Anal Gland Conditions

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Anal sacs or anal glands, whatever term you wish to use no one can mistake that pungent smell of an emptied anal sac when they are expressed in the consulting room!  But like most things on our pets – they have their function.   There are a number of conditions that affect dogs (and cats) anal glands.  The following gives information on anal glands.

Dogs have a pair of sacs near the anus, lined with sebaceous glands. Secretions produced by these glands form a fluid which is excreted onto the animal’s faeces when they defecate. The secretions, which have a strong smell, enable the animals to mark their territory and allow the dogs to identify each other.

As the faeces pass out of the anus a small amount of anal gland fluid is naturally expressed. This material acts as a scent marker, which is why dogs are always interested in smelling where other dogs have gone to the toilet!

Food can play a large part in the malfunction of anal sac emptying. It is important that your pet is given a good quality complete diet – this will contain the right amount of fibre needed to form normal faeces and therefore the normal action of anal sac emptying.

Some breeds can be more prone to anal gland emptying problems.

Your dog can also develop problems if they are overweight, elderly or have a history of constipation.

When the glands do not empty naturally they can fill up, which causes discomfort. Small faeces or soft faeces may not be fibrous enough to help activate natural emptying so the sacs fill even more. In these cases the anal sacs are not fully emptied when a dog defecates naturally, this results in a build-up of secretions and full sacs.

Symptoms of full anal sacs include:

  • Dogs dragging their bottoms on the ground otherwise known as ‘scooting’
  • Licking or biting at their bottom
  • Sitting or standing uncomfortably
  • Tail chasing or has stopped moving / wagging his tail.
  • Turning sharply and chewing their flanks.
  • Seems depressed
  • Object to tail being handled or lifted
  • A strong fishy smell on your pet or your furnishings

Full anal sacs can be emptied by anal sac expressions. It is advisable to ask your vet to do this. This is a practice offered by some pet groomers, but should not be performed routinely - ONLY if there is a problem.

It is worth noting that it is advised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons that if any person wants to express anal glands and they are not a vet, they should have external anal sac expression demonstrated and explained to them by a vet. Anal sacs can be damaged if not expressed in the right way and internal expression should not be attempted by anyone, unless you are a vet, for this very reason.

Conditions affecting the anal sacs:

  • Impaction – This can be treated by manual expression and is normally performed conscious.
  • Abscessation – The anal sacs need to be expressed and the abscess lanced, drained and lavaged. This can only be achieved with sedation or a general anaesthetic. The dog will need a course of antibiotics to clear up this infection.
  • Anal sac infection – as above but in many cases antibiotics will be infused directly into the infected sac.
  • Tumours – the most common tumour of the anal sacs is an adenocardinoma. This is a malignant tumour. The treatment of choice is to remove the anal sac in its entirely – using a procedure called an anal sacculectomy.

If your dog is showing any of these signs listed, then please book an appointment with one of our vets. It can be an uncomfortable and sometimes painful condition.

For more specific information, visit our website Pet Health Library, click here.

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