All Things Anal Gland
January 9, 2018
If you’ve never seen your pet scooting across the rug or smelled that tell-tale odor, count yourself lucky! Most of us, though, have had an encounter at one point or another with our pet’s anal glands.
What exactly ARE anal glands? They are scent marking glands. Dogs and cats have two anal glands located just under the skin at approximately the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions in relation to the anus. When everything is working smoothly, during defecation the pressure of the stool on these glands stimulates them to release a small amount of the characteristic strong-smelling fluid, making the stools suitable for scent-marking territory.
Due to a variety of factors, an individual’s glands may not empty normally. These include but aren’t limited to:
- genetic quirks of anatomy (deeper gland, narrow duct, unusual angle of duct)
- diet (modern diets are very digestible and tend to produce smaller stools which may not adequately stimulate the glands)
- allergies (allergies can cause inflammation of the skin and partially occlude the ducts, like pinching off a hose)
- age (decreased neurologic sensitivity of glands in response to defecation)
- scarring (from history of previous anal gland abscesses or injuries)
- a bout of diarrhea (the soft stools don’t stimulate the glands normally)
If the glands do not empty normally, they become overfilled and uncomfortable. Symptoms of full anal glands include excessive licking around the anus or scooting the rear across the floor (made famous in the “Toby’s New Trick” commercial for Stanley Steemer linked at the end of this post). In extreme cases, the anal gland may abscess or rupture; in these cases pets are usually very painful and you may see swelling or an open wound near the anus and/or blood spotting where your pet has been sitting. Cats may have very subtle signs of problems; one of my own cats developed an anal sac abscess and her only symptoms were that she did not want to jump up on the couch and she was hiding and wouldn’t come out for meals.
If you notice your pet scooting or licking a little bit but they stop on their own, they were probably able to empty the anal glands themselves. If scooting or licking persists, or if you notice swelling or blood, your pet should be seen. Simple overfull anal glands can be manually expressed. Infected or ruptured glands usually need to be flushed with an antiseptic and infused with an antibiotic solution and/or be treated with oral antibiotics and pain medication. In rare cases, problems can be caused by tumors of the anal glands, so especially for animals with frequent problems it is important to follow up with rechecks as recommended.
Many pets will occasionally need their anal glands expressed manually and this is not cause for concern. For pets who have frequent bouts, we may or may not be able to prevent ongoing problems. In some cases, adding fiber to the diet to help bulk the stools up may stimulate the anal glands to empty normally. In other cases, surgical removal of the glands may be recommended. You should speak to one of our doctors for details, which are beyond the scope of this post.
Anal glands are small but can be a big nuisance! As always, if you have questions please contact one of our doctors.
Karen Christopherson DVM
PS: As promised: