"Skunk glands" is a slang term for a dog's anal sacs, which are two small embedded pouches positioned on either side of the anus. Dubbed "skunk glands" because of the foul-smelling secretions they produce, anal sacs go virtually unnoticed by some dog owners, but become the bane of their existence for others.
Ranging from the size of pea to the size of a hazelnut, the anal sacs are embedded between the internal and external anal sphincter muscles on each side of the anus. The sacs are lined with sebaceous glands that produce oily, semi-liquid, malodorous secretions that collect in the sacs. Small ducts connect the sacs to the inside of the anus. When your dog defecates, the anal glands are squeezed and a small amount of anal fluid is released along with it.
Anal sac secretions serve as canine calling cards. When your dog defecates and leaves his stool with a hint of anal sac fluid, it's a way for him to mark his territory and make his presence known to other dogs. So if you've ever wondered why your pooch is so interested in smelling every pile he finds, he's just trying to find out who's been walking through his neighborhood. Additionally, it's not uncommon for dogs to secrete anal sac fluid when scared or startled. Some dogs seem to lack control over their glands and may release secretions while stretching or even resting.
Eighty-eight percent of dogs never develop problems with their anal sacs. For the 12 percent who do, however, the anal sacs are a painful and pungent problem for both dog and owner. The most common anal sac disorder is impaction. Other problems include bacterial infections, abscesses, ruptures and tumors. Signs that your dog may have an anal sac disorder include scooting on his bottom across the floor, excessive licking or biting at the base of the tail or anal area, discomfort during defecation, blood or pus leaking from the anus, and biting, growling or yelping if his tail or anal area are touched.
Impacted anal sacs can typically be relieved by having them expressed or flushed by your vet. If an infection is present, your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics or inject them directly into the sacs. Abscesses, ruptures and tumors require surgical procedures and precise aftercare. For dogs with chronic issues, anal sac removal is a viable option. Removing the anal sacs is a delicate, specialized procedure that in most cases should be performed by a board-certified veterinary surgeon. If performed correctly, removal has absolutely no adverse effect on your dog's quality of life and, of course, vanquishes the "skunk gland" problem forever.
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images