by Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM

One would think that most vets learn about anal glands in vet school. This was not true in my case. It was our dachshund Gerda who initiated me in the less pleasant part of living with a dog.  Dachshunds are very passionate when it comes to tracking and they love being in the forest.

I remember taking Gerda to our cottage near the German border for the first time. I remember that all of us, the 4 kids, wanted to have her on our lap. For some reason, Gerda ended up sitting on me, looking out of the window with excitement. Suddenly a deer crossed the road right in front of the car and…. The whole car was filled with smell rotten fish, eggs and a can of anchovies. Yes, Gerda emptied her anal glands right on my lap.

This is how I learned that dogs had anal glands. 


Anal glands are little sacs that are located on either side of the anus with their openings at 9 and 3 o’clock. They are scent glands that have two functions:

  • To produce very strong and pungent scent for marking the territory
  • To help the body eliminate toxins and substances that are not needed

I see anal glands as the body’s garbage bin that empties automatically when they function well. 



There are several kinds of anal gland issues that dogs suffer from

  • Anal gland inflammation ( anal gland saculitis )
  • Anal gland dysfunction – not emptying on their own
  • Anal gland abscess – rupture of the anal gland due to obstruction of the opening (duct)
  • Anal gland tumors 

Here are the factors that cause anal gland issues:

  • Diet – especially processed and artificially flavoured and preserved food
  • Body toxin build up in general
  • Obesity due to carb based diet, overfeeding or lack of exercise
  • Liver imbalance which is also related to general toxicity
  • Lumbo-sacral spine and muscle injury that leads to decreased energy flow to the anal glands and lack of tone. 


As in the case of many eye and ear problems, anal glands too are the ‘red light’ signal that something in the body is going on. Anal glands can’t be healthy without the rest of the body functioning well.

Conventional treatment focuses mainly on the issue locally – expressing the content, possibly a flush, antibiotics or surgery. Anal glands too are the ‘red light’ signal that something in the body is going on. However, this approach doesn’t address most of the causes mentioned above. 

Here are the most important points of a holistic approach to anal gland treatment: 

No matter what we do, order and clutter free environment works the best for most of us. In case of your dog, the same is true. Anal glands are closely related to toxin levels and the liver, raw or cooked species appropriate diet is always much better. 

I am glad that many people now know that processed pet food is far from what the flashy packaging says and it should be avoided. The body eliminates toxins through the liver, bile and the anal glands which often become inflamed. Kibble also creates soft and sloppy stool. 

Good anal gland function requires harder stool. Every time a dog has bowel movement, the anal glands get massaged and emptied. People are sometimes concerned about ‘too hard stool’ but that is quite normal in most dogs fed raw bones. Raw bones are fully digestible. It is only cooked bones that are not and can cause problems. Poultry bones and the bones of animals up to the size of sheep or deer are ideal. Large beef bones can cause tooth fractures. 


Processed food related obesity makes anal glands ‘sink’ in the fat tissue and the emptying processed can be diminished. No matter which way you take it, processed food is simply not good for anyone. 


It is very common that people are recommended to get their dog’s anal glands emptied. Some vets and groomers simply believe that expressing them will prevent them from filling up. The more you squeeze, the more they fill up. It is much better to allow anal glands to empty naturally. To be safe, a semiannual physical exam is ideal. Most dogs would be either scooting their bum on the ground, licking under the tail or will present with swelling around the anus if there is a problem. 


It may be a surprise to you but many high performance dogs and also dogs with lumbo-sacral injuries suffer from anal gland problems. 

The lumbo-sacral area supplies the nerve and energy flow to the anus and anal glands. The muscles become tight, the nerve flow decreases and the anal gland tone is diminished. That is why some seemingly healthy but very active dogs on raw diet continue having anal gland issues. 

Doing less sprinting, frisbee and ball retrieving and engaging in more varied exercise often does the trick. I also recommend routine physio or chiro visits to address potential injuries before they become chronic. 


