Anal glands are scent glands located near the anus in most mammals, including dogs and cats. When a dog or cat passes stool, the anal glands experience pressure and secrete a foul smelling liquid, useful for marking territory and identifying other dogs. In the wild, many animals have similar glands that they express voluntarily for scent marking. For example, skunks voluntarily “spray” their anal glands when they feel threatened. Opossums empty their glands when they “play possum” or “play dead” to make other wild animals believe there are rotting. Domesticated animals such as cats and dogs have predominantly lost this ability to voluntarily empty their glands, but can release their glands spontaneously when threatened or scared.
In some pets, the anal glands fail to express naturally during the act of defecating and may become impacted. If a pet is found to be scooting its hind end on the floor or licking the rectal area, this can be a sign that the glands are full. This sometimes results in partial expression of the glands and provides temporary relief, but often the glands remain full and should be examined by a veterinary professional. In some cases, the gland secretion itself can become thickened which prevents normal expression. Anal glands that regularly become impacted and inflamed can result in infections. These infections may lead to an abscess which can rupture. Anal sac infections and abscesses require medical attention and antibiotics. In rare instances the cause of the gland irritation can be a growth within the gland.
For some pet owners anal glands can be a persistent issue that must be addressed regularly while other pet owners may never have to intervene with the manual emptying of their pet’s glands. The frequency for expression is truly a matter of individual need and pet owners should monitor their pets for the signs of discomfort mentioned earlier. For pets whose glands experience reoccurring infections despite a proactive regimen the need for surgical removal of the glands may be warranted. This procedure is called an anal sacculectomy. If your pet appears to exhibit any signs of discomfort with their glands be sure to alert your veterinarian. Technician appointments are available for those pets who require manual expression on a regular schedule.