Anal Glands – Your Pet’s Pain in the Butt
If your pet seems to be exhibiting behavioral changes such as scooting around on its butt, tail chasing, and excessively licking or biting around the tail and anus, these are signs that your cat or dog may have a problem with its anal sacs. When this occurs, a veterinarian should examine your pet.
Anal sacs are structures similar to those used by skunks when they spray. These structures are present but less well developed in cats and dogs. Unlike skunks that can voluntarily control their sacs, dogs and cats cannot. Normally, the semi-liquid, smelly material is squeezed out when pets defecate, but sometimes things go wrong.
Problems associated with anal sacs include impaction, infection, abscess, and tumors. Impaction occurs when the duct or tube through which an anal sac empties becomes clogged. Pressure builds in the sac and on surrounding tissue, resulting in painful defecation and, in some cases, constipation.
Bacterial infections cause damage resulting in inflammation, pain and itchiness. This condition, similar to, but more painful than hemorrhoids in humans, sometimes leads to unusual levels of fear and aggression in pets. Left untreated, an anal gland infection can abscess. Pain associated with an abscess can become very intense as pressure and inflammation increase. If this stage of the disease is left untreated, the abscess could rupture and drain through the skin. When this occurs, the pain is somewhat reduced; however, the abscess usually reforms and the process starts over again. If the abscess proliferates and drains into deeper tissues, the situation gets much worse.
Tumors of the anal sac appear to be more common among dachshunds, cocker spaniels, German shepherds, beagles, English bulldogs, and Samoyeds. Some tumors are benign and others are very aggressive forms of cancers. The location of the anal sac makes even a benign growth a problem because it impinges on the surrounding structures.
Many impacted and some infected anal sacs can be treated by careful massage of the affected sac or sacs. Diseased sacs may be very painful and may require some level of pain relief medication or tranquilizer in order to keep the treatment from being a bad experience for the pet.
For some dogs and even some cats, anal sac disease becomes a severe, repeated, and persistent experience. In these cases, the most humane, efficient, and cost-effective treatment choice is surgical removal of the anal sacs. This is called anal sacculectomy. Most of the time, both sacs are removed at the time of the surgery.
Anal sacs have no known beneficial purpose for dogs and cats. As long as they are healthy, it’s best to leave them alone. If severe or repeated problems develop, dogs and cats may be better off without them.