If your puppy is scooting across the carpet, ground or grass—sit down and pull itself forward while dragging its bottom—you need to learn how to express anal glands. Puppy scooting generally means the pooch's bottom is irritated and that can be caused by tapeworms, diarrhea or even fleas, but most often can be blamed on irritated anal glands.
Anal Gland Functions
Your puppy has two anal glands located beneath the skin on either side of the rectum. The pea-size glands function like a skunk's scent organs, but thank goodness our pets can’t squirt the stink! Instead, anal glands give pet bathroom deposits sort of an individual smelly fingerprint. Pets sniff each other's bottoms as a way to communicate and read these scented name tags to identify each other.
Normal anal glands secrete a liquid or a creamy brownish/yellow substance that’s expressed whenever the puppy has a bowel movement. Glands may also be expressed when the pup is suddenly frightened or stressed and it contracts its anal sphincter—that’s the circular muscle that controls its rectum. You’ll notice a strong odor if this happens.
Most pets don't need anal gland maintenance, but some have overactive glands that cause an odor problem. Other times, soft stools or problems with diarrhea may not supply enough pressure to empty the glands. In addition, some pups just have abnormally small anal gland openings. An affected puppy may lick the area to relieve the discomfort or scoot.
Small dog breeds like Toy Poodles are affected most often, and unexpressed glands can become clogged or impacted. You’ll know your dog has a problem if the area on one or both sides of the rectum swells. When glands become infected the secretions contain blood or pus. In severe cases, a painful abscess may develop. The swelling will be red to purple on one or both sides of the rectum.
When the glands are infected or become abscessed they'll need veterinary attention. Infected anal glands usually heal without complications, but pups that suffer recurrences of impaction or infection will need the anal glands emptied at least once a week.
How to Express Anal Glands
The treatment requires manual expression of the anal glands. Many puppies object to owners messing with them down there, especially when they are very tender from anal gland distress. It’s best to have your veterinarian perform this service for your pet when anal glands are infected so you don’t accidentally force the matter deeper into the tissue. If you are a hardy soul willing to give it a try for the well-being of your pet, ask for a demonstration before trying this yourself. For those who are NOT faint of heart—or nose—here's how it's done.
- Anal gland secretions stink, and the best place to perform anal gland maintenance is during your puppy’s bath. That way you can wash away any stray stuff that spills onto the fur.
- Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands and reduce the “yuck” factor.
- Stand your puppy in the sink. For outside of the bath, stand small pups on a tabletop or kneel on the floor beside larger puppies.
- You may benefit from an extra pair of hands to steady the dog’s head while you pay attention to the tail. Alternately, attach the leash to the pup’s halter or collar and secure to the faucet or other stationary objects to help limit the pup’s movement.
- Lift your pup's tail and find the glands on each side of the anus at about eight and four o'clock. They'll feel a bit like small marbles beneath the skin.
- Once you’ve located the glands, cover the area with a tissue. This will catch the debris as it’s expressed.
- With your thumb and forefinger on each side of the gland, gently push in and upward and squeeze as you would express a pimple.
- Use the tissue or a damp cloth to wipe away the smelly discharge as the sac empties.
- Offer your puppy a toy or treat as a reward for being a good dog.
Of course, it’s much better to prevent anal gland problems than treat once they develop. Watch for scooting puppies and get them checked to nip problems in the butt!