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My dog has had a continued problem biting his bottom and rubbing it along the floor. Someone told me it could be due to his anal glands. He is a three-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and now produces an awful smell from his rear end each time he sits on the sofa. What do the anal glands do and does he need them?

James Farrell advises…

The anal glands are there purely to make a smell. They are expressed during a dog’s scenting behaviour to mark their territory. The domestic dog has little need for them and they can be troublesome in some breeds, often in small ones like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

The glands are small balloon-like sacs that sit at four and eight o’clock positions around the bottom. The ducts from them – the neck of the ‘balloons’ – empty through the last muscle sphincter round the bottom. Odorous material will build up in them over time and the dog will usually empty them himself as he squeezes his bottom muscle.

Sometimes they can overfill or the ducts gets blocked and this can lead to them bursting, allowing dirty material to leak into the tissues around the bottom, causing a serious infection. It is a very painful condition, called an anal gland abscess, and needs to be treated by a vet urgently. Other times, the material, instead of being brown and pasty, becomes yellow and watery and this is a persistent anal gland infection. These are often very difficult to get rid of and your vet may advise sedation to flush the glands and fill them with antibiotics.

A number of things can be done to deal with anal gland problems. Regular visits to the nurse at your vet practice to have the glands expressed will prevent build-up of material and reduce the amount of discharge ending up on your sofa. Ensuring that he has a well-balanced diet with plenty of fibre also helps to prevent anal duct blockage.

In addition to the flushing of the glands, it is possible to remove them surgically, as the dog does not need them. This provides a permanent solution and is essential in cases where a tumour has been found within the gland (an uncommon finding, usually affecting older, large-breed bitches). Surgical removal is quite a delicate procedure and it is important that it is performed carefully, to prevent recurrence of infection. The dog is quite tender after the operation for two to three days as the bottom is sore and swells, but once over this period, the patients recover well and never have a problem with the glands again – and the smell is gone too!

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