The Vet Is In: Problems with Pets’ Anal Glands

Dr. Marvin Ordway
By Dr. Marvin Ordway December 15, 2012 12:00

Finish your snack before reading this column. And take a deep cleansing breath. Maybe even two. We’re going to talk about anal glands.

These small glands are one of the main reasons for “scooting,” that scourge of carpet owners everywhere. The fact is, dogs and cats scoot on their rears in an effort to solve a potentially serious problem.

Both cats and dogs have two scent glands, one on each side of the anus. When working properly, these glands release a small amount of a foul-smelling fluid each time the animal defecates. The scent helps dogs and cats identify each other.

If the pet becomes frightened or excited, a large amount of this musky smelling fluid can be released, much to the owner’s displeasure – especially if the animal is in the house or car.  Sometimes, for unknown reasons, the fluid in the glands can become too thick to be excreted normally. A plug can also form at the glands’ openings, blocking secretions and causing the glands to become impacted. The animal then scoots to try to empty them.

Excessive scooting can lead to anal trauma and itching, which can make things worse. Blocked glands can rupture through the skin alongside the anus. This painful condition will require sedation, abscess cleaning, antibiotics and pain medication. Rarely, a weed seed will find its way into a gland duct and cause an abscess.

Anal gland tumors can also cause discomfort and scooting. Often these tumors do not show any outward signs and are discovered when the anal glands are emptied by a veterinarian.

Yes, this is a tough topic, but you can take it, right? Your dog or cat’s health is at stake, and sometimes – just as with people – that involves unpleasant but essential intervention.

Sometimes cats and dogs scoot to help clean the anal or vulva area. This is especially true in obese or old and arthritic pets that may be unable to bend enough to get to these areas. With long-haired pets, fecal matter tangled in hair around the anus can create matting that prevents the animal from being able to pass stool. Scooting in an effort to clean the area can worsen this. Typically the fecal matt needs to be clipped out and the area cleaned with soap and water.

Have we gotten to the bottom of the problem? No, there are a few more twists and turns ahead, such as vulvar fold infections. These too can cause discomfort and itching that spurs scooting. This condition is more common in obese animals because the skin folds in that area are deep and stay moist, especially if there is any urinary incontinence.

Perianal gland adenomas, usually benign tumors of unneutered male dogs, can develop on the anus and cause discomfort. Surgical removal of these tumors and neutering the dog usually cures the problem.

Another cause for scooting: allergies, particularly food allergies. Undigested allergenic food particles that come in contact with anal tissue can cause inflammation and itching. Scooting helps to relieve the itch but can damage tender tissue and allow the allergenic substances to work deeper into the tissue.

Antihistamines and cortisone drugs can temporarily relieve itching. Hypoallergenic diets, or diet elimination trials to determine which foods need to be avoided, are the only ways to prevent the problem from recurring.

Parasites can also cause scooting. Tapeworm segments can crawl out of or attach to the anus as the animal passes stool. Flea bites, especially if the dog or cat has a flea allergy, can cause severe itching, biting, scooting and self-trauma to the area around the anus and tail.

Congratulations, you made it through! Thanks for hanging in there. Being a caring and responsible pet owner isn’t always easy, fun or sweet-smelling, but that “willing to do anything to help” spirit is the mark of a true best friend.

Marv Ordway has owned and operated Twain Harte Veterinary Hospital since 1983.

© 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Dr. Marvin Ordway
By Dr. Marvin Ordway December 15, 2012 12:00
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1 Comment

  1. Smcfarlin February 16, 12:48

    Will neutering a male 7 month old help with anal gland issues?

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