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Anal Glands (Sacs): Impactions, Infections & Abscesses in Dogs
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
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Anal gland disease is a common problem in dogs and cats. The anal glands, also called 'anal sacs,' can become impacted, infected, and abscessed. Affected pets may lick the anal area, 'scoot' along the floor, or have problems with defecation. This behavior is most commonly linked to anal glands, not to worms, as is commonly believed. This article will help you better understand anal glands.

Location and function of anal glands

Illustration of anal area As the dog or cat is viewed from behind, anal glands (also called anal sacs) are located on each side of and slightly below the anal opening, at the 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock positions. A tiny duct or tube leads from the gland under the skin to an opening directly beside the anus.

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.

Diseases of the anal glands

Dog licking anal areaAnal gland impactions, infections, and abscesses can occur. Here is 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.

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.

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. This procedure is called an "anal sacculectomy".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.

Dogs 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 as it is passed, and hopefully the glands will express themselves when the animal defecates. There are several commercial brands of high fiber dog food available. Animals may also be supplemented with bran or medications such as Metamucil which will increase the bulk of the stool.

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