If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a foul-smelling fluid deposit from your pet’s hind end, you’ve likely experienced an anal gland expression. Anal gland fluid, whose odor is often compared to smelly fish, creates an unforgettable smell that is difficult to eliminate from your clothes, furniture, or nostrils. Although you wish your furry pal didn’t have these glands, they serve a purpose in the animal world. Read on to discover why cats and dogs have anal glands, and how to detect common issues with these stinky sacs. 

What function do anal glands serve in pets?

Anal glands are located between the internal and external anal sphincter muscles, positioned on opposite sides of the anus. Typically, anal glands contain a thin, brown fluid that is naturally expressed during defecation, coating the stool. If an anal gland becomes impacted for any reason, the thin fluid thickens, turning into a thick, pasty, brown secretion that is difficult to express. 

When a dog or cat defecates, fluid from the anal glands is released, allowing the pet to mark their territory in a manner other than urinating. Pets also expel anal gland fluid when frightened, which is likely an involuntary action caused by the sphincter muscles contracting. Occasionally, some pets need their anal glands manually expressed. Dachshunds and other small-breed dogs seem to require the most assistance with emptying their anal glands, although any pet, including cats, can need help.

What are the signs of anal gland issues in pets?

Common issues that occur with anal glands include impaction, infection, or neoplasia. Pets who are overweight have poor muscle tone, and are often unable to fully express their anal glands when defecating, which can lead to bacterial overgrowth, infection, and inflammation. Pets who suffer from seasonal allergy flares or year-round inflammation can also suffer with anal gland issues. 

If your pet develops an anal gland issue that prevents proper expression, you may notice your furry pal exhibiting the following signs:

  • Scooting along the carpet or grass
  • Licking, biting, or chewing at the anal area
  • Painful defecation
  • Straining to defecate
  • Abnormally shaped stool
  • Fishy odor from the hind end

Pets with ruptured anal glands may also have blood in their stool, and defecating can be extremely painful.

How are anal gland problems treated in pets?

If your furry pal develops an impacted anal gland, the affected gland should be gently, manually expressed to avoid rupturing. Infected anal glands should be cleaned with antiseptic, followed by local and systemic antibiotics to battle the infection. If an anal gland abscesses, hot compresses applied every 8 to 12 hours for 15 to 20 minutes can aid in healing. Weekly anal-gland flushings, combined with a steroid and antibiotic ointment infusion, may also be needed. Laser therapy sessions can speed healing and reduce inflammation associated with anal gland infections, impactions, or abscesses.

However, if medical treatment is ineffective, or a tumor is occluding the anal gland, surgical excision of the affected gland is indicated. This surgery can present several complications after recovery, including chronic fistula formation, scar formation, or fecal incontinence. In infection or impaction cases, surgery is often a last resort, while the presence of neoplasia requires immediate surgical removal. 

How can I prevent anal gland issues in my pet?

You can help thwart anal gland issues in your pet several ways.

  • Weight control — One of the best ways to prevent anal gland problems is helping your pet maintain a healthy weight. Overweight and obese pets struggle to express their anal glands naturally, because of a lack of muscle tone, and fatty tissue that blocks the anal-gland ducts. By keeping your four-legged friend slim and trim, their body can function better.
  • Allergy relief —If your pet suffers from allergies, whether they’re induced by seasonal triggers or year-round allergens, keeping allergic inflammation under control can help minimize anal gland issues.
  • Diet management — Adding supplemental fiber to your pet’s diet may bulk up their stool, allowing for better anal gland compression and emptying. Be careful not to add too much fiber, because excess fiber can cause constipation.

If your furry pal is suffering from a scooting problem, you may not be able to wait until your family veterinarian is open. Anal glands can quickly rupture if they’re impacted, necessitating immediate veterinary attention. Give us a call at the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center if you notice your pet is seeking relief by scooting, or licking and chewing at their hind end.