Anal Sacs or Reason’s Why My Pet is Scooting

Dogs and cats have glands inside their rectum that release a light brown fluid. These glands are known as anal glands. In healthy animals, every time defecation occurs, a little bit of the fluid is released from the pressure.

Problems occur when the small porous opening to the gland is too small and/or when infection or inflammation occurs and narrows the glandular opening. In either instance, the fluid can’t easily and naturally empty and the glands fill up. Once they are full, they become uncomfortable and cause the pet, especially dogs to scoot.

Related: Learn about anal gland tumors and anal gland disease in dogs

Should I empty them Myself?

Maybe not. Most people don’t want to do anything like this and are more than happy to have a professional take care of it. Less squeamish pet owners may want to try it. The problem is that no matter what anal sac expression technique you use, it is not generally a one-person job.

Pets tend not to appreciate having their anal area manipulated and even the most docile animal may bite. Squirming, at the very least, is expected so a helper experienced in animal restraint is likely going to be needed to control the front end of the pet. All things considered, anal sac expression may be something best left to anal sac professionals.

What to do about Scooting?

The first step is to check the anal sacs when any pet has a history of scooting. The anal sacs can be emptied in one of two ways – externally and internally. For glands that are impacted, often internal emptying is needed and the gland can be slowly ‘milked’ until the fluid is emptied.

Externally: Hold up a rag or tissue to the anus and squeeze both sides of the anal area. If the secretion is very pasty, this method may be inadequate to empty the sacs.

Internally: Insert a lubricated, gloved finger in the anus and squeeze the sac between thumb and forefinger into a tissue held externally. The full anal gland feels like a grape in the location as shown in the top illustration. The emptying procedure is repeated on the opposite side.

What if Scooting Continues?

If scooting continues for more than a few days after sac emptying, the sacs should be re-checked. For some individuals, it takes several sac emptyings in a row before the sacs stay emptied. If the sacs are empty and scooting is persisting, another cause (such as itchy skin, tapeworms, or even lower back pain) should be pursued.

What Happens If an Impacted Sac doesn’t get Emptied?

An abscess can form and rupture out through the skin. This is a painful, messy and smelly condition often mistaken for rectal bleeding. If an anal sac abscess forms, it must be properly treated by your veterinarian. Antibiotics and probably pain medication will be needed.

How often should Anal Sacs be Emptied?

This is a highly individual situation. The best recommendation is to let the pet tell you when the sacs are full. If the pet starts scooting again, it is time to bring him in.

What if My Pet’s Sacs seem to Require Emptying all the Time?

To avoid the expense of having the sacs emptied, you can learn to empty them yourself at home but most people feel it is well worth having someone else perform this service. A non-invasive technique that helps some patients is a change to a high-fiber diet.

This will produce a bulkier stool that may be more effective in emptying the sac as it passes by. That said, fibrous stool is often softer and may not result in the pressure needed to empty the sacs.If the anal sacs are infected your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication to help with inflammation.

Your veterinarian may also want to infuse the anal sac itself with an antibiotic and a corticosteroid for inflammation. A culture can be done on the bacteria inside the sacs to ensure the medication infused is appropriate. In bad cases of infection and/or impaction, the gland may require 2-3 infusions weekly to resolve the issue. 

Anal Sacculectomy

If the sacs need to be emptied every few weeks or more and your veterinarian has cultured the sacs and tried infusing them, you may opt to have the sacs permanently removed. This is generally considered to be a relatively simple procedure by experienced surgeons but there are some pitfalls a pet owner should be aware of.  The anal sac area is complicated by many local nerves controlling fecal continence and we do not want to disrupt these. Furthermore, any change in the local musculature of the anal sphincter region can affect fecal continence and we do not want to disrupt that, either. If the anal glands have ruptured in the past, there can be a lot of scarring and the anatomy will be distorted, making surgery more difficult and preservation of the normal local structures more difficult.  Draining tracts can develop after surgery if the gland is not completely removed, necessitating a second surgery. On the flip side, of course, is that anal sac expression will never again be needed.

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