Anal glands: what pet owners need to know

Anal glands are something most pet owners ignore until the terrible smell forces them to see a vet in a hurry. It’s important to know what these glands are and how to deal with them before they become a problem.

What are anal glands?

Dogs and cats have two scent glands on either side of their anus. These glands produce a terrible smelling (to us anyway), oily substance that is unique to the dog or cat. Normally, the anal glands empty every time the animal passes a stool. And these glands are the reason that dogs will sniff each other under the tail and sniff stool that they come across on the walk. They are basically identifiying the dog that left the scent message via these glands.

Soemtimes, these glands can cause a problem. One of two things can occur, either the glands empty spontaneously, and other times they can become blocked.

In the first case, your dog/cat might empty the anal glands when they become stressed and I always imagine it has the same function as a skunk … it smells so terrible it might just frighten the stressor away.

And other times the glands may empty when your dog/cat is very relaxed. This is often on your bed or on your couch which leaves you with a very smelly situation.  In this case, the anal glands are behaving normally and there is not much that one can do about it.

If your dog often empties the glands when stressed it may be worth having a consultation regarding anxiety and how to reduce it. Your pet may have other illnesses related to chronic stress and anxiety (e.g. lower urinary tract disease in cats) and we are able to help your pet lead a less stressful life. You can also take your pet to the vet to ensure that the glands are not overly full.

What happens when they become blocked?

Symptoms of blockage include scooting (dragging the bottom on the ground), licking the anal region, swelling around the anus and a fishy-smell. Sometimes the blocked gland can become infected and form an abscess and then you would see a draining, wound next to the anus. If you notice any of these symptoms the animal needs to be seen by the vet to establish the diagnosis and give the correct treatment. In many cases the glands can be emptied but sometimes antibiotics need to be given. In severe cases, the animal may need to be sedated to flush the glands.

Some animals have chronic anal gland blockages or infection. This is often due to a food allergy or an anatomical problem (either the glands or the anus are not in the right position so they cannot empty properly).

It can help to increase the fibre in the animal’s diet, which bulks up the stool to encourage emptying of the glands with bowel movements. If you pet has recurrent issues your vet may advise a diet trial. And in very severe cases, the anal glands may be removed altogether.

All in all, if your pet is unhappy with his backside, a visit to the vet can ease his suffering and save you from very a stinky problem.

Dr Ingrid de Wet is the head veterinarian at Country Animal Clinic in Somerset West