Have you ever seen a dog scoot its bottom across the floor? Contrary to the old wive’s tale, the dog isn’t doing this because they have worms. More than likely it has to do with two small glands located just inside the rectum. These glands have the very original name of anal glands or anal sacs. These internal glands are approximately at the “4 o’clock” and “8 o’clock” position. Many mammals including dogs, cats, opossums, skunks and beavers have anal glands. These glands are filled with a brownish/grey almost granular liquid pheromone used as a territory marker. Under normal circumstances, dogs and cats will empty their anal glands with a formed bowel movement. You usually can’t see the liquid when they defecate. Occasionally, when a dog or cat is scared, they can release their anal glands. If you have ever been around a dog or cat that has expressed their anal glands, you know this foul, fishy smell is like nothing else in the world.
Scooting their bottoms across the floor is one of many signs that your pet is having an anal gland problem. A few other actions may include: excessively licking at their rectum area, red skin around their anus, intermittently releasing some of the anal gland secretion at inappropriate times, sitting uncomfortably, having difficulty sitting or standing, or chasing its tail. A cat’s glands may become impacted, causing the cat to defecate outside the litter box.
Certain pets are more prone to having anal gland issues. Remember we said the anal glands are released with a normal bowel movement? Pets with chronically soft stools tend to have a higher risk of anal gland problems because the stool isn’t formed to create the pressure to help the glands release. Small breeds tend to have more issues expressing their anal glands than the larger guys. Some pets may be born with very narrow anal gland ducts that will not allow them to express the material on their own. Anal glands are also a continuation of the skin system, therefore pets with allergies may also have anal gland issues. Anytime the skin is irritated, the anal glands will increase the secretion production and your pet can’t defecate often enough to empty the glands. Add obesity to any of the above conditions and you are sure to have an anal gland issue!
If your pet cannot express their anal glands on their own and you are noticing they are having some of the above issues, there are a few actions that can be done. The anal glands can be expressed externally or internally. Due to the smell and the subject matter, a lot of people prefer to have their vet hospital or groomer express their pet’s anal glands.
Pets can develop health issues if the anal glands become blocked or infected. The longer the liquid sits in the anal sac, thicker it becomes. The secretions can become so thick that they won’t express with a normal bowel movement and must be manually expressed. Ask any of our technicians! We have seen anal gland secretions as thin as water and as thick as toothpaste! If you notice blood in or around the feces after your pet defecates (especially bright red blood), you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian. If you notice a lump or protruding mass close to the rectum, you should not wait, your pet needs to be examined by a veterinarian. Then anal gland(s) can become infected and rupture. This infection can spread into a peri-anal abscess; which is a collection of pus in the tissue around the rectum. If the infection is left untreated, it can rupture and cause a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal connection that forms between two tissues, organs or vessels that normally do not connect. These are very painful and will need medical treatment. German Shepherds seem to be more prone to fistulas then other breeds. Dogs (and rarely cats) can also develop anal sac adenocarcinoma. This is a rare invasive cancer that quickly spreads to other parts of the body. So, if you notice anything abnormal about your pet’s backside make an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
There are a few things you can do to help your pet express their anal glands on their own when they defecate. Feeding a diet rich in fiber can help create firmer feces that will help express the glands when they defecate. Pumpkin and/or Sweet Potatoes added to their diet will increase fiber content. There are also prescription diets with high fiber content. Glandex is a supplement specifically designed to aid anal gland support. Just make sure you check with your veterinarian before giving your pet any new products. As a last resort, surgical removal of the anal glands is an option. The potential risks including lack of sphincter and therefore bowel control usually guides owners to monitor and maintain anal gland issues.