Have you ever heard your veterinarian talk about anal glands? What are they exactly?
Anal glands, also known as anal sacs, are basically scent glands located on each side of the rectum of dogs and cats. The sacs are lined with sebaceous glands that produce a very foul smelling substance.
What purpose do they serve? The substance secreted from the glands acts as a territorial marker. The firm bowel movement pushes against the glands as it exits the rectum, squeezing the substance from the glands onto the feces. Every time a dog or cat has a bowel movement, the glands are expressed naturally. They are kind of like doggy fingerprints. Each individual dog or cat has a particular smell to their anal gland secretion so that they can literally identify one from another. That is the reason that dogs sniff other dog’s feces in order to smell the anal gland secretion which allows them to identify what dog was recently present. Everyone has seen the typical dog to dog greeting where two dogs are nose to rear going around in circles. They sniff each other’s anal glands to get a baseline smell for future encounters.
Often dogs have problems with their anal sacs; cats rarely experience anal sac problems. Very commonly, a dog’s anal glands become impacted and require medical attention. The ducts that drain the glands become blocked with thicker than normal secretions.
If a dog has a loose stool or diarrhea for several days, the glands cannot be emptied naturally and so they become impacted. Sometimes, the anal glands will also become infected and abscessed.
We have all seen the almost comical symptom of anal gland impaction in which a dog will scoot across the floor on their bottom. This is the most common sign that your dog may have impacted anal glands. Excessive licking of the rectal area is another symptom.
Impacted anal glands appear to itch and dogs can’t help licking or dragging their bottom on the floor. If a dog has an abscessed anal sac, the area next to the rectum becomes swollen, warm and painful. If the abscess ruptures, you will usually see a discharge of blood and pus.
Anal gland problems are very common in dogs, especially small dogs. Every dog with anal gland disease should receive medical treatment. Simple impactions may only require manual expression of the glands. Infected and abscessed glands will require medications including antibiotics and pain relief medicine and sometimes topical ointment.
Most dogs that have a problem with their anal glands will usually have a reoccurrence sometime in the near future. If problems continue to occur, surgical removal of the anal glands may be warranted.
The glands are not medically necessary for a dog to have. Surgical removal of the glands is not without potential complications. The most serious complication of the surgery is permanent damage to the nerves that close the anal sphincter muscle.
Although this is rare, it can lead to fecal incontinence or the inability to control bowel movements. More commonly, dogs will experience temporary loss of control of bowel movements that lasts for only a few days.