Monthly Doctor’s Blog: Common Questions Around Anal Glands

Every month, the doctors of AtlasVet are writing a blog post to help pet owners with common questions. 

This month, Dr. Heather McCurdy discusses common questions around anal glands!

‘Two Fluid Filled Sacs Go Round The Outside, Round The Outside, Round The Outside.” -Marshall Mathers

What the heck are anal glands?

– Anal glands are two fluid-filled sacs located in the anal wall, one on the left and one on the right side of the anus. Each sac is lined with many small glandular cells that secrete a brown, fishy-smelling substance. The sacs empty into the anal canal through a small duct. Animals squeeze the fluid out when they defecate to mark their poop. In a sense (or scents), they are leaving a stinky note for other members of their species. They may also release the glands when they are scared or stressed.

Do humans have anal glands?

– Thankfully no! However, many carnivores do, including both male and female dogs and cats.

What is anal gland impaction?

– Most dogs and cats empty their anal glands with no difficulty. However, occasionally a dog (and more rarely a cat) will fail to empty their glands fully. As a result, the sacs become distended and uncomfortable. A pet may start frequent scooting or dragging their rear end across the grass or licking and chewing on the area when that happens.

What causes anal gland impaction?

– Diarrhea or soft stool can make it difficult for an animal to empty their glands properly

– Narrow anal sac ducts – either due to breed conformation or scarring from previous infections, can cause the ducts to plug.

– Veterinarians speculate that environmental or food allergies may cause anal gland issues.

– Obesity can make it difficult for animals to empty their glands fully.

What is an anal gland abscess?

– An abscess occurs when the anal gland is not emptying properly and becomes infected by bacteria. Pus fills the gland and it becomes red and painful. Sometimes the gland will rupture and drain out a hole next to the anus. We treat the infection by emptying and flushing the gland, placing the pet on oral antibiotics or infusing the gland with antibiotics, and giving pain relievers.

How can I prevent anal gland impaction?

– Bulking up the stool by adding fiber like canned pumpkin or switching to a high-fiber diet may help.

– A food trial with a novel protein and carbohydrate diet, or a hydrolyzed protein diet, may help with food allergic animals.

– For pets that have frequent anal gland abscesses, veterinarians may recommend surgery to remove the anal.

– Unfortunately, no single treatment consistently helps all dogs and cats that suffer from frequent full anal glands. For these pets, regular anal gland expression may be the best way to control symptoms. AtlasVet or a pet groomer can empty a pet’s anal glands. Or you can learn to do it yourself! We would be happy to teach you.