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Anal Glands

There is MUCH to know about anal glands – they can cause a variety of issues that are often frustrating to manage.

FAQs about anal glands / anal sacs.

What are anal glands?

Both dogs and cats (plus many other animals) have little internal sacs just inside the anus called anal glands or anal sacs. In cats they are generally about 5-8mm in diameter when full and in dogs they are 8mm and 30mm diameter when full. The glands are located internally slightly below centre at 4 and 8 o’clock when looking at the anus.


Anal glands contain a very smelly material which is often described as smelling like fish or skunk. The material can vary from liquidy green, yellow or brown to a thick toothpastey black.


They are the main scent glands for your pet.

What happens when your pet expresses it's anal glands?

When animals are frightened they will often express their anal glands and the room fills with a very strong smell. Just a drop can be difficult to remove from clothing or furniture. 


Some dogs have a problem with regular leaking of a small amount of anal gland material especially when the glands are full.


This leaking may be decreased by having the glands expressed every 4 to 8 weeks and increasing the fibre in your dogs diet plus introducing canine probiotics. (For fibre supplementation, start with one teaspoon of psyllium husk daily and gradually increase the dose. Cooked pumpkin can also be helpful.)


Can anal glands get blocked?

Animals will usually have some material in their anal glands. Some animals have glands that over-fill with material and make your pet uncomfortable. Signs of anal gland discomfort include

  • Rubbing the anus along the ground (scooting).
  • Licking at the anus

These signs could also be from other causes including allergic skin disease.


It is best to seek veterinary advice as to how to manage this problem.

What should I do if my pet has irritated anal glands?

Anal gland problems are complex and can be difficult to manage. Your veterinarian can assess what is happening with your pet and try to help you manage problems with their anal glands. 


Management may include

  • Expressing the anal glands digitally at the veterinary hospital. This is sometimes scheduled regularly: (A simple anal gland express without consultation is done for regular clients animals at a cost of less than half a veterinary consultation.)
  • Increasing fibre in the diet. (For fibre supplementation, start with one teaspoon of psyllium husk daily and gradually increase the dose. Cooked pumpkin can also be helpful.)
  • Veterinary probiotics.
  • Anti-inflammatory creams.
  • Treatment for allergic skin disease.
  • Treatment for bacterial overgrowth in the gland.
  • Anal gland flush and infusion under general anaesthetic.
  • Finally surgical removal may be needed.

What is an anal gland abscess or burst anal gland?

Anal glands have a narrow duct opening onto the anus to release their scent material. Inflamed or full anal glands can have a blockage of this release duct. As the gland becomes more swollen, often infected and filling with pus, the material will burst through the skin just to the side and below the anus. 


Anal gland abscesses are very painful especially before they burst through the skin. The perineal area becomes red and swollen on one side and the animal really needs veterinary care.


Once the gland has burst there is a deep hole in the skin about 10mm in diameter. At first liquid and pus will drain out. This hole will heal in about one week with proper treatment. 


Treatment for a burst anal gland includes

  • Pain relief.
  • Antibiotic treatment.
  • Sometimes general anaesthetic and flushing the duct.
  • Monitoring and regular anal gland expression to avoid recurrence.
  • Perhaps eventual anal gland removal.

The most common time to have a burst anal gland is within a few weeks of having treatment for a burst anal gland. Correct management of this problem is important. 

What is anal sacculitis?

Sometimes anal glands will become especially irritated and smell. When examined by your veterinarian there may be a purulent infection called anal sacculitis. 


Numerous bacteria can live within the anal gland, not all of which cause problems. We call this excessive growth anal sacculitis. The condition is particularly difficult to manage because antibiotics will often not penetrate the swollen anal gland.


Treatment options included

  • Very regular anal gland expression at the vet. (Often weekly to begin with.)
  • Anti-inflammatory treatment. (Steroidal or non-steroidal)
  • Antibiotic treatment.
  • Anal gland flush and infusion under general anaesthetic.
  • Finally surgical removal may be needed.


It can take many months for anal sacculitis to resolve.

What are the pros and cons to surgical anal gland removal?

Some problems with anal glands can be so frustrating and recurrent that anal gland removal is recommended. Removal will permanently solve the problem.


For best results at Pittwater Animal Hospital we contract a specialist surgeon or our previous inhouse surgeon Dr Jennifer Stewart to do the surgery. The sensitive area involved can create an extended (1-2 week) recovery period that without careful management may be painful or cause some degree of faecal leakage. 


  • Removal is performed with 2 incisions either side of the anus.
  • Pain is controlled during and after the surgery.
  • Antibiotics are administered as this area is close to the anus can easily be contaminated.
  • An elizabethan collar is worn for 2 weeks after to surgery to avoid self trauma by the pet.


Once the wounds have healed most animals will have no more anal area irritation or discomfort.  

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