Anal Sac Problems in Cats: A Painful Kitty Condition

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Although the topic of feline anal sacs – commonly called “anal glands” – isn’t glamorous; it is extremely important. If the anal sacs become impacted and infected, cats experience considerable pain and misery.

What are Anal Sacs?

The anal sacs are two small pouches that are located at approximately the four o’clock and eight o’clock position on either side of the anus (see diagram below). The walls of the sac are lined with many sebaceous (oil) and apocrine (sweat) glands which produce a foul-smelling fluid. This fluid is stored within the anal sacs which release its contents through a small duct that opens just inside the anus.

What is the function of the Anal Sacs?

Anal Sac Disease
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Anal sacs are filled with chemicals that behave as territorial markers. These “calling cards” that are produced are actually very similar to that unmistakable scent skunks produce. The main purpose of these chemicals is to ward off any perceived enemies and to communicate the animal’s presence to others.

While felines can mark their territory with their anal sacs to leave “messages” for other animals in the same way that dogs and skunks use them; domestic felines generally don’t use them for this purpose. When a cat defecates, the muscular contractions accompanying the bowel movement causes the emission of a small amount of this fluid; giving the feces their distinctive personal- scent signature.

What are the causes of anal sac disorders?

There is no predictable causality for these painful anal sac disorders, according to PetMD. Obstructions or infections causing the overfilling (impaction) and rupture with drainage of the skin around the anus is a common reason why guardians seek veterinary attention for their pet.

Dysfunction of the anal sphincter muscle, enlarged anal sacs that have not been properly compressed by the anal sphincter muscle, excessive secretion from the lining of the anal sac, or constricted or obstructed anal sac ducts may all be at the root of anal sac problems. One of the reasons for this problem is the cat’s stool isn’t sufficiently firm enough to automatically express the anal sacs.

Some cats are just born with very narrow channels leading from the sacs to the edge of the anus. This can cause an obstruction of the flow of material from the anal sac. Additionally, acquired damage to the duct may develop when anal skin infections, inflammation, injury or allergies obstruct the narrow channel that leads from the sac to the surface.

Our kitty, Dr. Hush Puppy was born with very narrow channels. When he was four years old, with no warning or prior indication of a problem, he suffered two episodes of impacted, infected anal sacs. The area close to his anus was swollen and sore. He was licking it constantly, scooting across the floor on his hind end in an attempt to relieve his discomfort, which caused the sac to rupture.

Thankfully, our wonderful feline-only veterinarian did an excellent job treating him. She expressed the sacs, flushed out the solidified material and infused the area with antibiotic ointment. To prevent the area from prematurely closing she inserted a small ring which I turned several times a day, then applying the ointment. Puppy quickly recovered, the ring was finally removed and I continued applying the ointment for several days.

Puppy relapsed a year later, although it’s fairly uncommon for the condition to recur. He was treated identically, however since these two surgeries caused a thinning of the ducts, if the condition recurs, the sacs may have to be surgically removed. While it’s rare that following this surgery that complications occur, unfortunately there is a risk of the procedure causing fecal incontinence in some cats.

Some practioners suggest adding fiber to the diet to prevent this condition, but it is not a panacea. Although by no means is this a pleasant task; your veterinarian can educate you on how to monitor your cat’s anal sacs, to recognize when it’s necessary and how to express them.

What experiences have you had dealing with anal gland problems? Tell us in a comment.


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12 thoughts on “Anal Sac Problems in Cats: A Painful Kitty Condition”

  1. You know the old saying “You are never too old to learn”? I just learned something which never crossed my mind. Thanks so much for opening my eyes. Great article Jo!!

  2. Very informative, as always! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thankfully, I have never (knock wood) had issues with feline anal glands. I have a dog (I know…taboo) who has issues every now and then. But only three times in 9 years. I can handle that. Also, just another little bit of info I have gleaned from the vet…routine expressing (like when the pet is routinely groomed) can actually cause more problems than it solves. Her motto is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  3. Though I don’t see any evidence of this problem in the family right now, there have been incidents in the past with other beloved cats; the doctor has taken care of them effectively. Feeding a very high-quality diet and providing plenty of fresh, clean water at all times can’t be overemphasized, can it?

  4. First take kitty to vet to be sure the sac in not impacted or infected.

    Have vet teach guardian how to express the sacs when necessary and how to recognize when there is indeed a problem needing medical intervention.

  5. Catnip Hill Cats

    Lots of excellent information. Our long haired rescue has this problem occasionally. Our vet tuaght me how to fix her scoot problems so that I wouldn’t constantly have medical bills. Getting the word out is the important thing. Thanks for the information.

      1. Catnip Hill Cats

        Many years ago I worked as a Cat Chat Host on AOL. One of the things I learned was that unless you are a professional it is best not to give advise. It is a good policy. My suggestion would be to contact your vet and ask him or her the best way to handle this chronic problem. If they say that the cat has to have this done at the office I would find a vet willing to explain the procedure. That way you are taught how to evacuate the anal sacs by a professional. It is not a hard thing to do. It is always a good idea to contact your vet.

  6. Michael,
    The video makers probably had no clue about what this behavior can point to- a potentially serious medical condition.

    Just like some people think fat cats are funny- this is another example of ignorance when it comes to feline health.

  7. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    Thankfully anal gland problems don’t affect as many cats as dogs, because the last resort surgery to remove them is quite horrible.
    We’ve only had one cat, Bryan, in 40 years who once suffered from the problem, we whisked him off to the vets where his glands were emptied and he was given antibiotics, thankfully it never happened again.
    Prompt treatment is essential, some people delay that by blaming worms for the irritation.

    1. It appears that this is another example where greater knowledge amongst the cat owning population is required because if you go on you Tube you will see a number of videos of cats scooting which looks amusing to the video maker but there’s nothing below or in the video which refers to a health problem as is described in this article.

  8. Excellent article on a sometimes ignored cat health problem. It is not uncommon to see cats scooting and it looks cute and odd but a lot of cat owners don’t realise that it could be due to impacted anal sacs or infected anal sacs.

    My late lady cat scooted on the lawn and I diagnosed anal sac problems. As I recall the problem resolved itself.

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