Critter Love: Don’t try this at home

So there I am with a pair of latex gloves on and a wad of paper towels in one hand, probing around my dog’s backside. Russell is a small dog, in the 25-pound range, but his rear-end is a mysterious thing, full of coat and undercoat and brambles and pine needles and credit card receipts, etc.

What I was attempting to do with this intimate procedure was to ‘express’ his anal glands, which, since I adopted him eight months ago, have been a source of bother to him and me.

If you’ve never had a brush with anal glands, consider yourself lucky. Also called “anal sacs” (note the racy lack of a ‘k’ there), anal glands are located at both sides of a dog’s anus. They produce a viscous, fishy-smelling fluid that dogs find alluring but people generally find objectionable. When dogs poke their noses in each others’ butts, this is what they’re going for.

Now, I know that some of you will blanch at the sight of the word “gland” here, and I’m sorry for that. But just as dogs have anuses, so too do they have anal glands. These are the facts, and it is my job to report them.

Like any other sacs you might think of, anal glands occasionally become full. If things go along as nature intended, they’re emptied or ‘expressed’ when a dog eliminates. In former times, when dogs’ diets consisted mainly of gravel and shrew’s heads, this happened with some regularity. But today’s glands aren’t exposed to the same rigors as glands-past, and they suffer likewise. Besides a conspicuous amount of butt-chewing, a dog with uncomfortably full glands may be given to propelling themselves across the yard, rug, or, in Russell’s case, duvet, in a maneuver I like to call the “poot scoot.”

Last summer I took Russell to the vet, who for a modest fee emptied his glands and doused him with a little perfume. It helped for a while. But some time in late August his glands announced themselves again, so in the interest of finances I decided I’d learn how to do the job myself. For you DIY types, there are ample anal gland resources on the Web. One has a lengthy video showing the procedure, including a gratifyingly large amount of fluid being expressed. Another takes the form of a simple video game.

At the time I started grappling Russell’s hind end a few weeks ago, he was chewing on a piece of rawhide, the very picture of contentment. I felt around where I figured the glands would be per the video mentioned above, and squeezed. Nothing. I squeezed again, a little harder this time. Russell dropped the rawhide in an unmistakable “What the …?” gesture. I recalibrated and tried again. Nothing.

I’m happy to report that our man-dog bond has survived this ordeal, but my faith in my home-veterinary skills has not. From here on out, I think I’ll limit myself to trimming his nails and wiping the snot from the corner of his eyes, taking him to the experts for anything more elaborate. And while I can’t know for sure, I suspect he’s OK with this arrangement.

— Kent Priestley, staff reporter


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2 thoughts on “Critter Love: Don’t try this at home

  1. I find it vaguely horrifying that i’ve read about “expressing anal glands” twice in the same week, now.

    Perhaps the greatest web comic of all, Penny Arcade, gave their penetrating insights on the subject on Monday.

    Whatever the case, you know, good luck with that.


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