Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Apocrine glands......well that's a nice way to put it

by User Not Found | Jun 01, 2014

Opossums are fascinating creatures.  They “play dead” when attacked or approached and most of us have seen, or at least heard, of their convincing talent.  Did you also know that they go a step further with their dead act and secrete a foul liquid that makes it actually smell like they are dead and rotting?  Do you know that with a few treats and a little persistence you can teach your dog to do the same?  Well, not exactly.  The “play dead” part is completely achievable and the odor is definitely there, but teaching them to release it on cue is probably not in the cards.  If you haven’t figured out where I’m going with this, I suggest you put down that snack you’re eating before reading on.   

If you’ve witnessed the butt surfing talents of your canine (or feline) friend, dragging his or her ass all over your carpet, the yard or even the kitchen floor, you are familiar with anal glands.  Commonly referred to as “scooting” can earn you an embarrassing trip to the vet for an awkward discussion and the promise of a “what’s that smell” each and every time you get in your car for the next two weeks.  Anal glands are actually called Apocrine glands and they are nothing more than spiffy sweat glands.  Unfortunately, because of the way they secrete sweat, the liquid comes in to contact with the bacteria on the skin and begin to break it down causing and odor.  And since these glands are located in the most bacterial ridden place on the planet, your dog’s butt, foul-smelling is putting it lightly.  It’s a smell you can not mistake and you know it the instant you get a whiff.  So where does it come from?  And for the love of all things holy, why?

Back before dogs were sleeping on couches and lounging poolside, they had to mark their cave or den territory with something to let others know, hey!  This is my pad.  What better way than something that was REALLY strong smelling and entirely unique.  Not only did this mark their territory, it also helped them identify other dogs….enter butt sniffing.  How’s that for a greeting card?  I’ve smelled anal glands far more than I care to admit and for the life of me, I just can’t figure out why they feel the need to get so close to smell it.  I can tell you exactly what that smells like from across the room! 

Your dog is not a skunk, but in times of stress, anal glands which are much like skunk scent glands can be spontaneously emptied in times of stress or excitement. Normally these glands are emptied when your dog goes to the bathroom, but if your dog has soft stool, it may not exert enough pressure on the glands and they may not be emptied on a regular basis.  Other reasons they can fill up are, physical conformation, blockage or impaction and if this continues, the full gland can feel like marbles and naturally can be discomforting to your dog.  When these glands aren’t emptied on a regular basis, filling up can cause other problems like infection and even rupture, trust me, you do not want to go there!  Your dog may lick, bite or chase their tail, scoot or sit uncomfortably and some dogs have trouble standing or may stand and then sit right back down also known as the “what’s wrong with my butt dance”.  My dog will sit stand all the way back to the house and once she gets inside, she hides and/or pants.  I bust out my rubber gloves and the hose.  I know you are jealous right now that I have had the pleasure of performing the anal gland expression time and time again.  It is the highlight of every vet tech or pet owner’s day and is frequently pawned off on groomers. 

You might want to recruit a friend to help and consider how good a friend they are before making your selection.  Believe it or not, dogs actually don’t like having someone stick even a small portion of a finger in their butt and will do just about anything to stop you, from a bite or growl to screaming “Exit Only!”  The proper way to express the glands is to use a rubber glove and a petroleum or water based lubricant.  You need to put your finger in only about an inch and feel for a lump. Anal glands are located around the five and seven o’clock positions in your dog’s anus.  They are like little water balloons in shape with small openings facing outward.  Because of this shape, it can take a little technique to get things moving.  If you want a better description or a picture, I’ll let you Google that one on your own.  I use a paper towel and work to squeeze the liquid in to it but if you have a welders face shield, this is a great time to use it until you perfect your skills.  The liquid should be slightly brown in color and fairly watery, but if your dog is having trouble expressing them on his own, don’t be surprised if the consistency is thicker even like pudding.  Thicker fluid isn’t a good thing and could be the reason that got you here in the first place, but if you are able to empty the gland, this should resolve on its own.  Don’t put more pressure on the gland than you would be willing to put on your own closed eye.  In my experience, those that try to squeeze the glands from the outside are not able to express the gland completely and it can be a lot more difficult and painful for you and for the dog.  And now for clean-up!  I don’t really blast my dog with the hose, but I do try to do this before bath time and if I can’t, I use grooming spray or wipes to clean up afterwards.  You’ll know if you left anything behind. 

You will need to watch or smell for signs of problems because impacted and infected anal glands are not fun.  Antibiotics can clear up some infections, but rarely dogs with continuous problems must have radical intervention, like removal of the glands.  We’ve already discussed how much bacteria is back there, now picture trying to do surgery and heal from that, it’s no easy feat. Let’s hope you never experience that in your lifetime.  Feeding a high quality food is the key to helping your dog maintain a less violated lifestyle.  If your notice your dog’s stool is soft, you can add green beans or even a little canned pumpkin to their food to increase their fiber intake and firm things up.  Don’t get carried away with the pumpkin and never use pumpkin pie filling, they are NOT the same thing.  Veggies, bananas, apples, brown rice and sweet potatoes are a great healthy source of fiber.  It’s not necessary to manually express your dog’s anal glands if they are not having a problem and it’s better to leave them alone so as not to cause damage.  Plus if this is something you do for fun, you’ve got bigger problems.

If you are having a particularly independent streak and want to learn how to do this one your own at home your vet techs or vet are a great real time resource.  Or you can always leave it to the professionals.



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