How to Clean a Dog’s Anal Glands

Cleaning your dog’s anal glands can be quite a messy and smelly affair, but maintaining proper hygiene is one of your responsibilities as a pet owner.  This article will provide you with information all about anal glands- what are they, anal gland problems and causes, and the like. Most importantly, we will discuss how to clean a dog’s anal glands.

What are Anal Glands?

Anal glands, also known as rectal glands or anal sacs, are your dog’s scent glands with each one containing oil and sweat. There are two anal glands located between muscle layers in your dog’s rectum.

When everything is working right, these glands secrete on their own every time your dog poops. As such, you might notice a pungent or foul-smelling odor.

The resulting smell plays an important part of dog-to-dog communication as they act as a “smell signal” to other dogs-hence, the butt-smelling. In a way, it indicates their territory and helps them identify other dogs.

Do All Dogs Need their Anal Glands Cleaned?

Not all. As mentioned, anal glands secrete the liquid on their own- every time your dog defecates.

However, there are instances where the glands function abnormally. For example, the glands did not empty enough, resulting in uncontrollable leaking.

Other times, some glands need to be manually cleaned and sometimes these glands can get infected or impacted.

There are no links between anal gland problems with specific dog breeds.

However, small- to medium- sized dogs like Basset Hounds, Beagles, Chihuahuas, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Poodles, and Lhasa Apsos, tend to have anal gland issues.

Do All Dogs Need their Anal Glands Cleaneds

What are some anal gland problems?

Anal glands are continuously filled up with liquid and are emptied every time your dog poops. However, problems may arise when the anal glands are not functioning properly.

One of the most common problems is when the glands get impacted or infected. Impactions happen when the ducts get clogged, resulting in inflammations. This can be quite uncomfortable for your dogs and you can easily tell when they have this problem.

If left untreated, impacted or infected anal glands can lead to abscesses. Once there is enough pressure, the abscess will rupture through your dog’s skin.

When this happens, your dog needs to undergo surgery to repair and replace these glands. Your dog would need to drink antibiotics and pain medications too.

What Causes Impacted Anal Glands?

The main culprit for impacted anal glands is your dog’s diet.  Usually, when your dog has enough fiber in their diet, they expel a large and firm stool. The pressure resulting from such size helps the anal glands in excreting the liquid.

A small and soft stool does not produce that same effect. If it happens often, the anal glands continually fill up without expelling the liquid.

Impacted or infected anal glands can also be caused by medications and vaccines. Dogs with chronic skin inflammations are also more likely to have anal gland problems.

These conditions and factors also increase the likelihood of your dog suffering from impacted or infected anal glands:

  • Chronic skin infections
  • Environmental allergies
  • Food allergies
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Obesity
  • Skin mite infestations

How to Know When to Clean my Dog’s Anal Glands?

If all is working well, anal glands should naturally empty themselves. Human intervention is only needed when the glands are not functioning properly.

Luckily, it’s easy to tell when your dog is suffering from a full anal gland or anal gland problems.

One of the biggest indicators is when your dog “scoots” their bottom on the floor. This is them trying to relieve the discomfort and release the liquid.

Another indicator is when there is a pungent odor from their bottom as the glands have already started leaking.

Other symptoms include –

  • Blood/ pus on their stools
  • Bump under the skin of their rectum
  • Difficulties in defecating
  • Excessive licking or biting of their rectum
  • Object to being lifted

If you notice these signs frequently, then your dog may be experiencing some anal gland problems.

Do All Dogs Need their Anal Glands Cleaned

Who Should Clean Them?

When you think your dog is having anal gland issues, it’s best to contact your vet immediately to verify if there is indeed a problem or check for infections.

If there is, then you can clean the anal glands. Cleaning these glands is called expressing and is usually done by the vet or your local groomer. However, you can also do it on your own.

How Often Should I Clean Them?

Frequent anal gland expressions are not recommended as they can even cause future anal gland issues.

This is because frequent expressions lead to inflammation and some scar tissue formation, which further narrows the anal gland duct.

Only express your dog’s anal glands when you spot the symptoms listed.

