A healthy Boxer should never need his anal sacs expressed.
The best way to keep your Boxer’s anal sacs working properly is to feed a fresh, species-appropriate diet based on raw meaty bones.
This food will produce dense, firm poops that naturally express your dog’s anal sacs every time he does his business.
It’s also important to keep your dog’s exposure to drugs and other chemicals as low as possible, as the anal sacs are one route the body uses to expel toxins .. and any excess can contribute to irritation and dysfunction.
This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.
What Do A Dog’s Anal Sacs Do?
A dog’s anal sacs (often called anal glands) are two small pouches located just inside the anus, one on either side.
They’re positioned at about eight o’clock and four o’clock and empty via ducts just inside the anus.
Each sac is lined with oil and sweat glands.
Their purpose is to release smelly secretions that are unique to your dog, a kind of signature scent.
When your dog poops, he’s not only eliminating waste … he’s also leaving a canine calling card of sorts, which communicates with other dogs in the neighborhood.
The anal sacs are emptied not only when your dog poops. They can also release when he’s stressed.
Dogs can literally smell fear on each other.
These anal sac secretions are why dogs spend so much time sniffing each other’s rear ends.
You can tell a lot about another dog from his scent.
It also explains the delightful habit dogs have of sometimes sniffing one another’s poop.
You may have noticed your Boxer even goes to some effort to deposit his droppings atop plants and bushes.
The intent is much the same as when a male Boxer hikes his leg super high to pee on a fire hydrant or tree.
It’s natural canine instinct in action.
The more elevated the scent, the more likely it will be found by other dogs .. and the more effectively your dog will have marked his territory.
A whole lot is going on during those potty breaks!
Contrary to some mistaken belief, both male and female dogs have anal sacs and both do scent marking in this way.
Signs Your Boxer’s Anal Sacs Are Blocked
If your Boxer has blocked or impacted anal sacs, it means the secretions have accumulated and are not being properly released during normal movement and defecation.
The anal sac secretions are supposed to be a semi-oily brownish fluid.
It’s thought this fluid may play a role not just in scent marking but also in lubricating stool.
But when things aren’t flowing as they should, this fluid can become thick or semi-solid.
The build-up of material can become uncomfortable.
If it persists, it can lead to inflammation (anal sacculitis) and ultimately, infection.
These conditions are broadly referred to as anal sac disease (ASD).
If your dog has swollen anal sacs, he may:
- “scoot” or drag his butt across the ground in an effort to empty the anal sacs
- lick or bite at his butt (or chase his tail) in an effort to relieve discomfort
- appear uneasy
- show discomfort when sitting
- emit a foul-smelling “fishy” odor from his rear end
- have difficulty defecating or become constipated
- scratch and shake his ears (According to Veterinary Partner, an online resource for vets and vet students, this is “referred discomfort” where a sensation is generated in one body part, but felt in another)
Expressing A Boxer’s Anal Sacs
Not that Boxers, with their easy care coats, often find themselves at the dog grooming salon … but be aware that dog groomers sometimes offer anal sac expressing as part of their service.
This is absolutely not necessary. Nor is it advisable.
Even veteran dog groomer Sherri Glass, who’s taught at Cornerstone Dog Grooming Academy in Clyde, Ohio, acknowledges as much in an interview with PetMD.
“If dog owners would meet their dog’s nutritional needs with high-quality food, keep them at proper weight, and provide plenty of good exercise,” Glass says “Most dogs would not need to have the anal sacs expressed.”
Your dog’s anal sacs are self-expressing and do not need tampering with.
Do not do this, and don’t let any groomer or vet do it either.
As Dogs Naturally Magazine Editor-in-Chief Dana Scott warns, “All that repeated squeezing and pinching can cause more inflammation, swelling and injury.
“Regular expressing can make the anal glands dependent and then they won’t work well on their own.”
But what is a vet actually doing when they express a dog’s anal sacs?
Anal sacs can be manually emptied by applying pressure externally or by inserting a finger into the anus and squeezing the sac, which will feel like a grape when full. The procedure is repeated on both sides.
The anal sac secretions may shoot out with quite some force. It can be a messy and unpleasant procedure for the vet, not to mention for your dog.
The internal procedure in particular can injure your Boxer, but neither is a good idea.
If your vet says this is necessary, make sure you understand what symptoms are leading her to conclude there is an anal sac problem.
The conversation should include a discussion of what is causing the anal sacs not to empty as they should.
Without addressing the cause, your Boxer’s anal sacs won’t be restored to normal functioning.
What Does It Mean If Your Boxer’s Anal Sacs Are Blocked?
If your Boxer has a blockage in his anal sacs, this problem is not occurring in isolation.
It’s usually an indication there is something wrong with your dog’s diet.
