Behold the invisible effluvium, the fish-scented aroma! Hark, what exudes from thine nethermost orifice?
Okay, so it’s not quite Shakespeare, but it is possible that all references to dogs in the dramatist’s many plays were veiled as insults due to the pungent odour produced by impacted anal glands.
If you have a dog with anal gland problems, no doubt you will be asking “what are these posterior horrors?” and “what can I do about it?”
Anal glands are more accurately referred to as anal sacs. These sacs are small inversions located at the 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock positions in relation to the anus. They are a throwback from the days when dogs were wild and were able to empty their anal sacs for the purpose of scent marking. These days bouffant Bichons have little need for scent marking and most domestic dogs are unable to voluntarily empty their sacs.
With most dogs, simply walking and defecating will produce enough pressure against the glands to force the secretions out of them, but there are many dogs who are not quite as fortunate. With the inability to empty their sacs, these poor pooches experience discomfort and can often be found scooting their little bottoms along the floor (invariably making the sacs even more uncomfortable!), licking their backsides, holding their tails down or shivering in pain. Of course, some just start leaking the odorous secretions; O, My Offence is Rank It Smells to Heaven! (that actually is Shakespeare).
Why do the sacs block up and leak?
This is due to hypersecretion (i.e. produces secretion faster than it is able to be expelled) or obstruction or both. Hypersecretion or obstruction are due to underlying causes.
Skin allergies and food allergies are among the most common causes. General inflammation or irritation of the skin causes the sacs and the opening ducts to swell, and subsequently narrow or block. Hence, they are prevented from opening. Secretions continue into the sacs and they become full and uncomfortable. If they are not emptied, the bacteria in the secretions overgrow and an infection can develop (“anal sacculitis”).
Conditions that result in reduced pressure against the sacs can also be the culprits. These include chronic diarrhoea, anal sphincter laxity (common in older dogs) and constipation.
Endocrine diseases might be at fault. Hypothyroidism (i.e. underactive thyroid) may result in reduced anal sphincter tone and more seborrheic skin.
These conditions can often be treated and your vet can help you work through the different possibilities, especially if allergies, chronic diarrhoea or endocrine diseases are possibly implicated.
Some dogs can be managed with getting their anal sacs expressed by the veterinarian (or, if you are brave, your vet can teach you how to do this at home).
Adding fibre to your dog’s diet may help. I usually recommend boiled pumpkin or sweet potato as most dogs enjoy these foods, but you can also try adding a sprinkling of psyllium husk or Metamucil to your dog’s diet.
If the problem is severe and unable to be controlled with conservative management, the anal sacs are able to be surgically removed. There is a small risk that the anal sphincter can be damaged, but you just need to ensure that an experienced surgeon is performing the procedure (your vet will normally tell you if they feel comfortable doing this or whether they advise a specialist surgeon to perform the surgery).
So if your pooch has become a booty scooter with a scent so pungent it brings a tear to your eye, then consider the possibility of impacted overfull anal sacs. Your vet will be more than happy to check it out (trust me, we become immune!) and advise you on treatment and management.