Anal glands: Finding relief through diet

A common issue dog owners encounter is scooting or dogs dragging their bottom along the ground. They do this to try and express their anal glands – these are two scent glands that are at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock position on the inside of the rectum that fill with sebaceous secretions similar to the oil that coats your hair follicles. Normally, these glands will naturally express themselves when the stool passes through the anus, however in some pets this doesn’t work as well as they should. When anal glands do not get naturally expressed, they can become swollen and blocked which can then cause infections or abscesses due to the build up of material. This is called anal succulitis or anal gland impaction.

Scooting is one way pets show signs that their glands are impacted

Why dogs get impacted anal glands:

  • Chronic diarrhea and constipation
  • Chronic skin conditions and allergies
  • Gastrointestinal disease and dysbiosis
  • Obesity
  • Anatomical malformation
  • Breed/size
  • Diet

That’s right, diet is a key reason pets have issues with their anal glands! Looking back over the list of causes of anal gland impaction, there’s a number of points there that can also be improved through diet. When I discuss dietary management with clients, they often don’t realise how all the roads lead back to nutrition; if your pet is having chronic issues with their glands, they likely have issues with toileting, which means they probably have a gastrointestinal issue or an allergy, which means they would benefit from a diet change on a number of levels.

The position of canine anal glands inside the rectum

So how does diet help?

There’s a few ways. First of all, if there is diarrhea or constipation (or both alternating) this needs to be addressed; both of these conditions benefit from an increase in fibre to bulk out the stool, which in turn benefits anal gland issues by placing gentle pressure on the glands to naturally express during defecation. If your pet is overweight, starting on a weight control diet is probably also a good idea as excess weight particularly around the tail base, can hinder the expression of the glands. In addition, many weight loss diets have increased fibre to make the pet feel fuller, meaning you can attack both problems at once.

Increasing fibre in the diet can be done with supplements such as psyllium husk, however I usually recommend a dietary change as it guarantees you are getting the right balance of insoluble and soluble fibres. Also, being that it is quite common for dogs with anal gland issues to experience gut dysbiosis, its also important that a source of prebiotic fibre is present in the diet. You can read more about fibre here.

Fats are also important to consider when considering a diet for pets with anal gland issues. Yes, that sounds confusing when I just said we want to maintain a healthy weight. What I am referring to is healthy fats. Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory and can help relieve the pain and swelling associated with inflamed anal sacs. Fish oils that are rich in omega 3’s, can help lubricate the stool and protect the sensitive structures inside the rectum from damage from hard stools and may help prevent constipation. I’d recommend either adding a veterinary fish oil supplement, or choose a high fibre diet that contains a fish oil source (or high omega 3 content). In turn, the omega 3 fatty acids are great for pets with skin allergies as they rebuild the skin barrier and help soothe itchy skin, that often goes hand in hand with anal gland issues.

If you suspect your pet has food allergies, it may be worthwhile conducting a food elimination trial with your veterinarian or nutritionist. Sometimes food allergies, although uncommon, can cause skin irritation and gastrointestinal problems which can exacerbate anal gland issues.

Unfortunately, there are not currently any key nutritional factors that have been set out specifically for anal gland issues in dogs. However, if you look at the key nutritional factors for pets with fibre-responsive conditions such as constipation and diarrhea, these give a good idea on the percentages to look for. I typically use diets that contain greater than 7% fibre, are highly digestible and contain a source of fish oil or omega 3’s. Most commercial foods do not contain enough fibre that is required to manage conditions that require a high-fibre diet, therefore a prescription diet such as Hills W/d, Hills Gastrointestinal Biome, Royal Canin High Fibre, Royal Canin Satiety or Purina ProPlan Overweight Management is preferred in most cases, even just for short term and then transition onto an over the counter food which is designed for digestive health. These prescription diets all contain well above the minimum fibre requirement, and contain fish oil (except for W/d) making them ideal for management of anal gland impaction.

What about supplements?

Many supplements claim to relieve anal gland impaction or promote natural expression, preventing impaction or infection. These supplements are usually a fibre supplement that may contain probiotics, pumpkin, psyllium husks, omega fatty acids and digestive enzymes. They sound great in theory, but they don’t currently have any scientific studies to support their efficacy. As I said above, getting the balance of fibres is important and its usually difficult to achieve therapeutic levels of fibre in a supplement alone. The other thing to consider is although probiotics are helpful, in an already compromised patient they may not work effectively – if you are giving a fibre supplement or fibre rich diet, you want a source of prebiotic fibre, to feed the good bacteria and support the microbiome to create its own probiotics. Supplements may not contain enough CFUs to actually benefit the pet, or contain strains that are host specific. Read more about probiotic supplements in my last post here.

Anal gland issues can be improved with diet, but if your pet continues to have severe impactions, infections and abscesses, it may be necessary to discuss surgical options with your veterinary surgeon if dietary therapy has failed to remedy the condition. Some dogs are unfortunately prone to ongoing issues as a result of their anatomy and position of their glands, so would likely benefit from more advanced treatments.

Does your pet suffer from frequent anal gland impaction or infections? Have you considered their diet could be contributing? Leave us a comment below and share your experience with anal gland issues!

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Image of healthy and blocked anal glands:

Image of dog scooting: