Advice on Anal Glands

Author: Alison Laurie, Crown Vets Inverness

Anal glands are small paired sacs that sit on the left and right of your dog/cat’s anus at around 4 and 8 o’clock. The cells lining these anal glands produce an oily secretion with a distinct fishy, metallic smell.

When your pet passes faeces, the faeces push up against these glands and empty them, coating the faeces with the natural anal gland secretions.

Anal gland problems start when the glands fail to empty adequately on their own. The anal gland secretions then continue to accumulate and, eventually, the glands become impacted. Anal gland impaction can then lead to an anal gland infection which, in severe cases, results in anal gland abscesses. This can be very painful and does need veterinary intervention.

So the prevention of anal gland impaction is very important.  Some pets can be born with abnormally narrow, kinked anal gland ducts, so obstructing the flow of the anal sac material. Other dogs with recurring anal gland issues can also develop narrowed ducts due to the on-going trauma in the area and the subsequent formation of scar tissue. Overweight obese animals are much more prone to anal gland problems compared to slimmer pets. While the exact mechanism is unknown, it is suggested that the extra body fat causes a “cushioning” effect which results in less pressure being applied on the gland during defaecation.

Some pets with underlying food/environmental allergies are more prone to anal gland issues. This could potentially be due to the inflammation resulting in a narrowed duct or increased anal gland secretions, both of which can result in incomplete emptying of the anal glands. Pets with chronic diarrhoea often have impacted anal glands because their faeces are too soft to express the anal glands during defaecation.

Impacted anal glands are uncomfortable for your pet. They either drag their bottoms on the ground, or lick at their anal area constantly and this can be debilitating for them. You may also notice your pet “leaking” a foul-smelling liquid and leaving a trace where they’ve been sitting. Treating anal gland problems starts with identifying the underlying issue. It’s very important to work with your Vet to correctly identify the problem and help treat your pet appropriately.

Diet is usually a good place to start. Some pets benefit from a high fibre diet that bulks up their faeces – thereby emptying the anal glands more effectively – and helps them to passed normal faeces more regularly. Others benefit from a bland or hypoallergenic diet to abate their chronic diarrhoea. However, others may need the help of anti-inflammatory treatments to get the chronic anal inflammation under control.

In some chronic cases, some pets may benefit from surgery, more specifically, an "anal-sacculectomy". This procedure means removing both anal glands and requires delicate, expert surgery under general anaesthesia.

Should I express my dog’s anal glands? It is always better to have your dog’s anal glands expressed professionally as it is possible to cause further inflammation in the area if you’re not careful when trying this procedure at home. 

If you suspect your pet may have anal gland problems do contact the practice for an appointment for a thorough clinical examination of the anal gland area and for good professional advice.