Anal Gland Secretion in Cats

Your cat's foul-smelling anal glands are simliar to the scent glands in skunks.
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Fluffy scurries along to his litter box to leave his “mark.” But for Fluffy, there is more going on than what meets the eye. Your cat's anal sacs, roughly the size of peas, empty each time Fluffy defecates. If these sacs fail to empty, they may need to be manually extracted.

Anal Sac Function

If you lift Fluffy's tail, you'll notice two anal glands located slightly below the anus on each side. While small in size, each anal sac contains a large number of sebaceous (sweat) glands that produce a foul-smelling odor. When Fluffy defecates, the rectal pressure causes these anal sacs to naturally secrete a gray to brown liquid. Your cat uses this secretion to mark his territory and ward off enemies. Feline anal glands do not need be manually extracted unless there is a medical reason to do so.

Anal Sac Impaction

Impaction of the anal sacs occurs when the glands become full, but cannot empty. With impaction, you may notice Fluffy scooting his butt along the floor, scratching or licking at his anus, or straining to defecate. An odd discharge may also secrete from the anal glands. Anal sac impaction can occur when the ducts become clogged from thick, pasty secretions or when Fluffy experiences a bout of diarrhea. If your vet notices that Fluffy's anal sacs are palpable during a physical exam, he may suggest expressing the liquid. Anal sac emptying can be done at home or at the vet's office.

Emptying Anal Sacs

While the thought may seem repulsive, emptying your cat's anal sacs is a simple task and can save you a bundle in vet visits. Before you begin, put on a pair of gloves. Lift Fluffy's tail and locate the openings of the anal glands, felt as small lumps in the perianal area. Use your thumb and forefinger to grasp the skin around each sac and gently squeeze to extract the liquid inside. As the anal sacs empty, you'll notice a pungent scent. Clean up any secretions with a damp cloth. If you notice any odd discharge or blood, bring Fluffy to the vet to check for infection or disease.

Anal Sac Conditions

While impaction is the most common anal gland disorder, Fluffy may be experiencing other anal sac conditions. Anal sacculitis, or anal sac infection, can occur as a complication to impaction. Infection is often recognized with swelling on one or both sides of the anus, pus or blood in anal sac secretions, or anal pain. With infection comes the risk of an anal sac abscess. With an abscess, the reddish swelling soon turns deep purple and Fluffy may lick the area more than normal. Infections are generally treated with a systemic antibiotic after the sacs have been extracted. An abscess must be drained and lanced by your veterinarian.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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