Ensuring Canine Comfort: Anal Gland Guidance for Pet Owners and Groomers

In the intricate world of pet care, a unique aspect often finds its way into the conversation – the expression of anal glands. Driven by a genuine concern for their dog’s well-being, it’s not uncommon for pet owners to visit groomers specifically requesting this service, or for groomers to proactively offer it as part of their repertoire. The dynamics of this procedure can be both misunderstood and underestimated, making it essential for both pet owners and groomers to grasp the intricacies surrounding anal gland expression.

Expressing a dog’s anal glands manually does provide relief and can help address immediate issues, but it may impact the natural process to some extent. If done too frequently or unnecessarily, it can potentially interfere with the dog’s ability to express the glands naturally. As a responsible pet owner or professional groomer, understanding the significance of anal glands, the considerations involved, and taking a balanced approach ensures the well-being of our beloved companions.

The seemingly straightforward task of expressing anal glands, often carried out by groomers, demands a nuanced understanding. This procedure, best performed under the guidance of a veterinarian, should be approached with careful precision to safeguard healthy pets. Improper execution may trigger irritation in the anal sacs and surrounding tissues, potentially heightening the risk of recurrences or progression to infection.

What are Anal Glands
Internally situated near the rectum, canine anal glands (also known as anal sacs) are a pair of small, grape-sized structures strategically positioned at approximately 4 and 8 o’clock near the rectum in dogs. These glandular reservoirs are nestled within the perianal region, contributing to the intricate balance of the surrounding tissues.

Externally, their presence may not be visibly evident, but their impact on a dog’s well-being can be substantial.

Comprising both apocrine and sebaceous glands, these sacs produce a secretion that aids in scent marking and communication among dogs.

The contents of these sacs are normally expressed during bowel movements, serving a natural and essential function. However, issues arise when these glands become impacted, inflamed, or develop abscesses, necessitating veterinary intervention.

(Based on Veterinary Dermatology and A Cross-Sectional Study on Canine and Feline Anal Sac Disease):

Precise knowledge of the anatomical placement aids in the careful expression of these glands. Understanding this internal clockwork of anal gland physiology is fundamental for veterinarians and groomers, guiding their approach when addressing issues related to anal glands. This prevents complications that could arise from improper handling. This internal-external harmony is a key aspect of canine health management.

Why Express Anal Glands? The anal glands, located on either side of a dog’s anus, play a vital role in marking territory and communicating with other dogs. Normally, these glands empty naturally during bowel movements. However, when this process falters, it can lead to discomfort, infection, or more severe complications. Understanding the reasons behind inadequate expression is key to addressing these issues effectively.

When is Expression Necessary? Expressing anal glands becomes necessary in specific situations. Blockage, infection, or chronic problems can impede the natural emptying process, causing discomfort for your canine companion. If you notice signs such as scooting, excessive licking, discharge, or a strong, unpleasant odor, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian. They can determine if manual expression is required and address any underlying health issues.

Anal glands, also known as anal sacs, play a crucial role in a dog’s anatomy, and expressing them may be necessary for various reasons:

  • Relieving discomfort due to impaction, inflammation, or abscessation.
  • Addressing Immediate Issues: In cases of anal sac disease, manual expression helps address immediate problems, including impaction or infection.
  • Preventing Impaction: Regular expression may be recommended to prevent impaction, especially in breeds prone to anal gland issues or those with specific health conditions.
  • Managing Skin Conditions: Anal sac issues can be associated with skin conditions, allergies, or dermatitis. Expressing glands can help manage these conditions.
  • Avoiding Infections: Expression can prevent infections that may arise from stagnant anal gland secretions, reducing the risk of abscess formation.
  • Alleviating Scooting Behavior: Dogs may scoot or drag their hindquarters on the ground when their anal glands are uncomfortable.
  • Assisting Anal Sac Disease Treatment: In cases of anal sac disease, expressing the glands is often part of the treatment plan, along with addressing underlying causes.
  • Reducing Odor: Anal gland secretions can have a strong, unpleasant odor. Expression helps reduce the smell associated with these secretions.

