Don’t get behind on your pet’s health
FEW topics raise dog owners’ eyebrows (and lower dogs’ tails) faster than the subject of anal sacs.
It’s not the most pleasant topic but understanding the problems associated with anal glands can greatly increase your pet’s quality of life.
Does your dog drag his bottom along the floor? Does she try to scratch or bite at her bottom?
Do you sometimes notice a strong fishy smell on your soft furnishings or coming from your dog? Does he object to his tail being handled or lifted? If you answered yes to any of these questions it could be that your dog’s anal glands are not emptying on their own.
The anal glands – or anal sacs – are found in dogs and cats, as well as many other small mammals. They are just under the skin on each side of and slightly below the anal opening.
They are scent glands and, prior to domestication, were used for marking territory. In dogs they produce an odour that identifies the individual and marks his stool to establish territory. This is why dogs greet each other by sniffing at the rear. In the domesticated species, they serve little to no practical purpose and are often the cause of great distress to many animals.
Affected pets may lick the anal area; show excessive excrement or have problems with defecation; scoot along the floor or have swelling, redness and pain around the anus. This behaviour is most commonly linked to anal glands, not worms, as is commonly believed.
Normal animals will express small amounts of the secretion in the anal glands with their bowel movements. They can also be emptied by forceful contractions of the anal sphincter when a dog is frightened or upset. In some animals, this does not occur and the anal gland will become full and cause discomfort for the animal.
The anal sacs should be emptied by the pressure of stool passing through the anus but impactions tend to occur most often in smallbreed and overweight dogs. 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.
Bacteria make their way into the glands, which leads to abscess formation in the gland(s). This is very painful.
The cause of tumour formation is often unknown but might be the result of chronic irritation.
Dogs with small, early anal gland tumours may not show any signs of discomfort. Dogs with larger, more advanced tumours, may scoot or lick excessively, have swelling in the area of the anal gland and/or have problems defecating.
Manual expression of the anal gland is recommended for animals that are scooting. The frequency of expression will vary by animal. Some pets might need anal glands expressed as often as monthly and some once or twice a year.
In the case of bacterial infection and/or abscess formation, treatment is often done under anaesthesia, due to the severity of the pain.
For pets with chronic problems, surgical removal of the glands is recommended.