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Anal Sac Problems in Your Dog or Cat

Ronald S. Hines DVM PhD 2/7/03

Many of us have been exasperated to see our treasured pet scooting along on the rug due to anal irritation. In a few female pets, this can be due to vaginitis; but the majority of these pets have enlarged anal sacs. The anal sacs are two pea-sized sacs on ether side of the rectum. They are found in a variety of animals.

Their biological use is to impart an odor to the stool that is unique to the pet. In a normal pet, the firm, globular stool exerts pressure on these sacs as it is voided. However, if the stool is too soft or hard or if the pet has a tendency to thick, difficultly-passed anal gland oils, the sacs do not empty completely and become itchy or inflamed. In extreme cases, the sacs can burst. It is an extremely uncomfortable condition for your pet.

In approximately 70% of the cases I have seen over the last thirty years, the problem has been due to feeding the dog soft foods, table scraps, barbecued or marinated foods. About 10% are due to the “garbage hound” syndrome where the pet forages through the thrash eating “Big Mac” rappers, plastic objects, dirt, gravel or sand. Often it is the scent of table food that attracts them to these objects.

In a few, the problem is a true “pica” or deranged appetite. Picas sometimes respond to large doses of supplemental B-vitamins. In about 10% of the cases the problems is a genetic tendency for the dog to produce anal gland secretions that are too thick to pass. I see this type of problem most frequently in toy poodles and miniature schnauzers. The last 10% of the cases I see are due to intestinal parasites (hookworms or whipworms) causing chronically loose stools which can not express the anal sacs normally.

If the problem is treated early, a gentle massage of the peri-rectal area with a damp “Klenex” every week or two is often enough to empty the sacs. I try to instruct my clients how to do this by observing me do it the first time. Some groomers are proficient in this technique. One must never massage harder than one would a grape without rupturing it.

Then, dietary management to produce robust, clay-textured stools usually eliminates the problem. In some dogs, the problem has been present so long and the anal sacs (glands) so distended that they are best empties using a latex finger cot through the anus.

This is not a procedure a normal pet owner would attempt. When the problem reoccurs again and again or the pet was brought to me late in the disease or after the gland has ruptured ; I usually remove the glands surgically. First I treat the dog with a ten-day course of antibiotics. The surgery causes no ill effects if it is done correctly.

In ferrets, the problem can be due to a portion of the sac being inadvertently left when the animal was descended or due to a condition known as chronically inflamed bowel disease.