Anal glands are two small semi-fluid filled sacs, located under the skin on either side of the anus, in dogs and cats. They are designed to empty their very smelly fluid onto the animal’s bowel motions. Most animals never have an issue with their anal glands, and you may not even know they exist. However, they can develop problems, ranging from irritating, to very serious.
The classic signs of anal gland problems in pets is “scooting”, where they drag their bottom along the ground. This is commonly mistaken as a sign of worms – although tapeworm infestation can occasionally cause scooting, it is far more likely to be anal gland irritation. Your pet may also chase, lick or bite at their backside or top of the tail. They may have trouble going to the toilet, or be in pain when trying. Sometimes they may have a swelling around their anus which could be very firm, or soft and inflamed, and find sitting painful.
Diet, being overweight, skin issues or allergies, and infection, as well as trauma or even poor anatomy can all be a cause of anal gland problems.
Impaction is the most common problem associated with anal glands. This occurs when the fluid builds up in the glands and thickens, and isn’t expressed with toileting, resulting in enlargement and irritation of the glands.
Anal gland infections cause irritation and inflammation and can develop into an anal gland abscess. Pus can build up within the anal gland until it eventually ruptures.
Anal gland tumors do occur, and although rare, are usually an invasive cancer growth called an adenocarcinoma, with a poor prognosis.
If you notice your pet bothered by their backside, it’s important to get them to their vet to determine the cause. Treatments can range from treating the underlying cause, providing supplements, antibiotics or pain-relief, manually expressing the anal glands, flushing the glands, and rarely, surgical removal.