A fixed female dog that smells like fish may have an issue with her anal glands. Anal glands hold liquid that smells like fish. If a dog cannot expel this liquid when she defecates, the secretions are trapped inside the glands, and the dog starts to smell fishy.
Dogs can bring many unwanted smells into your home. They can smell like garbage, feces, or the ever-dreaded wet dog smell. But what if your dog smells… fishy? The answer might gross you out even more than if your dog was rolling in garbage.
So what’s the source of this fishy smell, particularly in your fixed family dog? It’s all related to your dog’s anal glands.
The anal glands hold secretions that have a distinct fishy odor. This odor isn’t normally present, so if your dog is smelling fishy, there’s a problem with her anal glands.
Anal Gland Basics: What You Need to Know
Anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are present in all dogs and cats. They are two small, oval-shaped internal glands on both sides of the anus.
The sacs are full of sweat glands that produce an unpleasant, fishy smell and act as a scent marker for your dog. These secretions hold chemicals that dogs use to mark their territories.
Each scent is unique to the dog that produces it. Every time a dog defecates, a few drops of secretion are emptied out of the anal glands and into the feces. This is also known as “expressing” their anal glands.
These secretions are what dogs are getting a whiff of when they smell each other’s feces or anuses to “get to know each other.”
Besides when they defecate, dogs also express their anal glands when they’re feeling scared. Both intact and fixed dogs have anal glands, so the fishy smell can occur regardless of their gender or ability to reproduce.
Signs of Anal Gland Issues
You may be able to physically see the problem with your dog’s anal glands (redness and swelling). But you’re more likely to notice the effects the problem has on your dog through their behavior.
The first thing you might notice if your dog has problems expressing her anal glands is a fishy odor. The secretions held in the anal glands are fishy-smelling, but if they can’t be expressed, the secretions are stuck inside the glands, and the dog will start smelling fishy herself.
This smell can be confused with bad breath, so it’s worth a mention at your next routine visit with your vet.
“Scooting” On The Ground
This is a common sign of an anal gland problem. If your dog is dragging or scooting her bottom on the ground, she may be trying to relieve discomfort in her glands.
Excessively Licking or Itching Her Behind
Another means of relieving discomfort around the anal glands, your dog may continuously lick or scratch around the base of her tail rather than the anus.
If you notice your dog is straining to defecate or taking a very long time to produce a bit of stool, it may be caused by a problem with the anal glands. Your dog may even whine while she’s trying to defecate because of how painful it is.
Besides whining while straining to defecate, your dog may vocalize her discomfort more frequently to let you know that something is wrong.
Swelling of the anal glands
Besides changes in your dog’s behavior, you may notice physical signs of an anal gland problem like red and swollen glands on either side of her anus.
Leaking Anal Gland Secretions
If you see mystery liquids on the floor inside your house, it may leak anal gland fluid. These liquids can include blood and pus and can be present in your dog’s stool or around its anus.
Causes of Anal Gland Problems
Anal gland problems can be very painful and stressful for your dog. There are a few different causes of anal gland problems. While some are avoidable, others are inherent to your dog’s genetics and health.
Anal glands must be expressed regularly, but they need the pressure created by firm stools to pass over the glands for them to express. If your dog’s stool is too small or loose, the anal glands will not be triggered to express. This can lead to anal sac disease and other complications.
Allergies can cause reactions in different areas of your dog’s body. This can include inflamed skin on the rear around the anal glands. This will irritate the glands and cause discomfort to your dog when she defecates.
Dog is Overweight
Dogs that are overweight have frequent anal gland problems because their glands do not empty as well as those in dogs of average weight.
Frequent and recurring anal gland impaction is possible and may lead to anal gland removal surgery.
Dog is Small
Small dogs are predisposed to anal gland problems and may need their glands expressed regularly. This could be because smaller breeds are inherently more anxious than larger breeds, and these nerves give way to softer stools.
Anal Sac Disease
Any of these causes can lead to severe problems in the anal glands, like anal sac disease. Anal sac disease occurs when a dog’s anal sacs become plugged up or “impacted” and can no longer express the secretions held in the anal sacs.
Once the anal sacs are impacted, the secretion trapped inside them will thicken and cause the sacs to swell. This will make it very painful for your dog to defecate.
The bacteria in his feces will make its way to the anal sacs. While typically the bacteria would be expelled through emptying the anal sac secretions, if your dog cannot defecate to express the secretions, the bacteria is stuck in the anal glands and they become infected.
Eventually, abscesses will form on both anal sacs, and they’ll swell up with bloody pus and be painful to the touch. If the abscesses burst, the pus will be released, and bacteria can get into the open wounds. This can lead to a nasty infection.
Treating anal Gland Issues
If you smell that fishy odor and see that your dog’s anal glands are red, swollen, leaking, or your dog is constipated, take your dog to the vet. The veterinarian will determine if the anal glands are the problem and the best way to empty your dog’s anal glands.
Your vet may have to express the anal glands manually, which will relieve the dog of built-up secretion. Any odor should dissipate after the glands are expressed.
Both vets and dog groomers typically know how to provide this service. If your dog’s anal glands are not naturally expressed on their own and need to be regularly expressed manually, your vet may teach you how to do it from the convenience of your own home.
Yes, this may seem very unpleasant, but it will be a huge relief for your dog and get rid of the constant fishy smell.
Another course of action your vet might take is prescribing a high fiber dog food to help firm up your dog’s stool consistency. This will increase the dog’s chances to express its own anal glands.
If the impaction of anal glands has progressed to a severe infection, the vet may have to sedate your dog to remove hardened secretions stuck in the glands. A softening agent can be used on the secretion to ease the process of emptying.
Antibiotics will be administered orally or directly into the impacted sacs to fight the infection. Pain medicine will be prescribed for recovery.
If severe anal gland problems persist, your vet may recommend surgery to remove the glands altogether. Some side effects of removal include incontinence, but most dogs live perfectly happy and healthy lives without anal glands.
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Bryan Harkins is an avid dog lover and the proud owner of dogdorable.com, a website dedicated to all things canine. With years of experience working with dogs, Bryan is passionate about providing valuable information, tips, and resources to help pet owners provide the best possible care for their furry companions.