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The truth about the breed

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Anal Glands and The Kerry Blue


© Copyright © 2012 Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation

This is a discussion we don’t talk about often yet it is a very important part of keeping our Kerry’s in optimum health. Anal gland issues can cause your Kerry serious discomfort and can cause them to emit a foul smell not appreciated by owners and company alike.

Some owners will take their Kerry to the vet routinely to have the anal glands evaluated and expressed; others may feel comfortable enough to do this on their own. Either way attention to anal glands is an integral part of keeping our furry friends healthy!

Anal gland disease is a common problem in dogs. The anal glands, also called 'anal sacs,' can become impacted, infected, and abscessed. Affected pets may lick the anal area, 'scoot' along the floor, or have problems with defecation. This behavior is most commonly linked to anal glands, not to worms, as is commonly believed.

As the dog is viewed from behind, anal glands are located on each side of and slightly below the anal opening, at the 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock positions. A tiny duct or tube leads from the gland under the skin to an opening directly beside the anus.

All predators, whether they are canines or felines in the wild or skunks in your backyard, have anal glands. They just use them differently. Skunks discharge the secretion from these glands as a form of defense, while dogs use it primarily for territorial marking or as a form of communication.

In dogs, every time a stool is passed, it should put enough pressure on the anal glands that some of the secretion is deposited on the surface of the stool. Other dogs are then able to tell who has been in the neighborhood, just by sniffing the stools they find. Additionally, dogs recognize each other by smelling each other in the general area of the anus, since each animal's anal glands produce a unique scent.

Diseases of the Anal Glands

Anal gland impactions, infections, and abscesses can occur. For various reasons, such as the conformation of the animals, the thickness of the gland's secretions, or the softness of the stool, these glands and their ducts often become clogged, or 'impacted.' When this occurs, the animal will sit down on its rear quarters and drag its anal area across the fl oor or ground. This is called 'scooting.' Dogs may lick the anal area excessively. Impacted anal glands are a very, very common problem for dogs.

Anal glands may also become infected and abscess. Bacteria make their way into the glands, probably through the ducts. This is a very painful condition, and the fi rst sign you may see is that the animal attempts to bite or scratch when you touch the area near the tail.

Diet and Health for Anal Glands

  1. Give Them Veggies. Trying a new diet that is considered a high quality food is the best gift you can give to your pet. Choose one that has at least two meat sources listed among the fi rst three ingredients (as long as your Kerry can tolerate this). Add fi ber to your pet's diet as well. Some pet food products contain vegetables, or you can add fresh vegetables yourself. The fiber will absorb water in the intestines to create larger stools that exert more pressure on the glands. Cooked Broccoli and raw or cooked carrots are the most popular. Avoid onions.
  2. Give them a soak. Use either a sitz bath or compress. If your Kerry will tolerate sitting in a warm "sitz bath" for ten minutes once or twice a day, this might be the best treatment. Use a two to one ratio of warm water to Epsom salts (about one cup of salts to two gallons of water). For the compress, hold a warm cloth soaked in the same Epsom salt solution to the animal's anal area for ten minutes; having the animal sit on the compress is another alternative. You can also try placing your hand over your pet's rear and gently rocking it back and forth. This will often assist them in draining.
  3. Exercise your pet. Regular exercise strengthens abdominal and rectal muscles which can put more pressure on the sacs so they drain.
  4. Soothe with silica, a common natural remedy. For some pets, this is all you will need. Give them 2-3 drops or 3-5 pellets twice a day for three days.

Expressing Anal Glands

Not all dogs need to have their glands manually expressed as the fluid should be naturally expressed a small amount at a time as the dogs have a bowel movement. But sometimes if a dog doesn’t push hard enough to have a stool, then the anal glands may fill up with the foul smelling fluid that emits a foul odor that can become painful to the dog if relief is not sought.

1. Express the anal glands regularly during bath time. The anal glands or sacs are located just inside the anal sphincter muscle at the four and eight o'clock positions, just inside the anal opening. These glands are about the size of a kidney bean normally. As they impact, or become full, they enlarge to the size of grapes.

2. Wear latex gloves. Wet the glove or work in the water and insert the index finger gently (you can also use a small amount of K-Y jelly or other natural lubricant) just inside the dog's anal opening. This is uncomfortable for the dog, so do this slowly and gently.

3. Use the thumb of the same hand and place it on the outside of the anal opening at approximately 7 o'clock. You should feel the anal gland between your fingers.

4. Gently pinch the anal gland between your fingers and the accumulated secretion should squirt out. You should be able to feel the anal sack shrink in size as you're gently squeezing.

5. Move your fingers to the 5 o'clock position and gently squeeze in the same way.

Anal gland abscesses from the impacted gland must be lanced by a veterinarian, and antibiotics are usually given to the Kerry for seven to 14 days. Using warm compresses on the area often helps to relieve some of the pain and reduce swelling. Secondary problems may occur with abscesses, as they may cause scar tissue or other damage that may affect the nerves and muscles in this area. This can cause fecal incontinence, meaning the pet cannot retain its stools.

If an individual pet only has an occasional problem with the gland, they can be dealt with as needed. However, for pets with repeated or chronic problems, surgical removal of the glands is recommended. This procedure is called an "anal sacculectomy”. With the removal of these glands, all problems are eliminated for the remainder of the pet's life. Although a fairly simple procedure, complications such as fecal incontinence can rarely occur.

Don’t underestimate the importance of diet. Dogs with recurrent anal gland impactions are often placed on a high fiber diet. The high fiber makes the ani mal's stool more bulky. The stool will put more pressure on the anal glands as it is passed, and hopefully the glands will express themselves when the animal defecates. There are several commercial brands of high fiber dog food available; however adding pure pumpkin to their food is an inexpensive and simple option. Animals may get supplements with bran or medications such as Metamucil.

As always, be sure to talk to your veterinarian before making any changes including diet that could affect other areas of your dog’s health. Work with your veterinarian for the best approach to keep your Kerry’s anal glands in optimal health.

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