Anal glands are a pair of sebaceous-lined glands on either side of the rectum. All carnivores have anal glands including dogs and cats. These are also called “scent glands” due to the strong, rotten-fish scent which accompanies the emptying of the glands. The glands can empty spontaneously when a pet (dog or cat) is under stress or during defecation. When an animal has solid fecal matter, it presses on the glands and causes them to express. Softer stool does not express the glands and can lead to the need for regular anal gland expression by your veterinarian. If the anal glands are not expressed (either spontaneously or by a veterinarian), your pet may become uncomfortable and start “scooting” or rubbing his rear end on the ground to relieve the pressure on his anal glands, your pet might also bite or lick at his anus, chase his tail or sit uncomfortably. This lack of expression can lead to infection. which can lead to abscess formation of the gland through the skin, or impaction, in which the duct from the gland to the anus becomes blocked and often leads to infection. Anal glands that abscess or become infected will require antibiotics as well as treatment topically. The impaction and abscessation also require clearing the blockage physically while the pet is sedated.
Rarely, anal glands will require surgical removal due to cancer or recurrent infection. This is considered a salvage procedure (a procedure of last resort) due to the potentially severe complications of fecal incontinence, fecal straining, or fistula formation. Normally, making sure your pet has solid stools, fiber supplementation, or regular anal gland expression will ensure healthy anal glands for life!