Why do you express a dog's anal glands?

The anal glands are a vestigial organ in dogs, meaning that they used to have a purpose of marking territory with smelly liquid but in modern dogs they don't really do anything. They're a lot like an appendix - there's no point to having them, but sometimes they act up and cause problems for the dog. There are two glands on either side of the dog's anus.

   

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In many dogs, the liquid that used to be used for spraying will build up in the canine anal glands and they get full. The dog will try to "express" them itself by rubbing it's butt on the carpet or licking its rear. "Expressing" the dog's anal glands just means that the liquid gets released.

You will need to get your dog's anal glands expressed if this happens to get the junk out, and it can be a semi-regular thing. You don't need to have a vet do it, but it is pretty gross, so most people do. Often you can have a dog groomer do it as well, and it's pretty cheap in most cases. There is also a risk of infection if you do it wrong - my recommendation is just to go into your vet for it, and if it's too expensive, find one that's cheap.

You should get your vet to show you how at least once if you're planning on doing it yourself. You sort of put your thumb below the side of the anus and push upward, causing the liquid to come out. Be ready for it to smell awful. I wouldn't do it outside a bathtub either, because gunk is going to go everywhere.

There are a couple of long term solutions to this. First is putting the dog on a high-fiber diet, which generally reduces the need for expression. Second is having the glands removed entirely. They're not really necessary, and it's a minor surgery, but there is always a small risk of complications with anesthesia. Also, in some cases dogs have become incontinent. The third option is just to regularly go in to get them expressed. 

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