What’s up with anal glands?  Why does my pet scoot? What can be done to prevent this, and what are anal glands for anyway? Yes, kind of an unpleasant topic to talk about, but certainly among the common questions that pet guardians have.

There are two glands located one or either side of the anus. Viewed from behind, the sacs would sit at approximately 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock below the anus. They usually contain a foul-smelling matter which is expelled at urination and/or defecation and which acts as a territory marker.

What happens to the anal sacs to make a pet want to scoot?

There are several answers to this question. Inflammation (irritation), infection, impaction (plugged up with thick or gritty secretion) and even tumors in the sacs can cause the discomfort leading to the scooting behavior. Cats most commonly suffer from impaction.

How often do the sacs need to be emptied?

In the best case, never. They should take care of themselves. Your pet’s experience may vary, however, as some pets have recurrent problems with anal sacs not emptying properly. Animals that are overweight have less muscle tone and sometimes additional fat tissue in the way of proper emptying of the sacs. Skin infections and seborrhea can delay sac emptying as well.

How are anal sacs emptied?

There are basically two methods — external and internal anal sac expression. External expression is simply pushing gently on the skin over the sacs in an upward motion to empty the contents of the sacs (have a tissue or two handy and be prepared for the smell!) Internal expression requires a latex glove and inserting your index finger just inside the anal sphincter to aid in pushing out the contents of the sac. This method is best left to your veterinarian to show you the proper technique.

Why so many problems?

You will notice in the above description that the anal sphincter must squeeze the sac against hard feces to express the contents. If your pet is fed a species specific whole food diet then emptying the anal glands should be a non issue for you.  The goal is for your pet to have nice solid firm (not rock hard) stools to empty the anal glands.  (Click here for our post on Poop!)  This is just one of many reasons to consider adding more raw foods (muscle meat, organ meat and bone) to your pet’s diet.  The issue is when dogs and cats are fed a higher grain/vegetable style diet that creates these lofty and puffy stools that just don’t put any pressure against the anal glands and they re not eliminated naturally.  This produces a much softer stool so there is nothing for the glands to be squeezed against. The secretions build up and the pet has problems. Here at Four Muddy Paws, we can discuss your diet options with you.

What if I don’t get my pet’s anal glands expressed?

When the fluid begins building up and the animal scoots to try to relieve the pressure we have signs of an impaction. Treatment at this point will save the pet from more serious problems later on. This is why the anal sacs should always be checked by the veterinarian or groomer whenever working with the pet. If the secretion stays in the sacs for very long it begins to thicken and become like peanut butter in consistency. At this point it is very difficult to be expressed and subject to bacterial invasion and an abscess can form . Once an abscess forms and there is no route of escape for the secretion and pus it may rupture through the skin causing an unsightly mess and lots of pain for the pet.   This is a situation we want to avoid.

This is a recurring problem for my pet. I can’t afford to go to the vet every time!

Some pets do seem predisposed to having anal sac problems. If this is the case with your pet, speak to your vet about learning how to empty the anal sacs at home to prevent problems.   We can help you find the proper natural diet for your pet plus adding in supplements like pumpkin can help too as many pets are helped by adding some fiber to the diet to help bulk up the stools.