What are anal sacs?
The terms anal glands and anal sacs are often used interchangeably among veterinarians and pet parents although they really refer to different anatomic structures. Technically, anal sac refers to the organs found under the skin at the 5 and 7 o’clock positions around an animal’s rectum. Anal gland refers to the glands found within the anal sacs that produce a pungent liquid. When an animal has a bowel movement, the anal sphincter squeezes the anal sacs against the feces causing the sacs to expel their contents onto the fecal matter. This action typically (and thankfully) goes unnoticed by pet parents. Their actual purpose remains unknown, but many believe that anal gland secretions give feces a unique scent allowing animals to use it to mark their territory. One of the questions that people frequently ask me is if people have anal sacs. The good news for those pet parents worried about having anal sac problems of their own is that fortunately, humans do not.
Anal Sac Problems
Anal sac problems can occur in any dog or cat but are more common in small breed dogs. The anal sacs become impacted when the secretions are thick and cannot be emptied. They can also become infected and develop into an abscess and rupture. It remains unclear why anal sac problems develop in the first place or why only certain animals become affected.
Signs and Symptoms
If your pet develops anal sac problems, you may notice that your pet is “scooting” (dragging their bottom on the ground), licking excessively under their tail, or you may notice blood or discharge around their anus. You may also smell a foul pungent odor.
What should you do if your pet has a problem?
If you think your pet is having anal sac problems, speak with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Diagnosis is made by digital palpation and treatment involves manual expression of the anal sac contents. If they are infected they may be flushed and your pet may be treated with antibiotics. An abscess will probably require surgical drainage and antibiotics.
Anal sacs problems are fairly common in pets. Fortunately, most anal sac problems are not serious and are more of an annoyance that can easily be treated by your veterinarian. If your pet has frequent anal sac problems, your veterinarian may recommend monthly anal gland expressions. If you are game, they can show you how to do it at home. If you are squeamish about expressing your own pet’s anal sacs or are afraid of making a smelly mess at home, you can make monthly appointments with your veterinarian. The bottom line (no pun intended) is if you notice that your pet is licking their bottom or dragging their rear end on the ground, be sure to have your veterinarian check your pet’s anal sacs for signs of a possible problem. Like most medical issues, the sooner you get to the bottom of things, the better the outcome.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.