Pros and Cons of Dog Gland Removal: Potential Complications and Risks

Pros and Cons of Dog Gland Removal - Potential Complications and Risks - Pet Supermarket

Every dog owner dreads that unmistakable scooting motion. With a rear end firmly pressed to the carpet, Fido is attempting a peculiar, ground-level dance. If you've witnessed this, you've encountered the vexing world of dog gland issues.

In fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a significant percentage of dogs will experience gland-related problems at some point in their lives. This has led many owners to consider the option of gland removal.

But is it the silver bullet solution many hope for, or are hidden complications lurking beneath the surface? In this comprehensive guide, we dive deep into the pros and cons of dog gland removal, equipping you with the knowledge to make the best decision for your four-legged friend.

Understanding Dog Glands

Deep within the rear end of every dog, located just beneath the skin's surface, are two small, pea-sized sacs known as anal glands or anal sacs. These glands produce a distinct, often pungent fluid secreted when feces pass through the anus.

Historically, this fluid served as a unique scent marker, helping wild dogs communicate with one another and establish territory.

Purpose of the Glands in Domestic Dogs

While domestication has minimized these glands' communication roles, they still serve a functional purpose. When your dog defecates, a small amount of glandular fluid is excreted, acting as a natural lubricant.

Additionally, the distinctive scent still plays a role in canine social interactions. It's not uncommon to see dogs sniffing each other's rear ends; they're essentially getting to "know" the other dog through these unique scent signatures.

Common Gland Issues in Dogs

It's not always smooth sailing for these glands. Many dogs experience impactions, infections, or abscesses. An impacted gland does not empty properly, leading to discomfort and the infamous scooting behavior. Infections and abscesses can occur if the impaction isn't addressed.

These issues are painful for the dog and can lead to recurring trips to the vet, making it a persistent concern for many pet owners.

Why Would One Consider Gland Removal?

Given the recurrent nature of gland issues and the discomfort they cause, some dog owners and veterinarians consider gland removal, or sacculectomy, as a permanent solution. It's a way to prevent ongoing gland problems and ensure the dog's comfort.

However, like any surgical procedure, it comes with its own set of risks and considerations.

The Gland Removal Procedure

A sacculectomy is the medical term for surgically removing a dog's anal glands. This procedure is often considered for dogs with chronic or recurring gland issues. It aims to eliminate the root cause of the problem by removing the glands entirely.

The Surgical Process

The surgery begins with the veterinarian making a small incision next to each gland. The glands are then carefully dissected from the surrounding tissues and removed.

Once both glands are taken out, the incisions are sutured closed. Most dogs must wear a protective cone or e-collar to avoid licking or biting the surgical site during recovery.

Anesthesia and Recovery

Sacculectomy is performed under general anesthesia, ensuring the dog is pain-free and unconscious during the procedure. After the surgery, dogs might experience some discomfort or pain, but veterinarians typically prescribe pain medications to manage this.

Recovery is generally smooth, with most dogs returning to normal activities within a week or two. However, monitoring the surgical site for signs of infection or complications is essential.

Post-operative Care

After surgery, keeping the area clean and free from dirt or debris is crucial. Regularly checking the incision site for redness, swelling, or discharge is a good practice.

Limiting your dog's physical activity will also prevent strain or injury to the healing site. Your vet will provide specific post-operative care instructions tailored to your dog's needs.

Benefits of Gland Removal


Eliminating Chronic Issues

One of the most significant benefits of gland removal is the potential to eliminate chronic anal gland issues.

For some dogs, anal gland problems become a recurring nightmare, causing discomfort, pain, and frequent veterinary visits. By removing the glands entirely, these recurring problems are essentially eradicated.

Cost-Effective in the Long Run

While the initial surgery cost might seem high, it can be a more economical solution for dogs that regularly need their glands expressed or treated for infections.

Frequent visits to the vet for gland issues, combined with medications and other treatments, can add up over the years. Investing in surgical procedures can save money in the long term.

Improved Quality of Life

Dogs that suffer from recurring anal gland issues can experience significant discomfort. This can manifest as frequent scooting, licking of the area, or even behavioral changes due to pain.

After gland removal, many owners report seeing an improvement in their dog's overall well-being and happiness, signifying a better quality of life.

Reduced Risk of Infections

Chronic anal gland problems can lead to infections, abscesses, and other complications. The risk associated with these infections is minimized by opting for the removal procedure.

This means less pain and discomfort for the dog and fewer worries for the owner about potential complications from untreated infections.

Potential Complications of Gland Removal

Potential Complications of Gland Removal - Pet Supermarket

Post-Surgical Infections

Like any surgical procedure, gland removal comes with the risk of post-surgical infections. Even with sterile conditions, there's always a chance that bacteria can enter the surgical site.

Signs of an infection may include redness, swelling, discharge, or a foul odor from the incision area. If any of these symptoms are noticed, it's imperative to consult your veterinarian immediately.

Incontinence Issues

One of the more concerning potential complications is the onset of fecal incontinence. The anal glands are located near several crucial structures, including the muscles that control defecation. 

If these muscles are inadvertently damaged during surgery, it can result in a loss of bowel control. While rare, it's a severe complication that can significantly impact a dog's quality of life.

