Nothing clears a room faster than anal gland expression, whether it’s accidental or deliberate. As soon as the foul odor hits your nose, you probably will cough, gag, or gasp in horror that your beloved fur ball could create such an atrocious smell. Unfortunately, all dogs and cats have anal glands, and some require manual expression to empty these two stinky sacs. Why do pets have anal glands? What happens if they develop a problem? Let’s read more about these odiferous scent glands, and other pet-grooming tasks. 

What are anal glands in pets?

Whether you call them anal glands or anal sacs, all dogs and cats have these two small pouches, unless they have been surgically removed. Located between the internal and external anal sphincter muscles, one gland resides on each side of the anus, at roughly the 5 and 7 o’clock positions. As your pet defecates, the anal glands empty through short, narrow ducts inside the anus. Each gland is lined with oil and sweat glands that secrete an oily, brownish, musky fluid, with a highly distinctive odor.

What is the function of pets’ anal glands?

Let’s get down to the dirty details of pets’ anal glands. You may think your pet expresses her anal glands only to clear the room, and ensure she gets the entire couch to herself for a nap, but expression is usually accidental. Cats and dogs should eliminate anal gland fluid while defecating, possibly to lubricate hard stool to make defecation easier, and to act as a powerful territorial scent marker. However, these are only theories, and the glands’ true purpose is not known. Pets also can express their anal glands when relaxed or startled, which does not line up with the scent-marker theory. Regardless, anal glands require routine expression to avoid problems. 

What are the signs of anal gland issues in pets?

Ideally, your pet should express her anal glands naturally when she defecates, but many pets can run into issues. Small-breed dogs, pets with inflammatory allergies, and overweight pets are most likely to develop anal gland problems that require regular manual expression, to avoid painful abscesses. Also, the glands can become inflamed, impacted, and infected if the anal gland fluid is not routinely expressed, because the material thickens, and becomes more difficult to pass. Without relief, an anal gland can abscess and rupture. 

At the first sign of an anal gland issue, schedule an appointment at our Alisos Animal Hospital, to have your pet’s glands manually expressed. A dog with anal gland problems will commonly scoot her hind end along the ground in an attempt to relieve the pressure, but she may display less noticeable signs, which may include:

  • Excessive licking or chewing underneath the tail
  • Redness or swelling around the anus
  • A sudden foul odor
  • Leakage of anal gland fluid on resting areas

Your cat may exhibit less obvious signs, such as straining to defecate, and defecation outside the litter box. Cats rarely drag their hind end on the carpet, and some display no apparent issues, until an anal gland becomes impacted and ruptures.

How are anal gland problems treated in pets?

In a perfect world, your pet would express her anal glands naturally each time she defecates, but many require assistance. Depending on your pet’s particular anal gland issue, we may recommend maintenance expressions monthly, quarterly, or biannually. If your pet has developed an infection, or her anal gland has ruptured, we will treat the painful, infected gland with anti-inflammatory medication, antibiotics, and frequent manual expressions to remove all the infected fluid. After an anal gland infection or rupture, we will determine the best schedule for future manual expressions, to prevent reoccurrence. 

What other grooming tasks are important for my pet’s health?

In addition to regular manual or natural anal gland expression, the following grooming activities are vital to your pet’s health, and should be performed regularly:

  • Routine nail trims Regular nail trims prevent painful ingrown nails that can curl into the pad, leading to inflammation and infection. Trimming your pet’s nail tips every four to six weeks will keep the quick—the blood and nerve supply—from growing out. Overgrown quicks make trimming the nails back to an appropriate length difficult, and too-long nails can lead to serious problems. When nails are so long they press on the ground, the extra pressure pushes the nail back into the nail bed, creating discomfort and pressure on the toe joint. If left untrimmed, too-long nails can realign the structure of your pet’s legs, compromising weight distribution, and normal physical activity. 

  • Ear cleaning — While many dogs and cats require only a quick wipe of the ears, rather than a thorough ear cleaning with a cleansing product, some are predisposed to rapid ear debris accumulation. Dogs with floppy ears, or who enjoy frequent swims, need their ears cleaned and dried, to avoid trapping moisture that can promote yeast overgrowth.
  • Brushing — Brushing your pet regularly prevents painful mats, which can form tightly next to the skin, leading to infection. Routine brushing also disperses your pet’s natural oils, creating a healthy coat, and eliminating dandruff and loose, dead fur. 

Nobody enjoys an anal gland expression, but it’s a necessary grooming task for pets. Schedule an appointment with our Alisos Animal Hospital team to check your pet’s anal glands, and help her boot the scoot. We can also demonstrate correct nail trimming and ear cleaning, so you can perform the tasks on your pet at home, if desired.