The anal sacs (or glands) are a small pair of structures, located just within and on each side of the anus. Each sac has a small duct or tube which leads to the outside. They produce a foul-smelling fluid that is normally squeezed out onto a dog or cat’s faeces every time it defecates. Anal glands serve no useful function to our pets today. They are a remnant of our pet’s ancestors’ previous existence as wild animals: they used their faeces, each with its own individual smell from the anal sacs, to mark the limits of their territory.
Causes of anal gland disease
The anal glands are prone to disease, especially in dogs. This can be due to:
– Abscess formation
Symptoms of anal gland disease
The signs of anal gland disease very according to the stage it has reached. Initially, it causes irritation, and you may observe your pet to be “scooting” or dragging their bottoms along the ground. Some pets will not scoot but will lick or chew at the area under or beside the tail. If a blocked anal gland becomes infected, it will lead to the formation of an abscess, and if untreated, will rupture. Anal gland abscesses are extremely painful to an animal.
Diagnosing anal gland disease
Anal gland disease is diagnosed by your vet by a combination of symptoms, and findings on physical examination. The anal sacs are often swollen and red, and in some cases, will be filled with a pus discharge. There may be a wound near the gland if there has been a rupture of an abscess.
Treating anal gland impactions and abcesses
Treatment of anal gland disease depends on the stage it has reached. Blocked anal glands with no infection can usually be relieved by carefully squeezing out the content: it is necessary to insert a finger into the animal’s anus to do this, and because of the dangers involved, it recommended that this be performed by your veterinarian. Sometimes, even without infection, the area is too painful to squeeze, and general anaesthesia is needed. Infection of the anal glands is usually painful, and it is necessary to carefully flush them out under general anaesthesia, followed by antibiotics, pain killers and anti-inflammatory medication. Abscesses often will require lancing as well as flushing, and sometimes a drain will be inserted to facilitate the exit of pus which has accumulated. The anus is a vital and delicate area, and abscess formation can potentially lead to loss of bowel control if sufficient damage has occurred.
Prevention of anal gland disease
Unfortunately, there is a high recurrence rate of all types of anal sac disease. There are a few ways of minimising or preventing anal gland disease in our pets:
1. Anal gland expression: regular anal gland expression by your vet can help prevent blockages and infections in the future. If your pet has had problems in the past, we recommend that this be performed every 4-6 weeks.
2. Diet: there has been some evidence to suggest that a diet high in fibre can assist your pet in the natural expression of its anal gland contents. Please speak to your vet regarding which type of food
would suitable for your pet.
3.Surgery: it is recommended that both anal glands are surgically removed if blockages and problems keep recurring. This surgery would only be performed once any infection is under control. The operation involves a delicate surgery as the sacs lie within the anal sphincter muscle and very close to the nerves and arteries supplying the anus. Once performed, the surgery has a high success rate of providing great relief to your pet. However, there is a small risk of loss of bowel control following the surgery, which may be permanent.