Anal glands are little sacs that sit inside dogs’ and cats’ rectums. They’re designed to secrete really stinky pheromones so dogs and cats can identify each other. For thousands of years, dogs and cats have existed without the need to have their anal glands expressed. So if your pet has anal gland problems, what’s going on?
Unnecessary Trauma – In grooming schools during the ‘40s and ‘50s, groomers were taught to express the anal glands. Emptying the anal sacs was considered to be a courtesy, but the downside is that pets were never meant to have those anal glands recurrently expressed. This unnecessary trauma is a major reason why animals have recurrent anal gland problems.
Loss of Muscle Tone – When your pet’s body becomes dependent on groomers and veterinarians regularly expressing anal glands, muscle tone is lost and the body is no longer able to do its job on its own. So, if muscle tone is lost through recurrent expression, please do not have your veterinarian or groomer automatically express the glands. Instead, your vet can check the glands on a regular basis and determine whether the glands are normal-sized, not too full, and whether the duct is working properly.
GI Tract Inflammation – The rectum in the anus is the last part of the gastrointestinal tract and any underlying disease that can influence the gastrointestinal tract can also influence the anal glands.
Inflammation of the colon, allergies, or anything that can cause soft stools (parasites, medications, poor diet) can cause the anal glands to become infected. It’s the pressure of the firm stool against the colon wall that effectively and naturally expresses the anal glands. If your pet’s stools are recurrently soft or if they’re having diarrhea often, recurrent anal gland issues can become a problem.
Glands in the Wrong Spot – Some animals have anal glands that are placed deep and low inside the rectum. In this case, even though there is healthy stool being passed out of the rectum, there’s not enough pressure to the wayward anal glands to effectively empty their contents during a bowel movement. Very rarely in those situations, those animals have to have anal gland expression performed because they’re not capable of doing it on their own.
So remember: if your pets don’t have an underlying anal gland problem, leave them alone! Do not squeeze the anal glands. If your pets do have anal gland problems, identify it as an inflammatory response, an allergic response, a soft stool problem, or gland placement issue. Addressing the underlying root cause of why your pets are dealing with recurrent anal gland irritation is the best choice to deal with this problem.
This handout is adapted from Dr. Karen Becker’s article, “An Important Message to Tell Your Pet’s Groomer and Vet,” which can be found at: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2009/12/23/your-pets-anal-glands.aspx