The short answer to this question is yes – big dogs may need to have their glands occasionally expressed.
That said, for the most part anal gland issues are a small breed dog issue, for two main reasons:
- Small dogs are more likely to be overweight, which means a greater risk for impacted anal glands.
- Small dogs can be less active than large breeds. This means the muscles in their rear ends may be too weak to naturally express their anal glands.
Many big dogs will never have problems with their anal glands. They will naturally express their glands when they poop, thus releasing the anal gland fluid, which prevents most problems from occurring.
However, even large breed dogs experience painful impacted or infected anal glands and we want you to be able to recognize the symptoms and know what actions to take.
What are anal glands, anyway?
Anal glands in a dog are located on either side of the anus and look like small sacs. You may have also heard them called “scent glands” because of the very strong-smelling liquid that they contain.
When your dog poops and the stool passes through the anus, pressure is applied to the anal glands, which in turn expresses (a fancy name for “releases”) the smelly fluid they contain.
This is a very natural process and normally occurs with no problems. But occasionally, the anal glands can become infected or impacted, causing discomfort and pain for your dog. This may require that the glands be expressed manually by a veterinarian or other trained professional.
What do anal glands do?.
Anal glands have a different purpose for wild dogs versus domesticated dogs.
Wild dogs use the anal glands to release a strong scent that marks their territory and helps ward off other hostile animals.
Domesticated dogs have much less use for such behavior and for them, the unique scent produced by anal glands is used primarily as a social communication method.
And yes, this is exactly why they sniff each other’s butts! This tells them if they are meeting a friendly dog and whether or not they have previously met.
When a dog feels threatened or is scared, it may also release some fluid from the anal glands, which helps calm them down.
So, for domesticated dogs, the anal glands no longer provide a critical survival function, much like an appendix. Unfortunately, they are prone to several potential problems which you’ll need to be on the lookout for.
Why do big dogs need their glands expressed?
If your dog has a healthy diet using high-quality foods, is not overweight, and gets lots of exercise, chances are they may never need their glands manually expressed and you don’t need to do anything.
However, some conditions require that the glands be manually expressed. These include:
- The consistency of your dog’s stools changes, which can make it hard to naturally express themselves. The glands can then become infected and/or impacted.
By far, the main reason a dog needs its anal glands expressed is to avoid them becoming impacted, which means they become full and aren’t able to naturally express themselves any longer. This needs to be treated quickly or it can result in serious health issues.
Also, if the consistency of your dog’s stool changes, its anal glands may have problems being naturally expressed. Then the liquid in the glands will thicken, making it even harder to be able to express. If this happens, the glands can become irritated, inflamed, infected, and even impacted.
What are the signs that a dog’s glands need to be expressed?
The two most common early indicators that a dog’s glands need to be manually expressed are:
- They drag or scoot their butt across the ground. This means their glands are uncomfortable because they are full.
- They lick their anus more than usual, which means they are trying to soothe that area.
Either of these symptoms means it’s time to take your dog in to have its glands manually expressed.
Other common signs that may mean your dog is having anal gland problems include:
- Avoiding sitting down.
- Does not want to drink or eat.
- The anal area shows redness and/or swelling
- Whimpering and crying more than usual.
- Displaying discomfort or straining while pooping.
- A stinky, pungent, fishy smell
- Being unresponsive or withdrawn.
- Bleeding in the anal area if the glands rupture (see your vet immediately if this happens)
While these symptoms can indicate problems other than the anal glands, if they continue you should have your dog examined by your vet as soon as possible.
Common anal gland problems and treatments
- Impacted Anal Glands – This means the glands are not emptying themselves as they should. This causes the fluid inside to become thicker and the glands will swell, making your dog very uncomfortable. Manual expression will then need to be done. This is more of a problem with smaller dogs than it is with larger breeds.
- Anal Gland Sacculitis – When the glands become impacted and aren’t relieved quickly, they can become inflamed and infection can set in. If this happens, the glands will need to be manually expressed and antibiotics may be needed.
- Anal Gland Abscess – This is the worst condition to have. Once the anal glands become inflamed and infected, they can actually erupt through the skin. This is extremely painful for your dog. The glands will need to be emptied and medication will be required, including both antibiotics as well as pain medication. This is why you need to react quickly if you observe either of the first two conditions on this list
- Anal Gland Tumors -While rare, this is an extremely serious condition, as most tumors in the anal glands are cancerous. Chemotherapy and surgery are usually required. The best prevention is to have the anal gland area checked during every routine exam for your dog.
Is expressing a dog’s glands dangerous?
There is some controversy surrounding this topic. Some dog owners believe that regular manual expression of their dog’s anal glands is necessary to prevent problems. Others feel this is unnecessary and can even be dangerous.
Some veterinarians recommend against manual expression of the glands unless your dog is showing signs of having difficulty with natural expression. These signs typically begin as butt scooting and/or butt licking.
These veterinarians may point out that since a dog expresses its anal glands every time it poops, you do not have the glands manually expressed unless your dog is having problems doing it for itself.
They also refer to the risks of manually expressing your dog’s glands. The biggest one is the risk of infection if the gland areas aren’t properly cleaned prior to and after being expressed.
Another possible danger is the possibility of tearing the tissue in the anal area if manual expression isn’t done properly. This can result in bleeding and serious pain and will require immediate treatment by a veterinarian
Other veterinarians will recommend regular manual expression as a preventative measure.
They point out that it can prevent infection, reduce the odor put out by full anal glands, and reduce the discomfort and pain that can be caused by full anal glands.
The bottom line is you should talk to your veterinarian before deciding to have your dog’s gland manually expressed as a routine procedure.
How often should large breed dogs have their glands expressed?
If your veterinarian does recommend that your large breed dog should have its glands expressed regularly, every 6 to 8 weeks is the usually recommended interval.
If your dog has a history of problems with anal gland infections or impaction, you’ll probably be advised to have its glands manually expressed every 3 or 4 weeks as a preventative measure.
We always recommend that manual expression be done at your veterinarian’s office. Some dog groomers will perform this service but the quality is all over the board. We do not recommend anyone other than a medical professional perform this procedure. The cost is usually less than $50
How do you express a dog’s glands?
This is a relatively simple procedure performed by applying pressure to the anal gland sacs to release the fluid. But simple doesn’t mean easy. It’s difficult to do correctly and easy to cause injury to this sensitive area.
Can I express my dog’s glands myself?
While there are many videos on the Internet showing how to manually express your dog’s anal glands, this should only be done by a trained medical professional.
It’s easy to make a mistake and cause damage, especially if the glands are already swollen or have other issues. Also, a trained professional will examine that area and look for any potential problems that may require more attention.
You should not consider this a do-it-yourself procedure!
Ways to make sure your dog has healthy glands
Ideally, your dog should be able to express its anal glands naturally and will never need to have them manually expressed. You can assist your dog in this regard with these suggestions:
- Make sure your dog’s diet includes adequate fiber. Fiber assists with digestion and healthy stool formation. This can create large, firm stools that help express the anal glands as they pass through the anus during bowel movements.
- Maintain a healthy weight for your dog. Excess liquid can accumulate in the glands when heavy body fat reduces the pressure put on the anal sacs during pooping.
- Some dietary supplements can assist with maintaining healthy anal glands. Fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil supplements, and probiotics can all help. But be sure to consult with your veterinarian first before adding any supplements to your dog’s diet.