The anal glands (or sacs) are two pockets located either side of your pet’s anus, typically at the 4 and 8 o’clock position. These pockets are lined with glandular cells that secrete a very pungent substance that is used for scent marking; it is part of the reason dogs will sniff each other’s back ends when meeting. Typically, these sacs get emptied when passing faeces pushes on them, excreting the strong-smelling contents onto the poo. Owners usually only become aware of the glands’ existence when their pet has a problem with them.
The most common anal gland issue that we see in practice is failure to empty. Full anal glands can be quite uncomfortable, and the most telling clinical sign is when your pet ‘scoots’ their bottom along the floor. More subtle signs may include sniffing around their back end more than usual, and licking the skin over their legs, flanks, back and tail. You may also notice a strong, unpleasant aroma coming from your pet.
Anal glands that don’t empty properly are at risk of becoming completely impacted, which is often very painful and can lead to abscess formation or even rupture of the affected gland. Emptying a gland is usually a quick and simple procedure done during a consultation with your vet while your pet is conscious. Infected anal glands may require catheterisation and flushing under sedation or anaesthetic.
There are several factors increasing risk of anal gland disease, including low-fibre diet, diarrhoea, obesity and individual conformation. Some dogs or cats may only have one issue in their lifetime, while others may be frequent offenders when it comes to anal gland impaction, visiting the clinic every couple of months for their glands to be completely emptied. For some animals, complete removal of the anal glands may be considered, but this procedure comes with its own risks and so is not routinely performed. Unfortunately, some animals can also develop tumours in their anal glands, so always get them checked out if you are concerned.