Does your dog ever get nervous or worked up – and suddenly give off a pungent, fishy, almost metallic or iron-like odor?
Then you, too, have been a victim of your dog’s anal glands.
Like clockwork, Matilda makes a stink when we’re around new people, and sometimes when she sees something exciting outside. If I’m holding her, I’ll be blessed with a pair of tiny oily brown stains on my clothes.
I’ve noticed that some dogs are more… expressive, than others. I was wondering if Matilda’s glands were simply working as intended, or if those stinky outbursts were a sign that she needed any special care. My findings have been fascinating.
What Exactly ARE Your Dog’s Anal Glands?
Anal glands are located on either side of the dog’s anus. They’re very similar to a skunk’s glands, which they release as a spray to ward off predators.
Similarly, a dog’s anal glands can contract when she’s startled or nervous, but it’s not voluntary, and it doesn’t emit a spray, so it wouldn’t serve a practical, evolutionary purpose. A skunk’s anal glands can temporarily blind you. A dog’s will just ruin your life for a few minutes.
The primary function of a dog’s anal glands is to communicate via scent to other dogs. Normally, the dog’s anal glands empty while they poop. Most of us know that dogs urinate to leave territorial markings for other dogs – but it’s lesser known that their anal glands serve this purpose too.
Dogs also zero in on one another’s anal glands when they’re greeting one another. That’s what the ceremonial butt sniff is all about. If one dog is nervous upon meeting another, it’ll be apparent in their anal gland signature scent.
Sometimes, dogs with chronic anal gland impactions or infections may have their glands surgically removed by a veterinarian. This may affect their ability to communicate with other dogs, but it may be necessary if ongoing gland issues affect their health and quality of life.
Why Some Dogs Have Over-Active Anal Glands
For some dogs, the anal glands do not empty completely when they poop.
This can be due to their diet. If a dog’s poop is too soft, it might not push up against their glands as it exits. That’s why anal gland supplements are typically high in stool-bulking fiber. Bigger, firmer poops put pressure on those glands, that way they empty completely.
Glands that don’t empty properly may leak when your dog is scared, excited, and they can also leak in your dog’s sleep.
If the glands don’t empty, the fluid inside can actually thicken and harden, causing a painful impaction. The gland can become infected or even burst. I don’t want to imagine how that feels – or smells.
Besides diet, the dog’s natural structure can also affect their body’s ability to self-empty the glands. Small dogs, in general, tend to have structural issues.
Orthopedic issues, a small bladder, breathing problems – it makes sense that small dogs can have various health problems because of the way we’ve shrunken them down from their wolfy counterparts.
Small dogs are more likely to suffer from anal gland malfunctions, and that might be why tiny Matilda, a five-pound Chihuahua mix, has more expressive anal glands than other dogs.
How To Stop Anal Gland Leaks
As for Matilda, we haven’t experienced any impactions or infections, just a big stink when she’s nervous, and occasionally, overnight. That only happens when I’ve changed the sheets the day before, of course.
I’ve noticed significantly fewer anal gland incidences since switching her to Honest Kitchen dehydrated dog food – she loves it and since it’s high in fiber, her glands love it too. Fibrous snacks like baby carrots also seem to help.
If we’re going somewhere Matilda’s likely to be nervous, like before we go to the vet, we go for a long walk to make sure she poops, that way she has a chance to empty her glands beforehand.
And if all else fails, a rag over my lap or draped over my arm where she sits, and my clothes are safe.
Anal gland fluid is oily, so it won’t come off with water. When you need to clean it up, any type of soap or detergent will do. You can carry pet wipes or mild baby wipes if your dog tends to leak when you’re out and about.