It’s important to note that while anal gland expression can be beneficial for these reasons, it should be done judiciously and under professional guidance to avoid potential complications. Overexpression or unnecessary expression may interfere with the natural process and lead to issues. Always consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate frequency and necessity of anal gland expression for your dog.

Factors Contributing to Issues 

Several factors can contribute to anal gland problems. Inadequate fiber in your dog’s diet may lead to soft stools, reducing the pressure needed for natural expression. Obesity can also play a role, affecting muscle tone and hindering the glands’ emptying process. Additionally, infections, anatomical issues, and age-related changes can impact anal gland health. Maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, and routine veterinary check-ups are essential for preventing these issues.

Predisposing Factors

  • Obesity, Breed, & Size
    There is a connection between obesity and anal sac disease, with a higher prevalence in obese animals. Additionally, specific breeds (especially small breed dogs) were reported to be more prone to anal sac disease, potentially due to smaller anal sac ducts and poor anal sphincter muscle tone.

Although the Labrador Retriever is a large breed, this breed also seems to be at higher risk of developing anal sac disease, Labradors are more often overweight or obese. The German Shepherd dog might well be at increased risk for developing anal sac disease, since the anal sacs of this breed, compared to other breeds, lie deeper in the perianal tissues near the rectum.

  • Diarrhea
    Adverse food reaction, as well as bacterial enteritis, can result in diarrhea or soft stool, preventing the natural expression of the anal sacs during defecation which in turn causes prolonged retention and occlusion of the anal sacs.
  • Skin Problems & Association with Other Conditions
    Cutaneous adverse food reactions, atopic dermatitis, adverse food reactions, and viral or bacterial enteritis were reported to be associated with anal sac disease in both dogs and cats.
  • Seasonal Influence
    In dogs, a slight seasonal influence was noted, with a higher incidence in spring/summer, The increased incidence of anal sac disease during the spring/summer might be explained by the relationship between anal sac disease and canine atopic dermatitis which was also demonstrated in the this study.

Implications for Dog Owners
For dog owners, staying attuned to signs of anal sac disease is essential. Regular veterinary check-ups, especially as dogs age, can aid in early detection and prevention. Maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise may also contribute to preventing obesity-related complications.

Anal Gland Expression 
Within the domain of veterinary medicine, the practice of expressing canine anal glands is pivotal for preventive care and addressing dermatological concerns.
The process involves both internal and external techniques, demanding a precise understanding of anatomical locations and a delicate touch to avoid complications. 
Internal Expression: Internally, the procedure requires a thorough comprehension of the gland’s position, typically found at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions near the rectum. Skilled veterinarians employ gentle pressure to encourage the release of anal sac secretions. This manual process demands expertise in identifying any signs of inflammation, impaction, or other abnormalities during expression. 
External Expression: Externally, the skilled practitioner must possess a nuanced understanding of the surrounding tissues’ sensitivity. A precise touch is required to avoid triggering irritation, which could lead to recurrences or infection. This process is not a one-size-fits-all; rather, it demands a tailored approach based on the individual dog’s needs and health status.
In the context of veterinary dermatology, mastering the art of both internal and external expression ensures a holistic approach to canine care, addressing potential dermatological issues linked to these crucial anal glands.
Practitioners must approach the anal gland expression with careful consideration for the surrounding tissues’ sensitivity. This gentle touch is paramount to prevent irritation that could exacerbate existing issues or potentially lead to infection. This external expression complements the internal process, contributing to a holistic approach to anal gland health.
A comprehensive understanding of both internal and external expression techniques is indispensable in veterinary medicine. Veterinarians equipped with these skills can effectively contribute to the well-being of their animal patients, ensuring optimal dermatological health and preventing complications related to anal gland issues.

Expressing Anal Glands at the Groomers: Navigating the Fine Line with Veterinary Wisdom

The act of expressing anal glands is a procedure that demands a gentle touch and meticulous technique where a tailored approach is crucial. Small animal dermatology underscores the importance of a careful approach during anal gland expression, as forceful or improper methods can lead to irritation of the anal sacs and surrounding tissues. The consequences of such irritation include enhanced recurrences and an increased risk of progression to infection.

