What on Earth are anal glands?
Anal glands (also called anal sacs) are two small glands just inside your pet’s anus. The material secreted into these glands is thick and foul smelling. Most wild animals can empty these glands voluntarily for scent marking or in self-defense (like a skunk). When animals take to scooting their bottom along the ground, it’s usually due to their anal glands being full or ‘impacted’.
Domestic animals have largely lost their ability to empty these sacs voluntarily. Walking and normal defecation usually serve to empty the glands, but some animals become unable to empty their glands on their own. The sacs become impacted and uncomfortable. Dogs with impacted anal sacs usually scoot their rear on the ground in an attempt to empty the glands. Some dogs will lick their anal area and other dogs will chase their tails. Cats often lick the fur off just under their tails.
What happens if an impacted sac doesn’t get emptied?
If an impacted anal sac goes untreated, an abscess can form and rupture out through the skin. This is a painful, messy, and smelly condition often mistaken for rectal bleeding. If an anal sac abscess forms, it must be properly treated by your veterinarian with antibiotics.
How often should anal sacs be emptied?
It can be hard to tell if your pet’s anal sacs need emptying or not. Keeping an eye out for the symptoms of impacted anal glands, like scooting and licking, will help you to know if they require the intervention of a veterinarian.
What if my pet’s anal glands require frequent emptying?
To avoid the expense of having the anal glands emptied at the vets, there are ways to encourage them to empty naturally. A non-invasive technique that helps some patients is a change to a high fiber diet. This will produce a bulkier stool that may be more effective in emptying the sac as it passes by. If the sacs need to be emptied every few weeks or more, you may opt to have them permanently removed. The possible complications of this procedure include permanent incontinence. Also, draining tracts can develop after surgery if the gland is not completely removed. Despite these pitfalls, anal sac removal is considered a relatively simple surgery by most board certified surgery specialists. If this procedure is to be done we generally recommend that a specialist, (a veterinarian with extensive experience with anal sacculectomy), perform it.
Many people own pets for years without ever learning that anal sacs exist at all, and the wives’ tale that worms cause scooting is misleading. If you have further questions about anal gland disease, ask your veterinarian.
What to do about scooting
If your pet is scooting, always check to see if the problem is caused by impacted anal glands. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose this problem, treat your pet, and recommend ongoing management of the issue.
If scooting continues for more than a few days after sac emptying, the sacs should be re-checked. For some individuals, it takes several sac emptyings in a row before the sacs stay empty. If the sacs are empty and scooting is persisting, another cause (such as itchy skin or lower back pain) should be considered. If the sacs have been emptied adequately, the scooting should resolve in a couple of days.
If your pet is experiencing symptoms associated with impacted anal glands, make an appointment with your local Greencross Vets to get a proper diagnosis.