Anal glands are two, very small secretion glands that are located just to the outside and bottom of a dog's anus. These glands were used to allow a dog or cat to mark its territory by secreting a thick, mucous substance that has a very strong and unpleasant odor. Most dogs no longer do this, but the anal sacs or glands still remain. In normal conditions the glands empty when the dog has a bowel movement with the contraction of the anus forcing the mucous material from the glands. In some dogs the anal glands become stopped up and do not drain with a bowel movement or with natural friction, resulting in a painful condition known as an impaction. These impacted glands may cause the dog to stop and constantly lick at the area, or may, more commonly, cause the dog to "scoot" across the floor, grass or carpet. Scooting is actually rubbing their bottom against the floor in an attempt to empty the glands and reduce the pressure. If this works, what is left is a nasty, smelly, foul substance all over your rug or floor that is often mistaken for fecal material, when in fact it is mucous from the anal glands. Often people believe that this scooting behavior is seen when the dog has worms, and although that occasionally may be the case it is far more likely to be problems with blocked or impacted anal glands.
The reason that it is very important to check anal glands if your dog has a history of scooting on the ground or if it is a problem with the breed is because they can rupture and cause infections and problems that can be serious. If the gland does not empty correctly, it can continue to fill, eventually bursting through the interior wall of the anus or through the outer skin. As can be imagined this is a particularly bad area for infections, plus the rupture may continue to get worse as the dog has natural bowel movements. If it becomes painful the dog may not want to go to the bathroom, leading to more impactions and possible problems. Often a ruptured anal sac or gland will first be noticed by a bloody discharge from the anus immediately after a bowel movement. Excessive licking of the area is also a sign that this has progressed beyond a simple impaction.
There are two different ways to empty or clear a dog's anal sac. The first way is the simplest and should always be the first to try. Use disposable gloves or surgical gloves on your hands, as this can be messy and very foul smelling. Start by getting a clean cloth and soaking it in clear, warm water. Apply the warm cloth like a compress on the anus, holding the tail up and away from the area. You may wish to do this a few times to soften any material that may be caked or dried on the surface opening of the glands. Using the thumb and index finger gently push the bottom section of the anus, at about the four and seven o'clock positions towards the center. You should feel two hard, roundish lumps just under the skin that are the anal glands. With very gentle pressure a fairly liquid, gel like material should be pushed out of the openings just to the outside of the anus. A tissue can be used to wipe this secretion away. If the discharge is very thick and highly sticky or paste like in consistency it is likely that the glands will need to be emptied several times to get all the material out.
If, after a couple of attempts, no secretion or a very heavy paste-like substance is all that comes out, you should either move to a more internal option or contact your vet and have him or her perform this procedure. If you wish to do it yourself, you will need a small amount of lubricant such as Vaseline. Lubricate the index finger of a gloved hand with a small amount of Vaseline or other safe lubricant. Insert the finger gently into the anus and locate the anal sac on one side. Using a pincher like motion press the thumb and forefinger together, starting at the outside edge of the anal gland and moving towards the inside edge. This should release all material, but if it does not immediately stop and make and appointment with the vet. Continuing to try to drain the glands yourself can result in a rupture that is much more serious than leaving the glands impacted until the next day when you can get a vet's appointment.
It is very important to avoid using this second technique on small and toy dogs as most adult fingers as simply too large and will cause pain and discomfort. A vet or groomer that has practice in working with small and toy breeds is the best individual to perform this procedure on these tiny dogs.
Dogs may be fine for a few days and then start scooting again, even if you have just emptied the anal glands. This is not uncommon and the procedure may have to be repeated every three or four days until they have been fully emptied. The good news is that most dogs, once they understand what you are doing, will stand patiently while the procedure is done since they know they will feel much better when it is over.
Most vets recommend that dogs with anal gland problems or a history of impactions will benefit from a high fiber diet. The more fiber that the dog eats the bulkier the stool and the more pressure is naturally exerted on the anal glands. This may mean changing your dog's food brand and will definitely mean changing from a canned food to a kibble and high fiber dry food. Some natural diets may also be very high in fiber, so talk to your vet about diet options if this is a concern.