What are anal glands? Anal glands are two small glands that sit inside, below and either side of the anus, at above the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock position. Each gland sac has a small tube which empties into the rectum. The glands secrete a brown, smelly fluid. They perform no real purpose to domesticated pets, however, historically they were used for territory marking or communication or as a defence mechanism (like a skunk).
Each time a stool (faeces) is passed, enough pressure is applied to the glands and a small amount of secretion is deposited onto the stool.
Sometimes these glands can become blocked, causing pressure to build up, which can create great discomfort to your pet. This can cause symptoms such as scooting their bottom along the floor, licking their backend area and under their tail, crying while defecating or straining, release of a foul smelling secretion from the glands, redness or swelling to the anal region. Cats can be more subtle in showing signs, but they may also show straining to defecate or defecating outside the litter box.
Blocked anal glands is often referred to as anal gland impaction. The secretion can become thick, and therefore impacted within the gland, so it does not empty each time a stool is passed. Anal glands can become infected which can also cause anal gland abscesses. Anal glands can also develop tumours.
Reasons behind anal gland problems can be several things, such as having soft or loose stools, digestive issues, allergies, infection, obesity or poor anatomy. If your pet is showing any of the signs discussed previously, then veterinary attention is advised to be sought. They may need their glands expressed. Your veterinarian will be able to tell if the secretion is normal or if the glands are impacted, or infected. Sometimes, if your pets glands cannot be expressed, they may require anal gland flushing or a course of antibiotics if they have an infection/abscess.
How to prevent anal gland issues in your pet
Maintaining your pet’s ideal weight is important to preventing anal gland issues, as overweight animals tend to have more problems emptying their glands. Providing a consistent, high quality diet is important.
Fibre is essential in the diet to ensure the stool is bulky and firm, which will promote anal gland emptying as a stool is passed.
Veterinary supplements which contain fibre helps this. They also contain omega-fatty acids to support immune response to allergies, and prebiotic fibre, probiotics and digestive enzymes to support digestion and firm stools. A supplement can be used alongside your pet’s diet to promote healthy anal glands.
Any underlying cause of the anal gland problems, such as allergies or digestive issues, need to be treated. In the most severely affected animals, sometimes anal glands are surgically removed, however, this is a last resort procedure as it has lots of risks associated with it, such as faecal incontinence, infection and general surgical risks.
How often do I need to get my pets anal glands expressed?
Usually, anal glands will only need to be expressed if your pet is showing symptoms of problems. However, the frequency of emptying varies between individuals. Sometimes it is only once in a lifetime, or once to twice a year, but sometimes it may be needed monthly. Monitoring your pet’s clinical signs is a way to ascertain if they need their glands emptied.