How to Clean Them?

There are two methods when it comes to expressing a dog’s anal glands.

Internal Method

This method is usually employed by vets and other professionals. Here, vets insert a lubricated gloved finger into your dog’s butt to hold the anal gland and gently empty them.

External Method

Compared to the internal method, the external approach is easier and less invasive.

Here’s what you will need

  • Plastic or latex gloves
  • Lubricant
  • Warm, soapy washcloth
  • Paper towels
  • A helping hand

How to guide

  1.     To start, make sure your dog is standing on a clean and flat surface. Make sure that you level with your dog’s butt. Your dog should be in front of you and on all fours.
  2.     Have another person gently restrain your dog and make sure that they stay during the entire process. Expressing your dog’s anal glands can be difficult and uncomfortable for your pet and you will need to constantly soothe them to do it properly.
  3.     Put on your gloves and lubricate your finger.
  4.     Lift your dog’s tail up and away from the rectum. Gently insert your lubricated finger about one-inch in.
  5.     Place your thumb on your dog’s bottom and bring both fingers together to find the two anal glands. Full glands tend to feel like firm peas or plums. You might even find one gland fuller than the other.
  6.     Once you have found the glands, place a paper towel in front of your dog’s bottom and prepare to express them.
  7.     When expressing, never ever squeeze the glands as this can hurt your dog and cause problems. Instead, apply a light pressure and gently milk the glands in a circular or inwards/upwards motion. Do this until you see the liquid squirting out.
  8.     Keep doing the motion until the anal gland is empty. You will know when the liquid stops dripping or when you feel the glands deflating.
  9.     Do the same motion to the other gland.
  10.   Once you are done, using a warm soapy washcloth, gently wipe your dog’s bottom for any excess liquids.

Remember, anal gland fluid can differ from dog to dog.

Normal fluids usually exude a fishy odor and can vary from a clear/white color and smooth consistency to a brown, grainy liquid.

There will be cause for alarm when the liquid is green, gray, or yellow or when it has a thick or chunky consistency. When this happens, please consult your vet.

How do I Prevent Impacted Anal Glands?

Change in Diet

One of the causes of impacted anal glands is the lack of fiber in your dog’s diet. A lack of fiber usually produces small and soft stools which prevents your anal glands from contracting and secreting the fluids.

Many pet owners and vets recommend upping their fiber intake by adding fiber-rich food such as apples, bran, pumpkin, brown rice, and vegetables.

Some pet owners have even switched their dogs to a raw food diet with bone content. Others like to add fish oils which are known for having good fatty acids that help with skin inflammation and anal gland issues.

Please consult your vet before doing any drastic diet changes. Oftentimes, your vet can even help you plan out your dog’s diet.

Add fiber supplements

If you want, you can also give your pet some probiotics, prebiotics, and other fiber supplements to help firm up stools. There are many of these that you can get from local pet stores and similar specialty shops.

However, please consult with your vet first letting your dog take supplements. You can also ask them for recommendations.

Regular exercise

Regular exercise

Impacted glands can also be due to low activity levels or your dog being overweight or obese. As such, you might need to help them exercise.

Regular activity helps strengthen your dog’s abdominal and rectal muscles and digestive system. Aim to walk your dog for at least 30 minutes to an hour per day.

Address allergies

Sometimes, impacted anal glands can be due to food and environmental allergies. You will have to work closely with your vet for this to properly identify these allergies and to address them.

When it comes to food allergies, your vet can help you curate a hypoallergenic diet for your pet. As for environmental ones, your vet can help you identify these and give treatments and remedies.


Full anal glands are uncomfortable for your precious pet. Hopefully, you will gain some knowledge on how to clean a dog’s anal glands using this article.  While it may be difficult, especially for your first time, you’ll get used to it with time and patience.

Please consult your vet when you notice any anal abnormalities.

Rita Wagener
Rita is a resident paw expert at Pet Keepers. A registered & licensed dog trainer, she also has a degree in animal nutrition, and runs her own dog training course.

Get in Touch


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Get in Touch


Latest Posts