Dear Dr. Forsythe: Two weeks ago my girlfriend and I discovered that our dog Pinot had a serious abscess around her butt. We took her to the vet and he had to do surgery on her anal gland abscesses and even found a large fox tail inside one of them. He used drains and did a good job, and after a few days, things looked a lot better. The one thing I didn't get was that on the follow up, he suggested I bring Pinot back at least once a month to let him drain her anal glands so this won't happen again. That seemed excessive to me. I hate to have to drive a long way and pay every month when I think I can learn to do that myself. What do you say? I bet there is something on the internet to show me how to drain those glands, isn't there?
-- Vineyard Dad
Dear Vineyard Dad:
First of all, I applaud you for getting Pinot into your vet and getting her the proper treatment. Especially since you mentioned the doctor extracted a large foxtail from one side, it would appear that Pinot could have suffered long and hard and may never have fully recovered had you not gotten her professional help.
The germs that can accumulate inside anal glands at the time they swell up and rupture can be quite nasty. There are often bacteria and germs that can enter your pet's bloodstream and cause sepsis. If this happens, your pet can become very sick and develop fever, stop eating, and grow listless and weak. Some animals have even died from such severe infections.
Your veterinarian was smart to recommend monthly anal gland checks. If those glands have become "lazy" and tend to fill up in general, the likelihood of a recurrence is high and they should be expressed professionally.
Although you most certainly could learn to try and express the glands by looking on the internet, that type of education is shady at best. I guarantee that your veterinarian did not get his veterinary degree online, and I suspect if you make a nice Pinot on your vineyard, you did not learn your winemaking skills online either.
Taking this task upon yourself is not recommended for several reasons. The most important one is that you could easily rupture the gland as you try and squeeze it to empty it. You are putting your pet at risk trying to "do it yourself" and could harm the pet and cause a medical emergency.
The other question that comes to mind when clients ask about learning to empty their pet's anal glands themselves is, Why? I honestly cannot imagine ever doing that task ever again in my life if it weren't intimately associated with my profession and required of me to provide complete five-star service to my patients. Lets face it: it’s an ancillary service. We charge a nominal fee to do it. When emptying the glands, it takes two people, a technician to gently hold the pet and the veterinarian to place the lubricated, gloved finger inside the anus and apply pressure in just the proper way to massage the smelly, pungent, oily, sometimes infected, chunky, noxious, overwhelming, pasty, foul, creamy contents.
So, with all of this in mind, I vote for you to follow your doctor's instructions and take Pinot into the vet's office every month for the next few visits. If, after all that, he is willing to give you a brief lesson in the art of "anal gland expression", you may want take him up on it. On the other hand, perhaps I have been graphic enough for you to decide to let him do the dirty work, and tend to your vineyard duties instead.
- Dr. F