The anal glands in a dog or cat are residual scent marking organs, responsible for the production of an odor that identifies the individual and marks his stool to establish territory. Similar to the glands of a skunk, the anal glands are typically expelled when the animal defecates, or sometimes when they feel stressed or relaxed. Anal gland disease can include one of several medical issues involving the anal glands.
“The most common form of anal gland disease is impaction, where the contents are not expelled normally,” said Dr. Alison Diesel, lecturer in dermatology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “In this situation, the animal may require assistance from a veterinarian, veterinary technician, groomer, or owner to have the anal glands expressed.” Other medical conditions of the anal gland include infections, abscesses, or even cancer.
One of the most recognizable symptoms of anal gland disease is when the animal “scoots,” or drags their hind end on the carpet, grass, or other surface. Malodor and frequent licking are also good indicators.
“If an infection, abscess, or cancer is the cause of disease, exudate may be noted from the anal gland or tissue surrounding the anus,” said Diesel.
Depending on the particular disease, treatment options are highly variable. If you are concerned that your dog or cat may have anal gland disease, you should schedule an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian to have them evaluated and discuss recommendations for the particular cause of disease.
“For impaction, periodic manual expression of the anal gland contents may be sufficient,” said Diesel. “Sometimes, changes in diet may help with the disease, or at least from expression being required quite as frequently.”
If it is discovered to be cancer, then surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy may be the appropriate treatment, depending on the specific type of cancer.
“For infections and abscesses, having the area clipped and cleaned by a veterinarian is generally helpful,” said Diesel. “Additional medication such as antibiotics (either oral medications, or infused into the anal gland) may be required.”
In general, there is no way to prevent anal gland disease in your pets, aside from having them surgically removed. However, this is not typically recommended, as it is a bit aggressive for an animal that isn’t showing signs of anal gland disease.
“Additionally, there is the potential for complications associated with the surgery including fecal incontinence, stricture formation (leading to potentially severe constipation), or poor wound healing,” said Diesel. “As well, this would not prevent medical problems which may mimic anal gland disease including parasites, allergies, or other types of cancer.”
While anal gland disease is a fairly common pet health problem, it is recommended that you consult with your veterinarian to establish the safest and most effective treatment method available for your pet.
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