This is in my opinion one of the most barbaric treatment methods out there. With the exception of tumors and anal gland abscesses, in most cases there is no need to reach for such drastic measures and cause your dog pain. Anal gland amputation also severely affects the body’s detox cycle. 

In most cases there is no need to reach for such drastic measures and cause your dog pain. 

Based on what you know about anal glands, removing them is like removing all trash bins from your home. It would not be long before the home (the body), would become a mess. 


May be caused by all the factors I have mentioned plus obstruction of the anal gland duct. In such cases veterinary care is usually needed. 

  • If the anal gland is already ruptured, use of a local anesthesia andflushing with undiluted Healing Solution may be all you need to do.
  • If the abscess has not ruptured, aflush with a catheter inserted in the anal gland duct may be sufficient. Your vet may need to repeat this a few times
  • Surgery and a drain placement is needed only in a small number of cases.
  • Antibiotics are only needed in fewer than 25%of all cases. Most of the time, a doggie diaper or pants padded with a compress soaked in Healing Solution is all you need. Change compress several times a day and leave on for 2 − 5 days as needed.
  • Use a buster collar or “pants” to prevent your dog from licking. It is not the right time to be “soft” with your dog because more trouble, pain and expense will follow if he or she licks. 

Be aware that if some of the underlying causes persist, the healing process may be slower and sometimes complicated. There is also a slight possibility of tumors in the anal gland area. Usually they are felt on palpation. 


There are two categories of supplements

  • Specific for treatmentof anal glands that are mentioned above on this page.
  • Essential supplementsof minerals, vitamins, omega oils and other nutrients. 
  • Liver Detoxto purify the liver (larger bottle is needed for large dogs).
  • Zyflamendto reduce inflammation.
  • Silicea 200 C 1 dose twice daily for 7 days (use this only if the abscess is open)  - homeopathic remedies can be obtained from a local homeopathic pharmacy.
  • Probioticsespecially if antibiotics have been used. 

Are important for healthy functioning of the whole body. I recommend only all natural supplements. Most people do not realize that the conventional ones are made of ground up rock and chemicals that the body doesn’t process the same way as food. 

I have only one more note.

If you smell the pungent anal gland smell once in a while and no other symptoms are present, it is just a sign that your dog’s anal glands are working well. There is no need to rush to the vet or a groomer to have them squeezed. Remember that less is better.



PERIANAL FISTULA by Dr. Karen Becker, Mercola Healthy Pets�€ï¿½

Story at-a-glance

  • A perianal fistula is a lesion that develops around a dog’s anus. In perianal fistula disease there are often multiple lesions resulting in chronic draining ulcers that are very painful for the dog.
  • The area under a dog’s tail and around the anus is warm, moist and loaded with bacteria – a perfect breeding ground for infection. Perianal fistulas are probably the result of inflamed, infected sweat and oil glands in and around the anus.
  • Some breeds are more prone to the condition than others – including Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, Old English Sheepdogs, Border Collies, Bulldogs, Spaniels, and especially the German Shepherd.
  • Symptoms of perianal fistula disease include straining to defecate, perianal pain and bleeding, constipation or diarrhea, lack of appetite, biting and licking the anal area, foul-smelling discharge, lethargy, and sometimes obvious lesions.
  • Treatment of the disorder involves regular manual disinfecting of the perianal area; switching to a grain-free, novel protein diet; appropriate supplementation; stool softeners; giving antibiotics and immunosuppressant agents as necessary; and in severe cases, surgery. 

To listen to Dr. Becker's Video Talk please click this link: 

A perianal fistula is a severe lesion that develops around a dog’s anus. A fistula is an abnormal pathway from something inside the body to the surface of the body. “Perianal” simply means the area around the anus.

In perianal fistula disease, there is often more than one lesion. The result is chronic, persistent draining ulcers that are very painful for the dog.

Perianal fistula disease is also known as anal furunculosis. 

How Perianal Fistulas Occur

It is thought that perianal fistulas result when sweat and oil glands in and around the anus become inflamed and infected. Abscesses form, break open, and drain. Over time, there’s probably also an autoimmune component where the dog’s body begins to overreact to the inflammation, which greatly exacerbates the condition. The area under a dog’s tail and around the anus is warm, moist and loaded with bacteria, which is the perfect environment to brew an infection. The anal glands are sometimes involved, but not always. 