Dogs differ in their needs, influenced by factors like breed, size, and overall health. It’s recognized that not all dogs require the same frequency of anal gland expression. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all strategy is discouraged. Regular, unnecessary expression may lead to the glands becoming dependent on external assistance, and the muscles surrounding them may weaken over time. This dependency could potentially disrupt the natural signaling and emptying mechanism, creating a cycle where manual expression becomes more frequent.

It’s crucial to strike a balance and only express the anal glands when necessary, as advised by a veterinarian. Overexpressing should be avoided, and efforts should be focused on addressing the underlying causes contributing to the issues with the anal glands.

A Cross-Sectional Study on Canine and Feline Anal Sac Disease
A Cross-Sectional Study on Canine and Feline Anal Sac Disease

Legal and Ethical Considerations for Groomers

While the recommendation for anal gland expression is rooted in clinical signs or symptoms, expressing anal glands may fall outside the purview of a groomer’s professional responsibilities, emphasizing the essential role of veterinarians in assessing and determining the need for such procedures based on individual health indicators.

Both groomers and pet owners are encouraged to seek guidance from a veterinarian first, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of a dog’s specific needs and allowing for professional assessment before considering anal gland expression.

Laws regarding the expression of anal glands by dog groomers can vary depending on the jurisdiction. In many places, expressing anal glands is generally considered a grooming procedure rather than practicing veterinary medicine, as long as it’s done for cosmetic or hygiene reasons and not to treat a medical condition.

However, there can be legal and ethical considerations. It’s important for dog groomers to be knowledgeable about the anatomy of the anal glands and to refrain from diagnosing or treating medical conditions.

It’s advisable for dog groomers to be aware of and comply with local regulations and to work within the scope of their training and expertise. If there’s uncertainty, consulting with legal professionals or industry associations can provide guidance specific to a particular region.

Navigating the diverse perspectives surrounding anal gland expression, Canadian Professional Pet Stylists recognized the need for clarity. In pursuit of well-informed insights, they’ve reached out to the provincial veterinary regulatory bodies across Canada. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with each province offering valuable information on their stance regarding this procedure. As regulations vary by province, they’ve kindly compiled these responses to provide you with a comprehensive understanding. With this resource, you can discern whether anal gland expression by groomers is deemed acceptable or considered illegal in your specific province. Explore the Provincial Regulations for Anal Gland Expressing by Groomers for a well-informed approach to pet care.


Additionally, PROfur is a specialty insurance policy for pet care professionals. PROfur insurance is fully aware of the guidelines provided in this comprehensive list, and their insurance policies align seamlessly with the legal considerations outlined for dog groomers expressing anal glands. They emphasizes the necessity for groomers to operate within the bounds of the law, ensuring compliance with regulatory standards. Proper training is strongly recommended to perform the procedure effectively and identify potential issues, prioritizing the safety and well-being of pets.

Can Dog Groomers Legally Express Anal Glands? - PROfur
Can Dog Groomers Legally Express Anal Glands? - PROfur

While pet owners’ motivations vary, the underlying theme is a commitment to ensuring the comfort, health, and cleanliness of their beloved pets. Understanding these motivations can foster better communication between pet owners and groomers, facilitating informed decisions for the well-being of the dogs in their care.

It’s crucial to strike a balance and only express the anal glands when necessary, as advised by a veterinarian. Over-expressing should be avoided, and efforts should be focused on addressing the underlying causes contributing to the issues with the anal glands.

Ensuring the well-being of our canine companions involves a delicate balance when it comes to expressing anal sacs. It’s imperative to avoid overexpressing and instead concentrate on addressing the root causes that contribute to anal gland issues. By maintaining a strategic and necessity-driven approach, we prioritize the overall health and comfort of our pets.

Relying on reputable sources in the veterinary industry provides a foundation of credibility and ensures accurate and trustworthy information for pet owners. For more information:

Corbee, R. J., Woldring, H. H., van den Eijnde, L. M., & Wouters, E. G. H. (2022). A Cross-Sectional Study on Canine and Feline Anal Sac Disease. Animals (Basel), 12(1), 95.

Foster, A. P., & Ihrke, P. J. (Eds.). (2011). Small Animal Dermatology (4th ed.). Saunders.

Synergistically Yours

Danielle & Sheepdog Riggs

forever in our hearts

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