Treating Soft Stools and Anal Gland Disease in Dogs (without expression)

It’s not normal for a dog to need regular expression of their anal glands.

If the stools are regularly soft, or a dog is suffering from long-term diarrhea, then the anal sacs are not going to be emptied naturally, will become impacted, and need regular expression.

Getting to the bottom of the problem (literally!) could stop scooting forever!

treating anal glands needing regular expression

My dog’s anal glands have had to be expressed for about a year--anywhere from monthly to 8 – 10 weeks. She is still having cow pattie poops. Should I increase her fiber? She eats 1/2 cup of kibble with 1 teaspoon of weight science 2 times a day. Her treats are baby carrots and Greenies teeth brushing. She is a Lhasa/terrier mix. - Stacey

Anal Gland Impaction

Anal glands can become impacted repeatedly for several different reasons.

Causes of Anal Gland impaction

  1. Loose stools

  2. Inflammation

  3. Infection

  4. Tumors/masses

  5. Individual conformation

Loose stools certainly are one and it is probably the most common one, certainly in my experience.

You can also get blocked tubes. The tube that leads from the anal sacs to the outside world becomes blocked. That could be because there are deposits actually within the tube or there is inflammation around the anal area that is compressing the tubes, making them narrower and making them more likely to be blocked.

Finally, you can also get breed problems that just mean the tubes may be coming out wrong or a bit wiggly and narrow and causing problems because of this. In my experience, this seems to be more of a problem in small and toy breed dogs. Although it is still very much the minority who end up needing regular anal gland expression (thankfully!)

Those are the big reasons that we can get anal gland impaction and need frequent expression like Stacey's dog needs.

Loose Stools and Persistent Diarrhea

Persistent loose stools and chronic diarrhea is a completely separate topic, and a large one at that! The number of potential causes is large, and it can be quite tricky to narrow them down or find a treatment that puts a stop to it for good.

Example causes include: food intolerance, parasites, and various infections like Giardia. We can also get inflammatory bowel disease where the guts are not working properly.

Various hormonal problems can cause chronic diarrhea and dogs can get organ disease that does the same. One such example is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, where the pancreas is not producing enough digestive enzymes. We get a watery, sloppy cow pat poop, or one that is very greasy and white because the dietary fats have not been digested.

We need to try and find out exactly why this dog’s stools are abnormal. Why are they like cow pats because that is not normal for any length of time? It might be that your dog has an upset tummy. They ate something they shouldn’t have. It tasted or smelled nice at the time, but it causes a little bit of a tummy upset. But that will quickly resolve, not stick around like this case.

Steps to Fixing the Problem

But really, if the stools are loose for more than a week or two, that suggests that there is an underlying problem that is going to need more treatment than just time.

Getting to the bottom of the problem can sometimes be quite challenging and it can be a long process as you work through a number of different either tests or different treatment trials. Looking into it further can involve taking stool samples and can involve trying different diets. 

If we are changing diets, we need to give that a chance to work and so we are going to need to feed those for about six to eight weeks before we change to a different diet. 

Ensure effective parasite treatment is carried out. Your dog might need blood tests, or imaging with X-rays and ultrasound. There is a whole barrage of potential tests that are going to depend on history, presentation, examination, response to treatment’s a long list!

Even in the case of inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal cancer, it might be that your dog ends up needing to have biopsies of the intestine taken during exploratory surgery, or having an endoscopy performed to have a little look at what the lining of the intestine looks like.

That is a whole different category and, as you can imagine, it can take a long time and sometimes costs can seriously add up.

In the majority of cases, of course, we are not going to have to do any of this at all. It is going to be relatively quick and straightforward. But there is the potential that it might not be so straight forward.

The Role of Fiber

Adding fiber can absolutely help improve stool consistency, depending on the cause of course!

Fiber is really important for the colonocytes, the cells that line the colon. They require fiber to get their nutrition directly from the contents within the intestine. Adding fiber can help improve intestinal health and bulk out the stools. A bulky stool is more effective at emptying the anal glands naturally when your dog toilets.

adding fiber to a dog’s diet can help improve stool consistency and reduce anal gland impaction

You can achieve this by adding canned pumpkin, bran, or Metamucil to your dog’s diet. Although I’d recommend talking to your vet to discuss this before changing or adding anything to the diet. It’s not going to be appropriate in every single dog.

If you're going to get your dog's anal glands expressed anywhere from four to eight weeks, you're going to be there relatively soon so you can have that chat. Discuss what it is you need to do and what the next steps are. 

Your vet will also examine your dog in general. Have a feel of their belly, listen to their heart, and take a history. Just to make sure that there are no other problems going on. Is there vomiting? Is there actually weight loss as well? Is your dog drinking more or urinating more? All of these signs might give clues to help guide you on the next steps to take.

Regular Anal Gland Expression

The next thing to say is that regular expression, while we're going through the investigation and treatment trials, is clearly something that is going to need to be kept up. The last thing we want your dog to develop is an anal gland abscess. 

If the anal glands get full and they are not expressed in time, they are going to start become irritating, which is why dogs will scoot their bum along the ground or start chewing their back-end. Also, the contents will dry out and they will become infected. They can form really painful abscesses that then burst out through the skin.

We don't want that to happen. We need to make sure that regular expression is maintained. And also, if we are expressing them regularly, it is generally a very simple job.

When the contents dry out or they become infected, it can actually be quite challenging to express the anal glands, especially when they are painful already. In these cases we may even need to actually sedate your dog so that we can express them and flush them properly.

What to Do

So the bottom line is, if you've got a dog with any problem, it might be that that problem is actually the result of another issue that needs to be investigated.

In this case, the anal glands are not being expressed naturally because the stool is loose. We need to look at why the stools are loose.

Thankfully though, in the vast majority of cases a few simple changes will be all that is needed to make sure that anal gland expression is not needed on a consistent, frequent basis.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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