Anesthetic Risks

General anesthesia is typically used during gland removal surgery. While modern anesthetics are incredibly safe, there's always some inherent risk when putting an animal under anesthesia, especially in older or health-compromised dogs.

Reactions can range from mild post-operative grogginess to more severe complications.

Wound Dehiscence

This is a condition where the surgical wound reopens after the procedure.

While this is uncommon, if the dog is excessively active after surgery or the surgical site is not healing well, the stitches or staples might give way, leading to wound dehiscence. This requires immediate veterinary attention and possible further surgery.

Scarring and Discomfort

While vets use techniques to minimize scarring, some dogs might still have noticeable scars after the wound has healed.

Additionally, as with any surgery, there's potential for discomfort or pain during the healing process, which may require pain management and close monitoring.

The Downsides of Gland Removal

The anal glands in dogs serve a purpose. They produce a scented secretion that dogs use for communication, especially during social interactions.

With these glands removed, a dog loses this natural mode of communication, which, for some canines, might lead to changes in social behavior or interactions with other dogs.

Cost of the Procedure

Gland removal isn’t a minor procedure and, as such, comes with a cost. The expenses include the surgery, anesthesia, post-operative care, medications, and follow-up visits.

For many pet owners, this can be a significant financial consideration, especially if the surgery isn't medically necessary but a preemptive or convenient choice.

Recovery Time

Post-surgery, dogs will require a period of rest and recovery. This means limited activity, potentially wearing an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from licking or biting the surgical site, and frequent check-ins to ensure the wound is healing correctly.

This recovery period can be stressful and challenging for active dogs or those not used to being restricted.

Emotional Impact

Surgery, no matter how routine, can be a traumatic experience for some pets.

Being left at the vet, undergoing anesthesia, and then dealing with post-operative discomfort can be emotionally taxing. Some dogs might exhibit signs of anxiety or depression after the procedure.

Potential for Overcorrection

Some pet owners opt for gland removal because of frequent infections or impactions.

However, removing the glands might be considered an overcorrection for a problem that could be managed with less invasive measures, like regular gland expressions or dietary changes.

Natural Alternatives to Surgical Removal

One of the most common methods to prevent complications with the anal glands is to have them regularly expressed. This can be done at your veterinarian's office, or some groomers also offer this service.

If you're feeling brave and have been properly instructed, it can even be done at home. Regular expression helps clear the glands and reduce the risk of impaction or infection.

Dietary Changes

What your dog eats can significantly impact their gland health. High-fiber diets can help to bulk up stools, putting natural pressure on the glands during defecation and helping them to express naturally.

It's always a good idea to consult with a vet before making significant dietary changes, but adding fiber-rich ingredients like pumpkin or bran can sometimes make a difference.

Natural Supplements

Certain supplements can help maintain gland health and prevent complications. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils reduce inflammation and promote overall gland health.

Again, it's crucial to consult with a veterinarian before adding any supplements to your dog's diet.

Regular Check-ups

While not necessarily an "alternative," regular check-ups are vital. A vet can monitor the health of the glands, catch potential issues before they become severe, and advise on whether expression or other interventions are necessary.

Topical Treatments

In cases of minor inflammation or irritation, specific herbal or natural topical treatments can provide relief. Aloe vera, for example, can soothe irritated skin.

However, always ensure any topical product is safe for dogs – they might attempt to lick it off, so it needs to be non-toxic.

Key Considerations Before Opting for Removal

Before opting for any surgical procedure, ensuring the surgery is genuinely needed is crucial. Are the glands frequently impacted or infected? Is your dog in discomfort or pain?

Sometimes, less invasive measures, such as regular expressions or dietary changes, solve the problem without surgical intervention.

Considering the Age and Health of Your Dog

Your dog's age and overall health play a significant role in how they will handle surgery and anesthesia. Older dogs or those with underlying health conditions might face increased risks.

A thorough health check-up and discussion with your veterinarian will help gauge if the procedure is safe for your furry friend.

Post-Surgery Care and Recovery

Like all surgeries, gland removal will require a period of recovery.

This means the pet owner's commitment to ensure proper wound care, administer medications if prescribed, and monitor the dog for any signs of complications. Understanding and being prepared for the post-surgery requirements is essential.

Financial Implications

Surgical procedures can be costly. Before deciding on removal, understand the entire cost involved, from the surgery to follow-up visits and any necessary medications.

Some pet insurance plans might cover the procedure, but checking in advance is crucial.

Potential for Long-Term Complications

Every surgical procedure comes with risks. While many dogs might never face complications post-gland removal, some might.

There's the potential for issues such as wound infections, reactions to anesthesia, or, in rare cases, fecal incontinence. It's essential to weigh these potential complications against the benefits the surgery might offer.


Navigating the decision to pursue gland removal for your dog requires a deep understanding, consideration, and consultation with professionals. While the procedure can offer relief to some dogs experiencing recurrent issues, it's not without its risks and downsides.

By equipping oneself with the right knowledge and weighing the pros and cons, dog owners can make a more informed choice that prioritizes their pet's health and well-being.

Always remember, your veterinarian remains your best ally in making such decisions, ensuring that whatever path you choose, it's in the best interest of your beloved canine companion.