Question: Our three-year-old Bichon Frise, Lexi, has been suffering with anal sac issues for a while now, and our vet has advised us to have her anal glands surgically removed. Can you explain the problem to us and suggest any natural remedies please?
T.L. via email
Answer: Anal glands can be very troublesome in some dogs, especially small breeds, and many owners will no doubt be familiar with the foul-smelling fluid that the glands secrete.
Situated on each side of the anus at roughly the four o'clock and seven o'clock positions, the glands—also called sacs—normally empty their fluid each time a dog (or cat) defecates. But if this action doesn't happen on a regular basis, the fluid can build up in the sacs over time. Often this is because the stools are not firm enough to apply sufficient pressure to squeeze the glands. The problem is extremely rare in cats.
Signs and symptoms
Anal gland problems can cause discomfort, itchiness and sometimes anal gland abscesses. Dogs will often rub their bottom along the floor ('scooting') in an attempt to apply pressure to the anal sacs to empty them. Another sign is excessive licking of the area.
It's important to examine your dog's rear end at least once a week to check if there is any abnormal redness or swelling.
Anal gland abscesses are very painful and need prompt veterinary intervention. A vet will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics and some anti-inflammatory drugs. In severe cases, your pet may need to be sedated and have the gland lanced, drained and flushed with antibiotics.
If your dog suffers from persistent anal gland problems, surgical removal may be recommended as a last resort.
Your vet can manually empty the glands, but, in my experience, it is not a good idea to do this repeatedly as it can increase inflammation and impaction—and even stop them from emptying naturally.
Before resorting to surgery, try the following natural remedies.
If your dog is showing signs of having impacted anal glands, try massaging the area around the anus with a warm flannel, which may cause the glands to empty. Small dogs can also be placed in a warm bath, with or without Epsom salts, and gently dragged across on their bottoms to empty the glands.
A good diet can help prevent anal gland problems. Feed Lexi a high-fiber diet with added vegetables like broccoli and carrots, as this can help the stools become firmer, encouraging the glands to empty naturally. Also ensure that your pet's food has at least two high-quality meat sources.
Treating any underlying food intolerances or allergies may resolve the anal gland issues, as there may be a connection. If your dog is chewing her feet or licking excessively, this could signal an allergy, so try feeding her a hypoallergenic diet.
In my experience, dogs fed a raw diet seldom suffer with anal gland issues or allergies. If you decide to try this type of diet, go for organic raw foods that have been properly prepated using high-pressure processing (HPP), which destroys pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria that may be present in raw meat.
HPP does not use heat, which ensures the nutritional integrity of the raw product. According to the North American Raw Pet Food Association (NARPA), 70 percent of raw food manufacturers are using this method.
Using HPP commercial raw food is especially important if your dog is immune-compromised or if there are infants and toddlers or elderly people in the household who are health-compromised.
Glandex is an all-natural product specifically designed for dogs and cats with anal gland problems. It contains pumpkin seed powder, probiotics and digestive enzymes. Many of my clients have reported good results with it.
Protexin Pro-Fibre is a high-fiber supplement available in the UK that can also help resolve anal gland issues.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil and flaxseed oil, can help anal gland impaction. Find a high-quality product, such as Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet, and dose according to the label instructions.
Make sure Lexi is getting enough exercise—regular physical activity can help to strengthen the rectal and abdominal muscles, which are important for proper defecation and for the glands to work as they should. Aim for 20 minutes twice a day.
Silica is a popular homeopathic remedy for this problem and may help relieve discomfort.
Suggested dosage: 3-5 pellets of Silica 6C twice a day for 3 days
Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM)
There are some excellent Chinese herbs and formulas that can help with recurrent anal gland problems. Consider consulting with a TCVM-trained vet, who can prescribe the appropriate remedies.
Flaxseed biscuits for dogs and cats
Flaxseed, also known as linseed, contains a unique balance of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, as well as a host of amino acids, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Adding it to your dog or cat's diet may help to prevent anal gland problems. Here's a simple recipe.
¾ cup (130 g) ground flaxseed meal
¾ cup (100 g) plain or self-rising flour
1 free-range egg
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp light olive oil
2 level Tbsp dried eggshells (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C. Grease an 8 × 11-inch (20 × 29-cm) baking tray.
2) Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl until the mixture comes together to make a soft dough.
3) Spread dough evenly over the baking tray, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the tray. Cut into bite-sized squares.
4) Keep in an airtight, labeled container in the fridge for up to three days, or freeze for up to one month.
Variation: add a handful of finely chopped herbs like sage, thyme and parsley.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com