The anal glands live in the walls of the canine and feline rectum a few inches inside from the exit point of the GI tract. They secrete a semi-viscous fluid that collects in pouches called anal sacs just distal to them at approximately the 9 and 3 o’clock positions just inside the anus. As the canine or feline defecates, the passing stool pressing on the anal sacs causes some of it to express onto the stool and give it a scent that is unique to the respective dog or cat.
In some cases, due to inherited anatomical conformation issues, poor rectal muscle tone or chronic loose stools, the anal sacs do not effectively express and remain full. Over time this can lead to an excessive thickening of the secretions collected in the anal sacs and they cause the affected pet to lick the region or exhibit scooting behavior (depicted in the featured image of this page). Once scooting behavior is noted, it is important to get the affected dog or cat to the vet to have the anal sacs manually expressed.
Delaying manual anal sacs expression can lead to impaction (inability to empty) of the anal sacs or infections of one or both anal sacs. Ouch!
In some cases, anal sacs expression delay is not the fault of the owner for ignoring the pet’s scooting, as not all pets exhibit scooting behavior when their anal sacs are full. Cats are notorious for this. These are the cases that we find out the hard way when the pet is vocalizing while trying to move its bowels and we find a large sore oozing pus on either side of the anus. Double ouch!
Some pets have such bad anal sacs issues that they need to be expressed every 2-4 weeks. With most pet owners unwilling or unable to master this skill and do it at home, this can add up to a major inconvenience and expense. Some pet owners at this point opt to have the anal sacs surgically removed, but before going there, I usually recommend trying bulk forming therapy for affected dogs and cats.
The efficacy of bulk therapy is to bulk and firm up the stool to the extent that it will more effectively press on the anal sacs and empty them as they pass through. For dogs, this can easily be done by adding psyllium to the food as a dietary supplement. Psyllium is an effective bulk forming agent and comes in a tasteless product called Vetasyl that they usually readily eat unnoticed.
For cats, adding stuff to the food is often a non-starter, as they can sniff out something foreign in the food quite readily and will usually avoid eating it. For bulk forming in cats, I therefore prefer a prescription diet called Royal Canin GI Fiber Response.
For both dogs and cats with anal sacs issues, I recommend supplementing their diet with probiotics to enhance their microbiome. Maintaining a healthy microbiome is another effective way to keep normal and firm stool consistency which thereby facilitates optima health of the anal sacs. There are a number of probiotic supplements that come in palatable treats or pastes.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.