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Anal Glands (Sacs)

Anal gland disease is a common problem in cats and dogs. The anal glands, also called "anal sacs", can become impacted, infected and abscessed. Affected dogs and cats may lick the anal area, "scoot" along the floor, or have problems with defecation. This article will help you better understand anal glands.

Location and function of anal glands

The anal sacs are pouches located on either side of the anal canal, near the opening of the anus. The anus is the lower end of the digestive tract, through which solid waste (that is, bowel movement) is eliminated from the body. Glands within the anal sacs produce a foul-smelling, oily material. The oily material normally is expressed onto the bowel movement (feces) when the animal defecates. It also can be expressed when the animal becomes excited or frightened. The purpose of anal sacs is unknown. Anal sac disorders are a group of abnormalities that affect the anal sacs. The anal sacs can become overly full and distended (impacted), infected, or filled with pus (abscessed). Anal sacs are present in dogs and cats; however, dogs tend to have more problems with anal sac disorders than do cats.

All predators, whether they are canines or felines in the wild or skunks in your backyard, have anal glands. They just use them differently. Skunks discharge the secretion from these glands as a form of defense, while dogs use it primarily for territorial marking or as a form of communication. In dogs and cats, every time a stool is passed, it should put enough pressure on the anal glands that some of the secretion is deposited on the surface of the stool. Other dogs and cats are then able to tell who has been in the neighborhood, just by sniffing the stools they find. Additionally, dogs and cats recognize each other by smelling each other in the general area of the anus, since each animal’s anal glands produce a unique scent.

What causes anal sacs disorders?

The cause of anal sac disorders is unknown. Factors that may lead to anal sac disorders include chronically soft bowel movement (feces or stool), recent diarrhea, excessive anal gland secretions, or poor muscle tone of the anus. Retained anal secretions may lead to infection. Small breed dogs reportedly are more likely to have problems with anal sac disorders.

Diseases of the anal glands

Anal gland impactions, infections and abscesses can occur. Here's how: For various reasons, such as the conformation of the animals, the thickness of the gland's secretions or the softness of the stool, these glands and their ducts often become clogged, or impacted. When this occurs, the animal will sit down on its rear quarters and drag its anal area across the floor or ground. This is called scooting. Both dogs and cats may lick the anal area excessively. Impacted anal glands are a very, very common problem for dogs, especially the smaller breeds.

Anal glands may also become infected and abscess. Bacteria make their way into the glands, probably through the ducts. This is a very painful condition, and the first sign you may see is that the animal attempts to bite or scratch when you touch the area near the tail.

What are the signs of anal sac disorders?

The signs depend on the type of anal sac disorder that is affecting the pet. Anal sac disorders tend to be irritating to the pet. The pet may "scoot" or rub its bottom on the floor because of itching. It may have swift and sudden bowel movements or may strain to have a bowel movement and be unsuccessful. In some cases, the pet may have a discharge from the anus or the surrounding skin. The animal may chase its tale or act differently from its usual behavior. Redness or a rash may be seen around the anus. If the animal has an anal sac abscess, it may have a fever and not feel well.

How are anal sac disorders diagnosed?

Anal sac disorders are diagnosed upon a history of signs and a physical examination. The veterinarian will examine the anus and rectum. If the anal sacs are felt (palpated) easily, they are considered enlarged. The veterinarian will express the anal sacs; normal anal sac fluid is clear or pale yellow-brown. Thick, pasty brown anal sac material is characteristic of impaction. Creamy yellow or thin green-yellow anal sac material often is seen in animals with anal sac inflammation or infection. Abscessed anal sacs often are associated with swelling, a red-brown discharge, and fever. The material from the anal sac can be examined and will determine whether or not infection is present. Bacterial culture may be helpful in animals with long-term (chronic) or recurrent anal sac infections.

Treatment and prevention

When the glands become impacted, a veterinarian, groomer or the pet’s owner must clean them out, or express them. This empties the glands of all material. It is done by applying pressure with the finger, start below the gland and then pushing upwards. In some dogs this needs to be done every week or two. Cats generally need this procedure less often.

Impacted glands do not affect the overall health of the pet. The problem is that pets may injure the anal area when scooting across the ground, or discharge the secretion on the carpet or floor. And this material has a terrible odor.

Anal gland abscesses must be lanced by a veterinarian, and antibiotics are usually given to the pet for seven to 14 days. Using warm compresses on the area often helps to relieve some of the pain and reduce swelling. Secondary problems sometimes occur with abscesses, as they may cause scar tissue or other damage that may affect the nerves and muscles in this area. This can cause fecal incontinence, meaning the pet cannot retain its stools.

If an individual pet only has an occasional problem with the gland, they can be dealt with as needed. However, for pets with repeated or chronic problems, surgical removal of the glands is recommended. With the removal of these glands all problems associated with these glands are eliminated for the remainder of the pet’s life. Although a fairly simple procedure, complications such as fecal incontinence can rarely occur.

Pets with recurrent anal gland impactions are often placed on a high fiber diet. The high fiber makes the animal's stool more bulky. The stool will put more pressure on the anal glands and hopefully the glands will express themselves when the animal defecates. There are several commercial brands of high fiber dog and cat food available. Animals may also be supplemented with bran or medications such as Metamucil which will increase the bulk of the stool.

Important Points in Treatment
1. Treatment for anal sac disease may include the following:
Manual expression (squeezing) of the sac contents.
Flushing the sacs and instilling antibiotics into them. Surgical drainage or removal of the sacs.

2. Medication must be given as directed. Notify the doctor if you cannot give the medication as directed.

3. Special instructions: __________________________________________________________

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Notify the Doctor if Any of the Following Occur:
* Your pet is reluctant to eat.
* Your pet is depressed or listless.
* There is a sudden swelling or drainage near the anus.
* Your pet constantly licks its anus.
* Your pet vomits.