One of the more common conditions that we see in our patients is problems to do with the anal glands. All canines and felines have these glands under the tail, and in the wild they would serve the purpose of territorial marking and individual identification. The purpose would be to let other animals that may inadvertently enter into their territory know that they do so at your own risk. In the case of our domestic pets, these glands are actually redundant. However they are prone to pathology which includes impaction, infection and abscess formation.
To put this into perspective, we would be expressing anal glands on a daily basis in our practice. We treat three to four infected or abscessed glands in a week, and are only required to surgically remove chronically infected glands three or four times in a year.
Anal glands become impacted when the secretion becomes thickened or the glandular ducts become narrowed. At this stage they can easily be manually expressed by external or internal rectal digital pressure. Our groomers would typically perform this procedure on most dogs that come into the grooming salon on a daily basis. In a lesser degree of cases we see glands that have become infected and the discharge becomes particularly fetid, yellowish and pussy looking. In this case we would be required to use antibiotics in addition to the manual expression of the glands. Occasionally, the first sign that we become aware of, is once the gland has already formed an abscess, or an anal gland abscess has already burst. In this case cleaning the affected area and antibiotics would be required.
In all cases of anal gland problems the signs would be similar in that it would be a dog that is scooting, licking or biting at its rear end, is experiencing discomfort, and occasionally owners will report difficulty with defecation. Some authors would suggest that this condition is more common in small dog breeds, however we have found it to be not uncommon in all breeds including and less frequently in cats.
In dogs where recurrence is frequent and discomfort is persistent the recommendation is to remove the glands surgically. This is relatively easily done, and we experience a very good prognosis for a full and complete recovery, and resolution of the problem.
As far as prevention of the condition, there is unfortunately very little that one can practically do. As previously mentioned routine expression during grooming is always recommended. Also, at the first signs of scooting or rear end discomfort it is recommended that your pet be checked by your veterinarian, and the anal glands expressed if that is the problem. Antibiotic treatment, where required, will sometimes reduce the rate of recurrence of this problem. Unfortunately dietary management and/or weight control or reduction is rarely of any benefit.