Anal Sac Disease in Dogs & Cats
Published December 11, 2020
Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian
1. What: Anal sac disease is a blockage or inflammation of your pet’s anal sac glands. Anal sac disease is more common in dogs, but it can affect cats too.
2. Why: Initially, anal sac disease makes your pet uncomfortable. As the condition progresses, your pet experiences excruciating pain. If left untreated long enough, surgery may become the only effective treatment.
3. When: If your pet is scooting, has a swollen and reddish anal area, or presents other symptoms commonly associated with anal sac disease, you must consult your veterinarian.
4. How: The doctor will conduct a rectal exam and perform an anal sac expression, if possible. Depending on your pet’s health, the veterinarian may also run tests to make sure your pet is clear of infection and tumors.
5. EPC affordable price: Anal sac expression by a doctor for dogs and cats: $30 ($20 with a technician at select clinics). Check in now.
Understanding Anal Sac Disease
Dogs and cats’ anal sacs are two small sacs located on either side of the muscular wall of the anus. Although the correct term for these structures is the anal sacs, they are commonly referred to as anal glands. Their function is to excrete an oily liquid with a strong scent which helps pets defecate and mark their territory.
Normally, anal sacs are emptied when your pet passes stool. However, your pet’s anal sacs may become clogged and develop an infection. This is often caused by recurring soft or small stools that cannot provide the pressure necessary to empty out the anal sacs. The onset of anal sac disease makes your pet uncomfortable. If left untreated, the condition can progress to a painful and dangerous abscess. Anal sac disease is more common in dogs, but it can affect cats too.
Symptoms of Anal Sac Disease in Dogs & Cats
Be on the lookout for the most common signs of anal sac disease in dogs and cats:
Odor. A smelly pet may be experiencing anal sac clog, which generates a pungent smell. If your pet’s bottom has a rotten smell, have her checked for anal sac issues.
Scooting. If you notice your pet dragging his bottom along the ground, he might need anal sac treatment. This behavior is less commonly associated with intestinal worm infection or even allergies, so have a veterinary checkup if your pet is showing this symptom.
Licking. A pet with anal sac problems will constantly lick or even bite her tail area.
Chasing. Tail-chasing can be another behavior of a pet experiencing anal sac discomfort or pain.
Swelling. If your pet’s anal area is swollen and reddened, she may be suffering with impacted anal sacs. The resultant hard mass in this area may be noticeable to the touch.
Pain. A pet with anal sac inflammation will feel pain on their bottom, may show difficultly sitting down, strain when having a bowel movement, and display classic signs of pain, like diminished appetite, panting, and hiding.
If your pet shows any of these signs, consult your veterinarian. The doctor will conduct a rectal exam and run any needed tests to see if your pet is clear of infection and tumors.
Diagnosing Anal Sac Disease in Dogs & Cats
The veterinarian will often use a digital rectal examination to diagnose anal sac disease in dogs and cats. The doctor will express the sacs and may collect the contents for microscopic examination. If the results reveal increased numbers of bacteria and white blood cells, it may be an indication that an infection is present.
Tumors in the anal sac, a.k.a., anal sac apocrine adenocarcinoma, are usually found in anal sacs that are enlarged, firm to the touch, and non-expressible with irrigation. The veterinarian may recommend an ultrasound exam to determine if the disease has spread to other parts of the body. A biopsy of the tumor is necessary for definitive diagnosis.
In this serious situation, the doctor will request a blood test to measure the pet’s serum calcium level which is often elevated with anal sac tumors. High levels will need to be treated in addition to the underlying disease itself as high blood calcium can eventually lead to kidney failure.
Anal sac disease in dogs and cats has three developmental stages:
Impacted anal sac. Most cases of anal sac disease fall into the impacted sac category. This happens when the secretions within the sacs were not properly expressed and subsequently became dry and thick, obstructing the anal sac. Impaction is uncomfortable for the pet and may cause constipation. The pet’s anal sacs will need to be expressed by a veterinarian.
Infected anal sac. If bacteria builds up long enough in the anal sacs it will cause an infection. Pus oozing from the pet’s sacs may be visible at this point. Anal sac infection is extremely painful for your pet to the point of causing aggressive behavior. Medication is required to treat infected anal sacs.
Abscessed anal sac. If not properly treated,infected anal sacs can become abscessed. At this stage, sacs can no longer be expressed and they will gradually increase pressure within the anal sac duct, eventually causing rupture through the pet’s skin. Abscess treatment can be complex requiring surgical intervention and a drain although milder cases can heal well with antibiotic treatment and pain control.
Most pets are not affected by anal sac disease. So, if your pet does not show any symptoms of anal sac disease, there is no need to have her sacs emptied. On the other hand, if your pet has recurring events of anal sac disease, it is possible to remove the anal sacs through surgery. However, discuss it with your veterinarian because anal sac removal may lead to temporary, or less likely permanent fecal incontinence which could be an even worse situation to manage.
Beware that while groomers may offer anal sac expression during regular routine care, unnecessary excessive expression may cause inflammation and lead to scar tissue in the anal sac. This could potentially narrow the anal sac duct and make it prone to obstruction. Your veterinarian, on the other hand, is able to determine when an expression is medically needed, avoiding these risks.
Increased Risk for Anal Sac Disease in Dogs and Cats
There are several conditions that may increase the likelihood of anal sac disease in dogs and cats. Here are a few factors to consider:
- Chronic skin infection, including mite infestation
- Food allergies
- Hypothyroidism and obesity
- Inadequate bowel movements
- Recurring constipation or diarrhea
- Hereditary malformation of the anal sacs
- Breed, especially smaller dog breeds: Chihuahuas, Miniature Poodles, Lhasa Apsos, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Beagles
- An intestinal tumor
Treatment for Anal Sac Disease in Dogs and Cats
Timely treatment of anal sac disease is crucial. From inception, this condition is seriously distressing for your pet. When left untreated, severe pain sets in and anal sac disease soon escalates. Something that before could be treated with a simple expression to provide relief and anti-inflammatory medication to clean out the infection may later require expensive surgical intervention, heavy pain killers, and antibiotics. If you notice symptoms, consult your veterinarian.
The veterinarian will insert a finger in the pet’s rectum to reach the sac and squeeze it until it is empty. A softening agent like saline or certain medicated solutions can be infused into the sac to help the process if needed. If your pet has a recurring issue, your veterinarian will investigate a possible underlining cause. In some cases, she can also teach you how to do the expression at home.
Keep in mind that it might be difficult to control your pet during the procedure. In addition, you may find the task rather unpleasant. If that is the case, your veterinarian, a veterinary technician, or a trained groomer will be able to handle the dirty job for you, following your veterinarian’s instructions regarding the proper intervals between expressions.
The veterinarian may also recommend modifications to your pet’s diet, such as adding fiber to help form stools big enough to naturally express the anal glands; feeding your pet canned pumpkin regularly to support intestinal health; adding supplements like fish oil for Omega 3 and Omega 6 anti-inflammatory benefits; or putting your pet on a hypoallergenic diet.
If your pet has an abscess, your veterinarian may recommend hot compresses, every 8 to 12 hours, for 20 minutes, to provide relief. Weekly flushing and a steroid-antibiotic ointment infusion may also help.
Essential Tip: Essentials PetCare offers anal sac expression for only $30 with a doctor and $20 with a technician at select clinics. See our affordable pricing for all services.
The visit for anal sac expression in your pet at Essentials PetCare takes 15 minutes on average.
Prices subject to change. See current prices: https://essentialspetcare.com/services.