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Understanding anal gland disease in cats

Both male and female cats have anal sacs with glands which secrete an oily, strong-smelling substance used to mark their stools. The opening to the anal sac is visible in the lower region of the anus. Anal gland disease is common in cats and causes problems when defecating.

Why do cats have anal glands?

Every time a cat defecates the stool should put enough pressure on the anal glands so that some secretion is deposited on the stool. This allows cats to keep track of other feline presence on their territory as they can sniff the stools they find. Additionally, cats recognize each other by smelling the anus as each cat’s anal glands produces a unique scent.

Problems associated with anal glands

  • Impaction - If a cat fails to express her anal gland regularly, the fluid becomes thick and solidified
  • Infection - Bacteria grows in the anal glands causing infection
  • Abscess - When the infection builds and creates a swelling, the skin over the sac breaks open, and pus seeps onto the skin
  • Cancer - Chronic and advanced anal gland problems such as recurring abscesses can occasionally lead to cancer
Symptoms

  • Sitting down on its rear and dragging its bottom across the floor

  • Licking the anal area excessively

  • pain around the tail and anus

  • swelling of the anus

  • blood or pus seeping out of anus

  • biting or scratching when you touch the area near the tail


Treatment

When the glands become impacted, a vet must clean them out manually. This is done by applying pressure. A vet presses his index finger inside the cat’s anus and his thumb outside the anus. If this does not prove sufficient anal gland abscesses often must be surgically treated by a vet along with the prescription of antibiotics. For cats with repeated or chronic problems, surgical removal of the glands is sometimes recommended.

Prevention

Cats with recurrent anal gland impactions are often placed on a high fibre diet which will make their stools more bulky. This will put more pressure on the anal glands allowing them to resume normal function.