Dogs and cats, as well many other small mammals, have a pair of glands located just
under the skin on both sides of the rectum. These glands, commonly called “anal
glands,” are actually scent glands. Prior to domestication, these glands were used
primarily for marking territory. In the domesticated species, they serve little to
no practical purpose and can cause distress to many animals.
COMMON PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH ANAL GLANDS
Normal animals will express small amounts of the secretion in the anal glands with
their bowel movements. In some animals, this does not occur and the anal gland will
become full and cause discomfort for the animal.
The most common sign of an animal with anal gland compaction is scooting–the animal
will place its butt on the ground and drag it in an effort to relieve the compaction.
Manual expression of the anal gland is recommended for animals that are scooting.
The frequency of expression will vary by animal. Some pets can need anal glands
expressed as often as monthly and some may never.
Infection and abscess formation
Since the duct of the anal gland is located close to the external anal sphincter
contamination with faecal bacteria is common. The infection resulting from bacterial
contamination can be very painful.
Signs can include excessive scooting, excessive licking, swelling, fever, and pain.
If the infection persists, the gland can rupture. Treatment includes manual expression
of the gland and antibiotics. Surgical removal may be recommended to prevent additional
If an anal gland is compacted and infected, the infection will be unable to drain
from the duct and can rupture through the skin overlying the anal gland.
Signs of a ruptured anal gland include evidence of a draining track with bloody or
purulent (pus) discharge, scooting, licking, swelling, and pain. In some cases, the
animal may lay around, hide, or have a decreased appetite. Treatment is often done
under anaesthesia and includes debriding the affected skin tissue, flushing and cleaning
the area, placing a drain to ensure continued drainage, antibiotics, and pain medications.
Surgical removal of the anal glands at a later date may be recommended to prevent
Several tumours can form within an anal gland. The cause for tumour formation is
often unknown but may be the result of chronic irritation. Dogs with small, early
anal gland tumours may not show any signs of discomfort. Dogs with larger, more
advanced tumours may scoot or lick excessively, have swelling in the area of the anal gland
and/or have problems defecating.
Surgical removal of anal gland tumours is strongly recommended in the earliest stages
of progression. If biopsy/histopathology of the tumour determines a malignancy,
additional treatment, including chemotherapy and/or radiation, may be recommended.
If the tumour is benign, surgery should be curative and additional treatment is often
SURGICAL REMOVAL OF ANAL GLANDS
Anal glands can be removed to prevent problems or as a means of treatment. In many
cases, anal gland removal should be considered for animals that frequently need their glands expressed (i.e. frequent compaction), for animals that have had a history of infections or anal
gland rupture (abscesses), or for animals that have anal gland tumours. In all cases
except for malignant anal gland tumours, surgery can allow for a 100% cure of anal gland
Potential side effects of surgery can range from mild to severe. The mild complications
can range from temporary post-operative pain, swelling, and drainage from the incision.
These signs are often short lived and well controlled with medication. Moderate
complications can include difficulty defecating post operatively and infection. The risk
of infection is often higher than for other surgeries given the proximity to the anus and
faeces. Again, these problems can often be prevented or treated with the use of medication
post operatively. Severe and less common complications can include anal sphincter
damage and faecal incontinence. With careful surgical technique this can often be avoided.
As a means of preventing post-operative complications antibiotics and pain medications
will likely be prescribed. In addition, it is extremely important to not allow the
patient to lick at or chew the sutures/incision line so usage of an e-collar will often
be required until healing is complete. Animals that are allowed to lick at or chew
their incisions will often have a higher chance of complications.