Posted on June 4, 2012
Anal Sacs: Good-For-Nothing Little Trouble Makers!
Here’s my true confession. After 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine, anal sacs have always been (and will remain) my least favorite part of a patient’s anatomy. They are good-for-nothing little trouble makers that serve no useful physiologic purpose. If you’ve never experienced having a pet with anal sac disease, count your blessings and find some wood to knock on!
Care to learn more about anal sac issues? I invite you to read a recent email I received from a dog lover named Jennifer and my response to her:
Dear Dr. Kay,
I have an eight-year-old Beagle who is in pretty good shape. He has a huge yard to run around freely in with his two sisters (non Beagles). We feed him the healthiest food that we can afford, and yet every so often that boy will drop down on the rug and scrape his butt on the floor. When go to the vet we get his anal glands expressed and the problem is temporarily solved. The vet says I can do this at home, but I don’t want my boy to look at me like he does his doctor so I just bring him in. Is there anything I can do to make this happen less often? I never see the girls doing it. Is this unhealthy for him? I really don’t like that it takes place on my carpet but you can’t catch him until he’s down! Thanks for any ideas you might have!
I responded to Jennifer’s concern as follows:
So sorry that you have a scooting Beagle on your hands! Here’s some information about anal sac issues in dogs. Located at the eight o’clock and four o’clock positions, just beneath the skin surface of the anus, the anal glands continuously produce a fetid smelling, pasty material that accumulates within the sacs surrounding them. This nasty material is emptied from the sacs via two small ducts that lead to the surface of the anus. Evacuation of the sacs usually occurs in conjunction with the pressure of a bowel movement (so sorry if I am getting to graphic here).
Some dogs experience an impaction (the material cannot be eliminated) or a bacterial infection (anal sacculitis) within one or both sacs. Symptoms include licking at the anal region, “scooting behavior” as your dog is demonstrating, swelling around the anus, reluctance to sit, and awful smelling secretions from the anal sac duct that may contain blood.
The cause(s) of anal sac disease is uncertain, but obesity and skin conditions such as seborrhea and food allergies may be predisposing factors. Treatment may include repeated manual expression of the anal sacs, a hypoallergenic food trial, and antibiotics if infection is present. One can also try making the stools firmer by adding fiber to the diet with hopes that a bulkier and firmer stool may more effectively empty the anal sacs. I encourage you to talk with your veterinarian about these options.
Yes, you can learn to empty your Beagle’s anal sacs at home. When done properly, it should not cause him pain or discomfort, but the look on his face may suggest, “What in the *!x!! are you doing back there?” I coach my clients to do many treatments for their pets at home, but emptying anal sacs is something I never strongly encourage. Truth be told, it is a gross and messy task- no one in their right mind ever looks forward to doing this!
For dogs who are frequent “repeat offenders” one can consider surgery to have the anal glands and sacs removed. If you choose this route, be sure to work with a surgeon who has performed this surgery many times in order to avoid the dreaded complication of fecal incontinence. Best of luck with your Beagle!
Every once in a great while kitties develop anal sac disease, but for the most part, those darned little anal sacs are primarily a canine pet peeve. Much like the human appendix, they serve no good purpose, but are capable of wreaking plenty of havoc.
Has your dog been afflicted with anal sac disease? What did you do to manage this pain in the !#* problem?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.