Talk to your vet about what could be causing Fido’s difficulties, as it can vary, but generally, you’ll want to look at how much food and exercise they’re getting. Additionally, a supplement, like a probiotic, will frequently take care of the issue. This works mostly by firming up the poop but can also introduce good bacteria to his gut.

Any time a new symptom arises, you want to stay mindful of other conditions, and anal glands are no different. If they’re frequently full or extra foul smelling, that could mean an infection. Lastly, sometimes a dog expresses their own anal glands if they are scared, stressed, or occasionally just because they’re full.

Should you express your dog’s anal glands at home?

You absolutely can learn to do this yourself, but we recommend having the vet show you first. Be very careful, and remember, it’s a sensitive area for your beastie. Many pets need this routine maintenance every month, which means you could be looking at some pretty big vet bills if you rely on your dog doctor to take care of it each time. When they are expressed, you’ll note there’s a pretty intense smell and an unpleasant substance. The vet will know if anything seems amiss, but that’s mostly to be expected.

Ultimately, while fairly off-putting, expressing your animal’s anal glands will hopefully just become another part of your routine. One other option is to check in with your groomer and see if it’s a service they offer. You can then combine it with a monthly bath or nail trim or stick with DIY. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll know exactly how to keep your pet comfy.

Editors' Recommendations

Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
Why do dogs kick after they poop? This strange behavior explained
The science and psychology behind this funny behavior
Dog scratching and kicking the ground after doing business

Even the most well-behaved furry friends have behaviors that can make any dog owner cringe with embarrassment. Whether it's mounting other dogs, howling incessantly, or even kicking the ground after doing their business, it's completely normal for pet owners to find natural canine behaviors a bit mortifying. After all, what's normal for a dog isn't what's normal for humans!

Even so, these behaviors probably leave you with questions. Why, for example, do dogs scratch and kick up the ground after pooping? To us, this seems like a random behavior, but for our four-legged friends, it can have several explanations. So-, why do dogs kick after they poop? Let's find out!
Ground-scratching helps dogs mark territory
As it turns out, this behavior, called "ground-scratching," is just one more way dogs can mark their territory. Dr. Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB, explains that scratching the ground after urination or defecation can help with "scent dispersal." This means when a dog kicks or scratches this spot, they're spreading around the scent of their urine and even their paws for other dogs to sniff while walking by.

Read more
What does it mean when a dog’s teeth chatter? The answer is concerning
The most common reasons behind this odd behavior
A golden retriever smiling and showing his teeth

Did you know that dogs and humans have similar brain structures? Just like us, dogs experience emotions like happiness, anger, excitement, love, and disgust. However, a dog's brain is more similar to that of a human toddler than that of an adult, meaning their range of emotions is somewhat limited. Your dog's expressions can run the gamut from a playful smile to an aggravated sneer, but some behaviors leave even the most seasoned pet parents scratching their heads.

Have you ever wondered what dog teeth chattering means? There are several causes of dog jaw chattering. Some are simple and easily remedied -- such as extreme emotions -- and others require a trip to the vet. Here's what it means if your dog's teeth are chattering.
Why do dogs chatter their teeth? 

Read more
Coconut oil for dogs: The pros and cons you need to know
What are the benefits of coconut oil for dogs? It's complicated.
Coconut oil next to a coconut

If you've followed human wellness and nutrition trends over the years, you likely know olive oil is the golden child of oils. Lauded for being a healthy fat that can protect against heart disease, even cardiologists recommend consuming olive oil. Yet, coconut oil has also come into favor recently for health benefits ranging from weight loss to immune system and improving cognitive functioning in people with dementia. Keyword: People.

What are the benefits of coconut oil for dogs? Are there even any? Is coconut oil safe for dogs? These are all excellent questions and ones to ask a vet before giving any human food to a pet, whether you're allowing them to ingest the item or applying something topically. Some foods are toxic to pets, and topical application of some products can exacerbate the issues you want to fix. Where does coconut oil fit in? Here's what we do (and don't) know about coconut oil for dogs.
What is coconut oil?

Read more