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Anal Glands & Dietary Fibre : What you need to know

Whilst this is never an article I expected to write on a wild and wet Sunday morning, I am very “happy” to address this. Why? I was super surprised at how many dogs suffer from this issue and just how much bunkum there is both on the internet AND in the professional medical care community, specifically about what causes it and how to deal with it.

Fortunately there is also a host of helpful  progressive & informed people out there, happy to help and share and I “stand on the shoulders of others” writing this.

So as ever, whilst this is far from medical advice, this is a summary of the most practical “How to’s” from reputable sources including Holistic Vets, Homeopathic medicine practitioners, brilliant Behaviourists and the excellent contributions on our facebook forum. Thank you to all of you.

Here goes. Let’s start at the beginning , or more accurately,  the end.

What are the anal glands?

These are a pair of glands located just below the tail of your dog, around its anus.

What are they there for?

No one knows for certain. The 2 prevailing theories are that:

  • They help to lubricate the stool as the dog passes a bowel movement.
  • They secrete pheromones which are simply stated a chemical signature or marker containing lots of interesting facts about the dog itself.
  • Personally,  I believe its a combination of the two, evolution is remarkably efficient. The passing of the stool (with the correct amount of fibre present) forces the anal glands to excrete, lubricating the movement & leaving the dogs signature scent there for other dogs.

How do you know if there’s a problem with these?

Top 4 things to look out for are:

  • Your dog scooting its bottom across the floor. When I first saw my puppy doing this I naively thought she was trying to clean herself.. hygienically. Knowledge is power 🙂
  • Your dog licking or biting its bottom to relieve the itch or inflammation there.
  • The area being red or swollen.
  • If your dog is sitting awkwardly. Think of it trying to regally sit side saddle rather than just sitting normally on its bottom.

Top 5 things to do if this is the case.

  • Firstly and most importantly FEED YOUR DOG A RAW DIET. This is THE number one in my humble opinion. Why? A RAW DIET reduces inflammation, and a Raw Diet (if prepared correctly) has a source of both soluble and insoluble fibre which adds sufficient firmness to the stool to keep those glands “expressed”. In a Bella & Duke meal we have both sources of fibre, plant (vegetables & fruits) and animal (ground up bone and cartilage), containing both types of fibre (soluble and insoluble).
  • Next,  consider adding PRO and PRE Biotics to your dog’s diet.  Confused about the difference? PRObiotics are sources of friendly bacteria which colonise your dog’s digestive tract.  PREbiotics are the food on which these friendly bacteria feed and thrive  (they love fibre by the way )
  • Add in some digestive enzymes. These aid the digestion process and improve nutrient absorption. They also help lower inflammation.
  • ESSENTIALLY you must deal with any food allergies, intolerances, sensitivities. Please see the blog post on this from yesterday ! – there’s a reason that was released prior to this one 😉  Food allergies can be at least one of the root causes of the anal gland issue as they may cause diarrhoea, constipation or just general irritation. Deal with this and you are half way there.
  • Add in some additional fibre, even if its temporarily whilst you deal with this issue. As mentioned previously The Bella & Duke meals provide plenty of healthy fibre. However, in certain situations you may require a little more to get things back on an even keel.

NB: Regarding both digestive enzymes and pro & pre biotics, one of my goals this week is to have a reputable brand and source lined up that I can recommend to you. Please watch this space for updates!

The fibre strategy

As per above, there are different sources of fibre and all play a role in your dogs digestive process working happily, healthily and efficiently. Fibre is excellent at “moderating” the transit time in the digestive tract. Where  it is too fast (for example diarrhoea) it can slow it down. Where it is too slow (constipation) it can help speed it up.

Consider fibre as your goldilocks ingredient. You need enough whilst avoiding too much. Ideally you are aiming for your dog to pass one to two stools per day and these should be firm and relatively small, especially compared to the kibble variant!

This transit time is important. The correct amount of time allows your dog to absorb the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients from its food, whilst binding to any toxins and preventing them being reabsorbed into the dogs blood stream.

As well as the “transit time” benefits, fibre provides the food for healthy bacteria and promotes the production of essential fatty acids.

OK, so we all understand the fibre facts. Practically speaking, which ones should we add in and how much?

Firstly, try some ground up leafy greens. Steamed broccoli thats been blended up for example. Aim for 1 teaspoon per 10lbs of body weight twice per day with the meal.

If this doesn’t work add in some psyllium husk. This expands rapidly with water so just a half teaspoon per 10lbs body weight twice a day, mixed in with the meal will be plenty.

And if your dog has what Dr Becker (see link below) calls the long thin “pencil” style stools try adding some Slippery Elm. This is “mucilaginous” , ie it oozes a slimy substance when wet. This mucilage helps calm down inflammation inside the intestine.

How much? As per Psyllium husk. 1/2 teaspoon per 10lbs bodyweight.

We have covered the top 5 what to do roadmap. Let’s quickly cover the what to avoid.

Despite what some practitioners recommend or what you may read on certain forums, please avoid “manually expressing” the glands unless it is specifically recommended.  Generally this will only temporarily relieve the pressure of the gland whilst further inflaming it and potentially infecting it.  However, there are situations where this might be necessary.

Never let anyone remove the glands. (unless there is something specific like a cancer or similar which simply needs to be excised to let the dog live)  If someone suggests removing it simply because it is not working efficiently, please seek an alternative opinion immediately. Cutting things off or out that don’t work is medieval. Let’s just solve the problem and let them heal ? Sound like  great idea? Good.

Please as ever give your much appreciated feedback . It is welcome and invaluable and feel free to contact me if you wish for further explanation!

If you wish to read more on this there are 2 links (both provided on the forum by our super Behaviourist Caroline Spencer)


[Updated] Best Home Remedies For Anal Gland Problems




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