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 sniff their nether regions. When the scent-producing anal glands become infected, you'll need to take quick action to avoid serious consequences.
What Is Anal Gland Infection?
Anal gland infection is a condition that causes painful swelling and foul-smelling discharge in puppies. An anal gland infection can affect your puppy, prompt scooting behavior, and needs 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, they are used primarily for identification rather than protection. They give your puppy’s feces an individual scent, and a quick sniff by other dogs tells them all about your puppy including age and sexual status. In fact, dogs can tell by sniffing each others' waste if the product came from a pet that’s been spayed or neutered, or is intact.
Symptoms of Anal Gland Infection in Puppies
The glands secrete a liquid or creamy brownish yellow substance that may smell good to your puppy but can be quite offensive to humans. 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.
While most puppies don't require help with anal gland maintenance, others have overactive sacs that can cause an odor problem, and these dogs need help keeping the glands expressed.
Left untreated, impacted anal glands can become painfully infected. The area on one or both sides of the rectum will swell and 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 ill.
Causes of Anal Gland Infection
Smaller breeds 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, whether a result of overactive glands or glands with openings that are too small. The secretions become pasty and thick when not regularly expressed and plug the normal exit.
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.
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 is 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 give a pill to 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. 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 them in the sink and use the spray nozzle. The dog 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.
How to Prevent Anal Gland Infection
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 wise option.