Anal Glands (or shall we say “Annual Glands”?)

Dogs have them ……. cats have them……. but why does the veterinary profession take them so lightly? This is the question we at the Brockton Animal Hospital have been asking for years. If your pet is scooting, licking, smelling like rotten fish (or worse) or bleeding from the rectum there is a good possibility that anal glands are indeed the culprit. What are these glands for? What should the pet owner do about them? Doesn’t the pet or the groomer take care of them? Let’s see if we can dispel some myths about these problematic structures.

Though it is uncertain what the purpose of the circum anal glands actually is, it has been theorized that they help to lubricate the rectum during the passage of stool. Others suggest that perhaps the anal gland fluid imparts a characteristic odor to the stool for purpose of scenting. Regardless we know that the anal glands (when healthy) produce a watery, clear brown fluid that empties periodically without the voluntary control of your pet. Unfortunately in some canines as well as felines things don’t always work they way they should. If the glands do not empty on their own, the fluid builds up. Over time the fluid will thicken resulting in impaction of the glands meaning we now need to intervene to empty the secretion. Without this intervention, glands become infected, abscessed and may rupture. This results in a problem that must be resolved with surgery.

How do we, as pet owners, know when the anal glands are a problem and what should be done? Some dogs and cats will show signs while others will not. These signs can be scooting along the floor while sitting down (not very good for the rugs), licking incessantly at the rectal area, defecating in inappropriate places or noting a bloody liquid oozing from the rectal area. Occasionally you may just notice an odorous brown discharge from the anal area. Often no visible signs occur prior to complications. If you suspect that your pet is having anal gland issues contact your local veterinarian immediately. Do not just assume the groomer or pet store can take care of them. The only proper way to empty anal glands is to first examine the area internally (rectally) assessing whether the glands are full and then emptying them internally. In order to avoid more serious, painful, and costly problems adhere to the following do’s and don’ts:

1. Never empty the anal glands by squeezing externally
2. Do not have the glands expressed (even rectally) more than one or at most two times
ANNUALLY. (Hence the play on words….”annual glands”)
3. If you suspect that your dog or cat is having anal gland issues find medical care
immediately. Delays will result in complications.
4. Expression of circumanal glands multiple times yearly (even internally) will result in
infections, adhesions and complications. Seek alternative treatments such as anal gland
flushing or surgical removal. Delays always worsen this condition.

Anal gland problems in our feline and canine friends are common. With vigilance on the part of the pet owner as well as informed and appropriate medical care these problematic structures can be dealt with in an orderly and effective manner.