On Anal Gland Expression and Other Things No One Warned You About

Our lives with the new puppy had been going so well. Capone the Wonder Dog, at five months old and a whopping 56 pounds, had become the calmest, sweetest, best puppy we could have ever imagined. Other than trying to eat an occasional shoe or newspaper or wine cork, he’d actually become quite manageable and pleasant.

Just last Saturday we attended our third obedience class. The instructor asked to use Capone four times to demonstrate to the other dogs how it should be done. FOUR times. It was awesome. He was a doggy obedience rock star.

To make things even better, Capone’s old arch nemesis Luke was in attendance with his owner (No Brows). No one asked Luke to demonstrate anything. Not once. And No Brows did not look pleased. Or perhaps it was the way she drew on her eyebrows that day – she may have accidentally drawn “irritated brows�? rather than her usual  “perpetually surprised brows�?, but I knew she secretly wanted Luke to be the one chosen for demonstration. I suspect she had severe dog jealousy towards Capone that day.

After class, we took the puppies to the dog park to frolic. I’d never done this before because it had always been too icy. On Saturday it was a bit rainy, but I decided to go for it anyway. Capone had a wonderful time, and it was fun to watch him romp and play with the other puppies. They jumped and ran and rubbed against each other and shared a water bowl. They were like preschoolers, and just like a preschooler, Capone came home with more than happy memories.

Sunday came, the Ides of March, and Demir called out to me when he let Capone out of his kennel. “There is definitely something wrong with his eye.�?

We’d been noticing a little drainage the last few days, but Capone seemed fine so we figured it was nothing serious. Sunday morning, however, was much worse. His drainage had changed color and his eyes looked crusty. A giant blob of mucus hung next to his eye, and he promptly wiped it on my polar fleece jammies.

“Oh, God,�? said Demir, pointing his finger at Capone. “He just wiped that…stuff….on your leg.�?

“Yeah, that’s pretty gross. I think he has conjunctivitis.�?

Demir’s eyes got huge and I could tell he was remembering the Great Pink Eye Debacle of Christmas 2003 (a precursor to the Horrible Head Lice Episode of 2004). “Can we get it, too?�?

“Oh, no,�? I said, although I had no idea at all if that was true. In this case I figured lying was the best policy.

On Monday morning his eyes were even worse. I scheduled an appointment with his vet, which was a very good thing. He did have conjunctivitis (and no – humans cannot get it) (amen). He’d lost all his baby teeth, something else people never tell you about puppies. When they teethe, they bleed – on their toys and on their pillow and on your socks. And they drop sharp little baby dogteeth all over the house, which you will find as soon as you go barefoot.

“He looks great,�? said the vet, “and the eye issues could be related to the teething.�?

She checked his tummy, giggled when he tried to lick her face, and then she got to the other end and stopped laughing.

“Uh, oh,�? she said. “His anal glands feel really swollen. Has he been scooting around on his bottom?�?

I shook my head and gave Capone a grateful pat. I’d seen videos of that kind of thing. “Not at all.�?

She continued fondling his nether regions. “Well, we’d better express them. Otherwise he might have a problem and you’ll just have to bring him back in.�?

“Sure,�? I said. We now have vet insurance now, so the idea of how much this could cost didn’t even make me flinch. “What exactly are anal glands and how do you express them?�?

This is another one of those things that people who have never had dogs would not know. Dogs have anal glands. They squirt something nasty out of them after they poo, which is like a marker to other dogs saying, “Hey, this crap is mine!�? Why they need to do this, I cannot imagine, but sometimes the anal glands get blocked up and need to be expressed, which is basically milking them until a foul smelling fluid drips out.

“You can express them at home, if you’d rather.�?

There was no hesitation in my response. “No. Nooooo. No. You go ahead.�?

Later, I found a video about anal gland expression, and I was glad I let the vet take care of it. Basically you have to don a haz-mat suit, lock yourself in your bathroom with you dog, and prepare to be emotionally scarred. No thanks.

“It’s probably better if you don’t see this,�? said the vet.

No argument from me. At all. There are some things I have no wish to see. Ever.

Capone came back, wagging his tail and seeming none the worse for wear. We went into waiting room to pay and saw a very tiny Asian lady crouching in the corner with her arms wrapped around the neck of a very large poodle. She looked like she could be a WWF wrestler. I think the move she was performing was some kind of doggy headlock. She looked absolutely panic stricken, but the dog looked even worse. His eyes were bulging out from the force of the wrestling move she was using on him.

“So sorry,�? she said. “He doesn’t do well with other dogs.�?

Capone looked and me and I swear he winked. It may have just been the conjunctivitis, but I like to think the winking was because he was thinking the same thing I was. The poodle might not be the one with the problem.

Our moment of understanding ended when Capone decided to lurch towards the poodle, his goopy eyes wide and crazed. I thought Psycho Poodle Lady was going to cry.

“Maybe I should take him out to the car,�? I said, as Capone barked and lunged.

The lady behind the desk smiled. She was completely unfazed by Capone’s cacophony and Psycho Poodle Lady’s distress.

“We’ll have your ointment ready shortly.�?

When we got outside, something really weird happened. Capone refused to get into the car. This has never, ever happened before. The car is a source of constant delight for Capone because I get him into his kennel by tossing a bunch of treats in there. It is also the only place he can hang out on his Batman snuggi and he loves his Batman snuggi.

I tried pulling him close to the car, leading him with treats, but he dug his heels in. He looked absolutely terrified. The only way I could get him into the car was to physically lift all 56 squirming, uncooperative pounds of him into the car. Then I tossed an entire handful of treats into the kennel. He jumped in, but when I zipped it shut, he whimpered.

“What is wrong with you, boy?�? I asked. I would soon find out.

The anal gland expressing and the encounter with Psycho Poodle Lady had made us a bit late, and I had to pick up my youngest at school. Thankfully, it was only a few minutes away from the vet. I parked near a grassy area and took Capone out for a little stroll. He’d been whimpering and whining in the kennel and I thought a little walk was just what he needed. I was wrong. He didn’t need a little walk. He needed something else entirely.

Capone shot out of the car like a rocket and ran to the grassy area near the parking lot, pulling me behind him. He immediately squatted and produced the noisiest and most explosive diarrhea possible, and it went on forever. He squat walked back and forth, tooting and shooting out nasty, poopy sprays of everything inside his intestines. It was awful. This is yet another thing no one tells you. Anal gland expression can lead to explosive diarrhea, and it will happen within minutes after the procedure. This would have been really good to know.

I checked my phone. School would be out in exactly three minutes, and an entire hoard of kids would be walking through the toxic wasteland Capone had just created in order to get to their cars or walk home. I had to act fast, and I had to be brave.

I’ll spare you the details, but I can tell you it required the use of many, many biodegradable poop bags and I hope to never experience that again. I was exhausted, mentally and physically and probably emotionally. Capone was exhausted, too, and I’m pretty sure his butt was more than just a little sore. He waddled back to the car, climbed slowing into his crate, and promptly fell into a tired heap, farting every so often in his sleep.

As we drove off into the sunset, I concluded that finding out about these things by accident was probably for the best. If I’d known what was coming (and what would come out of Capone) I would have been terrified. Ignorance is bliss. Anal gland expressing is not. Lessons learned.