Causes of the Disorder and At-Risk Breeds

Because certain breeds are more prone to the condition than others – including Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, Old English Sheepdogs, Border Collies, Bulldogs, Spaniels, and in particular the German Shepherd – it’s assumed there’s a hereditary component to the disorder.

Interestingly, it could also be partly a conformation issue. Since German Shepherd dogs have a broad tail base and carry their tails very low and close to their bodies, this could in theory result in poor ventilation of the anal area, trapping fecal material next to the anal folds. German Shepherds also have more of a certain type of sweat gland than other breeds called apocrine sweat glands. Apocrine sweat glands produce a smelly, oily sweat rather than a watery sweat in the anal area.

Allergic skin conditions may also be a factor. Managing allergic symptoms, including food allergies, can greatly help improve perianal fistulas.

Perianal fistulas are more commonly seen in middle-aged and older dogs. About twice as many males are affected as females. And about 80 percent of the time, the dog is a German Shepherd. 

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Perianal Fistulas

Symptoms of the condition include straining to defecate, perianal pain and bleeding, constipation or diarrhea, lack of appetite, feeling the need to poop but the bowel is empty, biting and licking the anal area, a bad smelling discharge, lethargy, and changes in temperament.

You may also be able to see the lesions in your dog’s anal area. They can range from very small to over several inches in diameter and can extend up the tail. Some dogs with the condition feel pain just trying to move their tail.

Diagnosis of perianal fistula disease involves considering the age and breed of the dog, taking a history of symptoms, and performing a physical exam of the dog’s anal area, including a rectal exam. Sometimes a skin biopsy is done to rule out similar appearing conditions such as cancer of the anus, a hyperplastic anus, perianal adenoma (which is a benign tumor), or an anal sac rupture. Depending on the severity of the condition, your dog may need sedation in order to be examined. This can actually be the kinder approach, because the dog may be feeling overwhelming pain, and just lifting his tail can be excruciating for him. 

Treatment Options

Traditional treatment of perianal fistulas involves the use of antimicrobials (depending on what the culture and sensitivity test shows), stool softeners to help reduce pain when the dog defecates, immunosuppressive agents, surgery, food changes, and of course, supplements. Because there can be multiple causes for the disease, it’s not unusual for veterinarians to attempt several different treatment methods simultaneously.

Surgery is usually reserved for dogs for whom medical management hasn’t worked. It’s a difficult procedure because there are so many nerves and blood vessels in that area, and often the ulcers are very deep. Thankfully, I’ve never had to recommend surgery for any of my patients with perianal fistulas, and I’m hoping I never will. 

Treatment starts with clipping the hair away from the anus, cleaning the area with an antiseptic solution, then flushing with large amounts of water. I recommend that owners disinfect their dog’s perianal area twice daily with a potent natural cleanser. At my practice, I use a solution called Lacerum® Wound Cleanser. This step, in my opinion, is too often overlooked in managing perianal fistulas.

Vets tend to rely on drugs to disinfect when manual cleaning is more effective. Oral medications can never measure up to manual disinfection.

I also strongly recommend a grain-free, novel protein diet for all animals suffering from this condition. I have found removing grains and pro-inflammatory carbohydrates, including potatoes, from these patients’ diets notably improves their symptoms long-term. I also recommend a protocol of Chinese herbs, curcumin, nirgundi oil (applied topically to the anus), the herb triphala guggul (given orally), and laser therapy, along with an immune-balancing protocol. Dogs with perianal fistulas should not receive vaccinations. The earlier perianal fistula disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome for the dog. Recurrence is unfortunately very common, and fecal incontinence often develops in severe cases, especially those requiring surgery.

My suggestion is to find a holistic veterinarian who has experience treating perianal fistulas to help improve your dog’s quality of life and overall well-being long-term while managing this chronic and frustrating disorder.

Posted on 30 Sep 2014

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