It may be a problem with what he is being fed, or how it’s being fed.
A Boxer eating plenty of raw meaty bones as part of a natural diet will be consuming enough fiber, and producing poops that are firm enough and bulky enough to naturally express the anal sacs when he poops.
Poops that are runny or too soft will not provide enough pressure to express the anal sacs as intended.
If your Boxer’s anal sacs are clogged, ask yourself:
- Am I feeding kibble or canned dog food?
If so, you have found the cause of your dog’s anal sac dysfunction.
Ditch the highly processed food, get your dog eating a natural canine diet .. and the problem will sort itself out.
If you are already feeding a raw meaty bone-based diet and still having anal sac problems … examine exactly what you are feeding and in what proportions.
You may want to consider:
- increasing the edible bone content of your dog’s diet
- adding fiber in the form of fur eg. roo’s or cow’s ears with fur on
- fasting to promote clearing of the anal sacs
- introducing fruit-only days to increase hydration and flush out
Feed Edible Bone
You do not need to give your dog supplements marketed for anal sac health, or fiber in the human sense. You don’t even need psyllium husk or other “stool bulkers”.
Vets will often advise a “high fiber diet” for dogs with anal sac problems.
But dogs get their fiber from eating raw bones, cartilage, tendons and ideally fur.
Feeding a biologically appropriate, raw diet with plenty of edible bones is the most natural way to meet your dog’s needs and keep every part of his body functioning — including the anal sacs.
Great edible bones for Boxers include chicken frames (carcasses with most of the meat removed) or backs … and lamb necks are perfect recreational bones which a Boxer will consume almost entirely.
For a fiber boost you can give your dog whole prey like rabbits, with the fur on.
Your Boxer will consume a certain amount of the fur, which provides great bulk in the stool and is also thought to have a natural de-worming effect on the gut.
If you don’t have access to whole prey, you can buy treats like cow’s ears or roo’s ears with the fur on.
Find ones that are dehydrated slowly at low temperature, with no preservatives added.
Fast Your Boxer
Fasting stimulates cellular repair and regeneration.
Incorporating regular fast days into your dog’s routine will promote your Boxer’s overall health.
Remember, feeding dogs daily is a human invention.
Wolves and other wild dogs don’t eat meat every day. It’s more like once every three days, at most.
Often they go much longer than that between kills.
Fasting replicates the natural feeding pattern that dogs are adapted to thrive upon.
Feed Your Boxer Fruit
Feeding fruit produces wide, voluminous poops.
As well as the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants provided by fruit, this stool also helps express the anal sacs.
It’s best to feed fruit separately to meat, as it digests much faster.
This is how dogs consume fruit in the wild — as a secondary food when prey is scarce.
It is never consumed at the same time as a meat meal.
Great fruit to feed your Boxer includes:
The high water content of fruit will also help to hydrate your Boxer’s tissues, which can only help the function of the anal sacs.
How To Keep Your Boxer’s Anal Sacs Healthy
As well as feeding raw edible bone, fur, fruit and fasting your Boxer as outlined above .. you can help prevent anal sac issues by:
- giving your Boxer plenty of exercise
- minimizing your dog’s exposure to drugs, chemicals and vaccines
Exercise promotes regular bowel movements.
It also tones the rectal and abdominal muscles which help your dog poop with enough pressure to express the anal sacs naturally.
Drugs, Chemicals And Vaccines
Every chemical that goes into your Boxer’s body must come out.
Detoxification pathways in the liver are constantly working to purify your dog’s body under the constant onslaught of ingested and environmental toxins.
Those toxins are excreted via the primary organs of elimination: the gut and the kidneys ie. in pee and in poop.
But when your dog’s body becomes overloaded with toxic inputs, often the skin is enlisted as a secondary organ of elimination (this is why the skin is referred to as “the third kidney”).
This is what is going on when you see skin eruptions and other symptoms like itching that are commonly misunderstood as “allergies”.
The anal sacs are among the avenues the body uses to expel excess toxins.
Keeping your Boxer’s toxic exposures as low as possible by avoiding:
- lawncare chemicals and weedkillers
- household cleaning chemicals
- chemical worming products, and
.. is one powerful way to reduce the toxic load on your dog’s body.
In the process you’ll be reducing the likelihood of anal sac dysfunction and a whole host of other health problems that result from toxicity.
Is Your Boxer Living His Best Life?
Supercanine is your how-to guide for understanding why your dog has the health niggles he does, and how to heal them before they progress into a full-blown crisis.
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How Common Are Anal Sac Problems In Boxers?
It’s often said that 12 per cent of dogs are affected by anal sac problems.
However, this statistic isn’t quite what it seems.
It’s apparently drawn from a single, very old paper published more than 44 years ago in 1976.
