Do Dogs Empty Their Anal Glands When Scared?

Do you ever notice your dog scooting her butt across the carpet and wonder why she is doing it? While it may seem like your dog is either attempting to ruin your upholstery or get an easy laugh out of you, what she's actually doing is attempting to ease irritation from a little-known body part called the anal glands. Every dog has them, and while they have a couple of common uses, they can sometimes emit a foul odor when your dog becomes frightened, which may explain why your dog smells like fish when scared.

Scared Dog Sitting in Dog Bed
Do Dogs Empty Their Anal Glands When Scared?
credit: Photograph by Devon OpdenDries./Moment/GettyImages

What are anal glands?

PetMD describes anal glands as little pouches situated between the internal and external sphincter muscles. Also referred to as anal sacs, these glands can be seen on either side of a dog's anus, and they're lined with both sebaceous and apocrine glands. What comes out of the glands is usually brown in color and fishy in odor. Healthy anal sacs can help your dog mark his territory and assist in the easy passing of stool. Most dogs never encounter any trouble with their anal glands. Sometimes the sacs can become infected or impacted. This is particularly common among small breeds, although issues can arise in any dog, regardless of age, sex, or breed.

When do dogs empty them?

Technically, dogs empty their anal sacs every time they defecate. Sometimes, dogs can also empty their anal sacs when they become scared. The fluid inside the anal sacs can shoot or spray outward when your dog becomes scared, not as a deterrent or protective measure, but more likely thanks to an involuntary contraction of the sphincter muscles. Dogster also notes that in addition to fear triggering a spray response, any type of excitement can cause a dog to express their anal glands, including joyous playing, being invited to experience a new thing, going for a car ride, or meeting a person or a dog for the first time.

What is dog stress smell?

If you ever notice that your dog smells bad all of a sudden, you may want to take into account her surroundings and the particular situation. If she became stressed, overwhelmed, insecure, excited, or frightened, chances are she just expressed her anal glands. Although the odor, which most closely resembles fish, is decidedly unpleasant, Dogster explains the scent usually doesn't last for long and will dissipate in a matter of minutes. If you notice the smell and suspect that your dog ruptured an anal gland abscess, however, you should take him to a veterinarian immediately to prevent the further spread of infection.

How to prevent it

Because emptying his anal sacs are a natural response for your dog, there is no way to stop him from doing it unless you're able to keep him from being scared. If you notice regular emptying around certain triggers, however, it may be possible, assuming you can remove either the trigger or your dog from the situation. More importantly, healthy anal glands are important to reduce the risk of possible diseases or problems, which include impacted glands, abscesses, infection, and even anal sac tumors.

If your dog's anal sacs are impacted or abscessed, you will need to seek medical assistance from a veterinarian to address the issue. Impacted glands can be resolved with a simple expressing of the sacs, while abscesses or infections are generally treated with cleaning and antibiotics.

To prevent any of these possible anal sac diseases, AKC lists regular exercise and access to plenty of clean water among the top ways to keep your dog healthy. Another easy way to eliminate the problem is to shop for good dog food for full anal glands. These foods will have a formula high in fiber, which may assist with keeping your dog's bowel movements regular.