How to Express Dog Glands Like the Hero You Are

how to express dog glands

This is what veterinarians train for, right? Well, when visiting the vet isn’t an option, it’s time to step in and be a hero for your dog. Don’t worry, we called in an expert to help understand how to express dog glands. Keep reading for everything Dr. Carl Winch, DVM, at Banfield Pet Hospital wants dog owners to know about expressing glands.

What glands are we talking about?

We’re talking about a dog’s anal glands. Not glamorous, but necessary to discuss. There are two sacs nestled inside a canine’s rectum that accumulate oil and fluids from sebaceous glands over time. (Sebaceous glands are skin glands that produce oil to keep skin and hair healthy.)

If you’re looking for them, Dr. Winch notes they are “located just inside the anal opening at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions.”

Anal glands give off a scent specific to each dog, which is why canines make introductions by smelling each other’s rear ends. These important glands are expressed (emptied) when your dog makes a bowel movement. When your pup sniffs another canine’s droppings, he’s simply smelling that dog’s anal gland secretions to get to know him better. Gross, but impressive.

What does it mean to express glands?

Expressing glands simply means emptying these sacs of their built-up fluids. These glands don’t leak constantly or by themselves (if you notice an oily brown liquid on your dog’s behind or where they were just sitting, call your vet). The only times these glands express is while your dog poops, if a person manually does it or, sometimes, when a dog gets nervous.

Why is gland expression important?

If glands aren’t expressed routinely, fluid builds up and the sacs can become impacted (swollen and pressed firmly against the surrounding muscle). This can lead to infection or ruptured glands, which in bad cases may require surgery. Typically, antibiotics can help remedy infections, but we don’t want it to get that bad.

How do I know if my dog needs my help?

Dogs need help to empty the sacs if their anal glands aren’t expressing properly on their own. There are many reasons why this may happen. But first, you’ve got to be able to spot the issue. Look for:

  • Trouble going during bathroom breaks or not being able to poop at all
  • Scooting across the floor, dragging the butt along the ground
  • Obsessively licking or chewing their butt
  • A consistent foul odor, even if you just gave your dog a bath 

All of these actions may mean your dog’s anal glands are causing him pain or not functioning properly.

So, how do I express my dog’s glands?

“Before attempting to express your dog’s anal glands, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian as they can help determine if it’s necessary to do this yourself, or if it can wait until you’re able to bring your pet in for an office visit,” says Dr. Winch. 

He also advises strictly sticking to external techniques. Internal techniques, if performed incorrectly, can lead to damage to the anal area. Here are Dr. Winch’s step-by-step instructions:  

  1. Set up a clean (and easily cleanable), open spot in your home
  2. Gather your equipment: protective gloves, paper towels, cloths or wipes, waterless shampoo
  3. Aim your dog’s anal area away from you (expressing can lead to squirting, so point away from others and yourself)
  4. Raise the tail
  5. Using gloves and a cloth or paper towel, use your thumb and middle finger to gently squeeze either side of the lower half of the anal area
  6. Liquid should easily come out of the glands (look at those spots at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions)
  7. Wipe your dog’s backside to remove any excess
  8. Use the waterless shampoo to clean your pup up
  9. If your dog displays any pain or the liquid is thick or bloody, stop at once and call your vet

This seems straightforward, but given the delicate nature of the procedure, it should be handled with extra care and caution. You should not have to squeeze very hard. Note also that gland size is relative to dog size. Larger dogs tend to produce more fluid which can mean more mess and longer clean up time.

“You will not completely empty the glands using this technique,” adds Dr. Winch. “But, you can relieve some of the discomfort caused by pressure if the glands are full and you are unable to bring your pet in for an office visit.”

Can I prevent anal glands from becoming impacted?

There are several things you can do to prevent this from becoming a regular hobby for you and your dog. First, don’t overdo it with expressing. Some groomers empty glands every time a dog comes in for a salon visit, which usually isn’t necessary. In fact, too much expression could actually cause an infection or impaction.

However, Dr. Winch says if your dog’s anal glands appear to be filling up more often than once every four to six weeks, it’s a good idea to talk to your vet about a change in diet or adding supplements into the mix to help the glands work better on their own.

“Full anal glands aren’t the only cause of irritation, so if you empty your dog’s glands and the irritation doesn’t resolve, check in with your veterinarian as there may be other underlying causes such as skin infections, allergies or parasites,” says Dr. Winch.

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...