By Kim Everson, DVM
Anal glands are probably one of the most mysterious and misunderstood anatomical features of dogs and cats (yes, cats!) Barely a day goes by that I don’t address an anal gland question.
The anal glands are little sacs just inside of the dog or cat’s rectum. If the rectum is a clock face, the glands reside at approximately 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions.
Normally the anal glands are emptied each time the dog or cat defecates. But as many pet owners know, anal glands can spontaneously empty of their odiferous contents–usually on the couch cushion, car seat or owner’s bed–when the pet is startled or upset. This stinky secretion is yet another way animals communicate through scent, much like urine marking.
Most dogs and cats do not need their anal glands expressed on a regular basis by human intervention. Pets that have a bout of diarrhea or chronic soft stools sometimes have anal gland problems. Occasionally a pet’s unique anatomy (i.e., the position and opening of the glands internally; obesity) may inhibit proper emptying. Finally, some pets with repeated anal gland problems actually have an underlying allergy. This is a complicated issue that should be discussed with your veterinarian
When the anal glands do not empty fully the contents can build up. The dog or cat may lick their butt excessively or drag their bum on the ground in an effort to release the pressure. If these efforts fail the secretions become thicker and harder to expel and may become infected. Some pets with infected anal glands present with ruptured and draining abscesses on their hinder — ouch!
Pets that scoot or lick their behind excessively should have their anal glands checked. Gentle manipulation of the anal glands by a trained professional expresses the contents and gives the pet relief. Additional medication or therapy may be needed if the anal glands are infected or inflamed. Depending on the pet’s history, weight loss, diet change or fiber suppplements may be needed.
Some dogs and cats have one or two episodes of anal gland difficulties during their lifetime which are easily managed. However, some pets require frequent anal gland expressions to keep them comfortable, and some pets wind up having their anal glands surgically removed.
Scooting is not always because of an anal gland problem. As mentioned before, allergies can cause itchy rear ends, and scooting in these animals can continue even after surgical removal of the anal glands. I have also seen itchy butts in pets afflicted with intestinal parasites such as round worms!
If your pet has an itchy butt, don’t be shy about it. Talk to your veterinarian! Examination and a detailed history can do wonders to bring your pet relief and prevent a recurrence.