The paper was based on a survey of 3053 dogs presenting at two vet clinics — one in Australia, the other in the UK.
Of these dogs, 12.5 per cent had anal sacculitis.
So this means about 12 per cent of dogs presenting at vet clinics, were there because of anal sac problems.
This does not mean 12 per cent of all dogs in the general population have this problem.
That would obviously be a much smaller figure.
Anal sac problems tend to be more common in smaller breeds, but it can happen to any breed and Boxers are among the dogs affected.
Your Boxer is more likely to have anal sac problems if he is:
- suffering from chronically soft stools (this describes pretty much all kibble-fed dogs)
- often having diarrhea
Anal Sac Removal
Some vets are willing to do anal sac removal surgery on a dog that’s needing his sacs emptied every few weeks.
This should not be done, for several reasons.
Feeding a fresh, raw diet including meaty bones will resolve anal sac issues by addressing the problem at its source.
It’s Risky Surgery
The anal sacs lie between two layers of muscle that control the anal sphincter.
There are a lot of nerves in this area and both the muscle and nerve help control the opening.
This nerve and muscle tissue can be damaged during surgery and your dog could end up with bowel incontinence or leakage.
The surgery will be even more difficult and prone to complications if your Boxer has had ruptured anal sacs in the past, because of the resultant scarring and distortion of the local anatomy.
Sometimes the sacs are incompletely removed, necessitating a second surgery.
Anal Sacs Are Necessary For Cleansing
Anal sac secretions are one way your dog’s body cleanses itself and releases toxins.
Remove the sacs and you take away that outlet and contribute to toxic accumulation in your dog’s body.
Forcing toxins to remain in the body .. leads to further health problems and, ultimately, chronic disease.
Anal Sacs Are Necessary For Communication
Remember all that butt sniffing that is so much part of being a dog?
Having no scent-making anal sacs will impede your dog’s ability to communicate with other dogs.
Complications … And Other Conditions That Can Cause Swelling Near A Dog’s Anus
Abscessed Or Ruptured Anal Sacs
Blocked anal sacs can become complicated if the cause is not addressed and the fluid cleared.
An impacted anal sac that remains unemptied will end up emptying itself another way, by developing into an abscess (pus-filled swelling) and rupturing out through the skin to release the accumulated material.
Infection can result.
If this is the case, your vet will want to prescribe antibiotics and possibly pain killers.
Warm compresses can help.
Some owners might mistake this for rectal bleeding.
Anal Sac Cancer
Adenocarcinoma can show up as a mass on the rectum, combined with swollen lymph nodes.
There may be a large swelling visible in the anal region.
This kind of tumor can affect one or both anal sacs.
Anal sac cancer is uncommon in dogs but can rapidly spread to affect other organs including the lungs and liver.
The cause is unknown, but anal sac cancer has been linked with hypercalcemia (high calcium levels in the blood) and an imbalance in the parathyroid hormone.
Other symptoms of anal sac cancer can include thin ribbon-like stools and back arching.
Inflammation Of Perianal Glands
There are numerous small glands around a dog’s anus and tail base that can become inflamed and itchy.
This is frequently attributed to “allergies”, but may be more a case of toxic accumulation.
See also: Help! My Boxer Has Allergies
If your Boxer has developed a sudden swelling to one or both sides of the anus, it could be worth ruling out a perianal hernia.
Perineal hernias are caused by a weakening or complete failure of the pelvic floor, a muscular partition that separates the pelvic cavity from the perianal region.
As a result, pelvic and abdominal organs like the rectum, prostate, bladder or fatty tissue can be displaced into the area around the anus.
Other Causes Of Scooting In Boxers
Blocked anal sacs are only one cause of scooting in dogs.
- fat overconsumption/overfeeding (the most likely cause)
- itchy skin
- tapeworms (According to Los Angeles-based veterinarian Dr Wendy Brooks it is somewhat of an old wives’ tale that worms cause scooting. Certainly, worms are far from the most likely cause of scooting)
- lower back pain
Anal sacs that need expressing are an early sign of problems brewing in a Boxer’s body, as a result of inadequate diet and toxic exposures.
Kibble can contribute to anal sac problems because it produces unnaturally soft stool that fails to express the anal sacs during defecation.
Fresh, raw food including not only meat and organs but also plenty of edible bones (and ideally, fur) is step one.
A proper diet will keep your Boxer’s anal sacs in tip top shape, as will minimizing toxic exposures to things like drugs and chemicals.
Manually expressing the anal sacs is not the answer and should be avoided.
Feed your Boxer right and let him express himself!
Comparison of anal sac cytological findings and behaviour in clinically normal dogs and those affected with anal sac disease, Danielle J James et al, published in Veterinary Dermatology, April 10 2010