Anal Gland Disease
What are they?
Anal sacs are two small glands that are found just inside of your pets anus that contain a foul-smelling material. Prior to domestication, these glands served the purpose of marking an animals territory, and could be readily emptied voluntarily. Pets nowadays have largely lost their ability to empty their sacs on demand, and the process occurs naturally during normal defecation when firm feces are passed, lubricating the anal opening in the process. Glands can also “spontaneously empty” during times of stress or excitement; you can recognize this has happened if your dog or cat suddenly develops a very unpleasant odor.
What is the anatomy?
The picture on the left shows the location of normal-appearing anal glands in the dog; cats’ anal glands are in the same area. The glands lie beneath the surface of this skin and are not something that you can visibly see. The picture on the right shows both an inflamed anal gland as well as a ruptured anal gland (more on this below).
How does it happen?
Anal sacs become impacted when a blockage develops in the duct that leads from the gland to the anus. At this stage, the gland is generally swollen and non painful. However, if an infection develops, the area can then become painful, swollen, and sometimes result in the formation of an abscess. Main causes for the development of a blockage in the duct include having a softer stool or diarrhea, allergies that result in inflammation of the sac and duct, or just plain luck of the genetic draw.
How can I tell if my pets anal sacs are causing a problem?
One of the first things owners often report is a “scooting” behavior, and they observe their pet dragging its bottom along the floor or carpeting in an attempt to empty the glands. Some dogs will also lick the anal area while others will nip and bite at their bottom or chase their tails. Cats like to present with their own set of signs and usually just lick the fur off from underneath their tails.
How is it treated?
The following video is a good demonstration on how to express your pets anal sacs. This may be considered graphic by some, so please don’t click “play” if you are easily queasy… some things are best left to the professionals :).
Can I express my pets anal glands at home? What if the scooting continues?
Obviously this is not for everyone, but if you feel comfortable in doing so, this is a procedure that can be done at home. It is strongly recommended that you have your veterinarian or groomer demonstrate how to do this for you, for your first time. A second pair of hands up at the front of your dog or cat is helpful to give distracting rubs on the head and praises. A word of caution: expressing incorrectly can cause irritation and lead to further problems so make sure you are able to perform the task correctly.
If the scooting behavior continues more than a couple of days following sac emptying, the glands should be rechecked by your veterinarian. If left unattended, an abscess can develop in the gland and rupture through the skin of the rectal region. Oftentimes, a ruptured anal sac abscess if often mistaken for rectal bleeding. If treated early, anal sac abscesses are generally treated with antibiotics, pain medications and warm compressing the area at home.
Another important reason to have your pet examined by your veterinarian if scooting continues is that there could also be other causes of this behavior such as allergies, parasites, or even referred back pain.
What if my pet suffers from anal sac impaction on a regular basis?
If your pets anal sacs need to be emptied every month or more, you may opt to have the sacs surgically (and therefore permanently) removed. The procedure can be complicated as the sacs are located next to many important nerves- mainly those that control rectal sphincter function- and meaning, if improperly performed, you pet could be permanently incontinent of its feces. Despite how scary this sounds, anal sac removal is considered a relatively “simple” surgery by experienced surgeons.
While not the most pleasant of topics to cover, I hope you have found this information informative and helpful!