If you notice that your dog is dragging her backside along the ground, chances are she’s got an anal sac problem. The anal sacs are one part of your dog that you’d possibly prefer not to get to know too closely. These two pouches on either side of the anus accumulate a foul – smelling liquid a convocation that seems to work as a wonderful scent marking apparatus and communicates information about its owner to other interested dogs.
The anal sacs usually empty themselves of this liquid when a dog has a bowel movement. But sometimes they don’t fully empty and then they impact, enlarging like tiny balloons and causing a painful sensation.
Your dog will have one of two classic response to this unpleasant situation. She will either “Scoot” her backside across the floor trying to unload the sacs, or she will bite and chew at the area beneath her tail. Both can cause damage.
“You may also notice signs of pain when grooming or petting the dog around the tail area,” says Gene Nesbitt, D.V.M., an animal dermatologist in private practice in Standish, Maine, and a consulting staff dermatologist at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.
The first time you see her doing this, take her to your vet. He will examine the area to determine if the problem is one of simple impaction or whether something else, such as an infection, is going on as well. Then treatment can start.
Draining the Pain:
The good news about anal sac problems is that they are usually easy to control. The most direct method of remedying the situation is to squeeze the sacs and force the contents out. This indelicate task is referred to professionally as “expressing” the anal sacs – it isn’t a job for the faint of heart. Your dog will not thank you while you are performing this service and the smell of the treasure you collect will be enough to bring tears to your eyes. You can take your dog to the vet whenever she seems to be suffering and get him to do the expressing. But an anal sac problem can recur, because although it is easy, if unpleasant, to remedy, it can he hard to cure.
You could be seeing a lot of your vet, so you may want to ask him to show you how expressing is done. Always try it for the first time at your vet’s office, so you can be supervised and helped out if you change your mind – you may find you prefer periodic visits to the clinic after all.
If you decide you’re up to the task, you will always need a helper, someone to hold and have firm control of your dog while you are down at the business end. You may also want to muzzle your dog. This is important because even a gentle dog can bite when in pain, and expressing the anal sacs can be painful.
The procedure is accomplished by firmly grasping and raising your dog’s tail so that the anus is puckered. You should now be able to see the anal sac openings at the five and seven o’clock positions of the anus. Make sure you are wearing either surgical or latex gloves on the hand that is actually going to do the deed. Then, put your index finger on the side of one sac and the thumb on the side of the other and gently press thumb and forefinger together, forcing the anal sac contents out of the openings. It is important to use a touch that is firm enough to force the contents out of the sacs but not so firm as to damage the walls of the sacs and cause them to rupture and become infected. And have a gauze or tissue in your gloved hand to collect the smelly material. You don’t want it ending up anywhere but there.
Whether you or your vet are doing the expressing, the pressure can usually be relieved immediately. However, your dog may continue to feel pain or itching in the area, in which case you’ll need to undertake some additional care at home. This could be as simple as getting your dog to sit in some water to which you have added Epsom salts or an antiseptic. If the area is infected, your vet will prescribe antibiotics for you to administer.
You should also discuss your dog’s diet with your vet, as a small food change could actually fix a recurring problem. “Since the anal sacs normally empty at the time of defecation, a soft or poorly formed bowel movement may pass without causing the sacs to empty.” Says Dr. Nesbitt. He explains that diarrhea is one of the most common causes of anal sac problems. “After considering other medical causes, a change in the diet to one that creates more bulk may be helpful,” he advises.