Anal Glands in Cats

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Written by:
Published: September 9, 2022

When you think of a pet scooting their butt across the rug, you probably picture a dog and wonder if they need their anal glands expressed. But what if you’re dealing with a cat?

Yes, cats have anal glands, and while they don’t generally cause as many problems as dogs’ anal glands, it can still happen. So it’s important to know what could go wrong and what to do about it.

Where Are Anal Glands in Cats?

Cats have two anal glands (also called anal sacs), one on either side of the anus at roughly the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. The glands are located under the skin, and they make and store a stinky liquid that cats use to mark their territories. When a cat poops, the liquid is pushed out through ducts that drain just inside the anus and is deposited on the feces.  

Can Cats Get Hemorrhoids?

If you see something unusual around your cat’s anus, you might wonder if hemorrhoids could be to blame. But while they’re a common problem for people, cats do not get hemorrhoids. You’re probably dealing with another condition, such as:

Why Is My Cat Bleeding From Their Anus?

Anal bleeding in a cat can be caused by ruptured anal glands, a bleeding disorder (anticoagulant poisoning, for example), trauma, constipation, or diarrhea.

Large amounts of blood coming from a cat’s anus is an urgent situation, particularly if they also have symptoms like severe vomiting or diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, and pale gums. Bring your cat to the veterinarian immediately if you see any of these symptoms.

On the other hand, you don’t need to rush to the nearest emergency clinic if you’ve just noticed a small amount of blood and your cat seems to otherwise feel fine. If the problem continues, call your veterinarian for advice.

Why Is My Cat Leaking Smelly Fluid?

Smelly fluid near a cat’s anus is probably anal gland secretions. It’s usually a tan or brown color. Cats will sometimes express their glands when they’re scared or stressed, probably as a defense mechanism—similar to the way that skunks spray to protect themselves.

But anal glands can also leak after they’ve ruptured. Diarrhea and pus from infections are two other possible causes of smelly fluid around a cat’s anus. Unless you’re sure your cat expressed their glands due to a stressful event, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have the situation evaluated.

What If Your Cat’s Anus Is Swollen?

Many of the same problems that can cause bleeding or smelly fluid to leak from a cat’s anus can also make it swollen. These include impacted anal glands (glands that can’t drain normally), anal gland adenocarcinomas, anal gland abscesses, and rectal prolapse. 

If the area is swollen but otherwise appears normal, call your veterinarian for advice, but don’t wait to get to the vet if your cat seems to be ill or is in pain or bleeding.

Common Issues With Cat Anal Glands

Four conditions are responsible for most anal gland issues in cats:

Anal Gland Impaction

Anal glands normally empty when a cat poops. If the anal gland fails to empty, the material inside becomes thicker, which makes it harder for them to empty in the future. Over time, the glands can become inflamed, swollen, and painful. This is an anal gland impaction.

Unlike dogs, cats with anal gland impactions generally don’t scoot. Instead, you’re likely to see cats licking or chewing at their anal area. They may also lose hair or have matted hair around their hind end, be reluctant to sit or poop, and hold their tail in a weird position.

To treat an anal gland impaction, a veterinarian will squeeze the gland in just the right way to push the secretions out of the duct. They can also infuse the gland with saline or an antiseptic solution to loosen up thick material. This is a simple and inexpensive procedure that, while not exactly pleasant for your cat, shouldn’t be painful and can stop their anal gland problems from getting worse. Your veterinarian may recommend expressing your cat’s anal glands regularly to prevent them from becoming impacted again.

Anal Gland Infection and Abscess

If an impaction is not treated, anal glands can become infected. When an anal gland doesn’t drain normally, the bacteria that are normally present in the area take advantage of the situation and multiply. An abscess can develop because the pus that collects has nowhere to go.

Many of the symptoms of an anal gland infection or abscess are the same as those seen with anal gland impactions, but if you look beside your cat’s anus, you may also notice more redness and swelling.

Your veterinarian will express the infected anal gland if it’s possible to do so without causing your cat too much discomfort or risking an anal gland rupture. The vet may need to lance the abscess to let it drain to the outside.

In either case, the gland can be cleaned out with saline or antiseptic solution and then packed with an antibiotic ointment. Sedation, pain relief, and antibiotics may be necessary.

Anal Gland Rupture

Over time, the pressure within an anal gland abscess builds to the point where it has to be released. Usually, the overlying skin has been weakened by infection and inflammation and will give way, allowing the abscess to rupture to the outside of the body. Pus, which is often bloody, drains, and the tissues in the area are visibly inflamed and damaged.

Your veterinarian will use an antiseptic solution to clean the ruptured anal gland and the surrounding areas. They may also need to surgically remove any severely damaged tissue and put in a few stitches to encourage normal healing. Sedation, pain relief, antibiotics, and topical wound management will probably all be necessary.

Adenocarcinoma

A type of cancer called an adenocarcinoma can cause many of the same symptoms as an anal gland abscess or rupture. A veterinarian may also feel an anal gland adenocarcinoma while performing a rectal exam on your cat. Cats with anal gland adenocarcinomas may have trouble defecating and may produce abnormal stools.

To diagnose an anal gland adenocarcinoma, a veterinarian will have to send a sample of tissue to a pathologist for identification.

Surgery to remove the gland is the most common form of treatment, but radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also play a role. Unfortunately, anal gland adenocarcinomas are aggressive tumors, and most cats end up being euthanized after several months to a year or so because the cancer has spread.

Tips for Keeping Your Cat’s Anal Glands Healthy

Cats of any age, sex, or breed can develop anal gland problems, but there are some things you can do at home to help keep them healthy.

First, monitor your cat’s poop while you’re cleaning out the litter box. Your cat’s stool should be firm and well-formed. Loose or very small stools don’t push against the anal glands and cause them to empty. Higher-fiber foods or fiber supplements like Glandex may help bulk up a cat’s poop and encourage their anal glands to empty normally.

Overweight cats are also at increased risk for problems, because fat prevents their feces from pressing against their anal glands and emptying. Over-the-counter weight-control cat foods, some of which are also high in fiber, can help if your cat just needs to lose a little bit of weight. But an individualized weight-loss plan put together by a veterinarian is a safer and more effective option if your cat needs to lose a lot of weight.

Some cats will have chronic issues with their anal glands no matter what you do. In these cases, a veterinarian can surgically remove the glands. Most cats do very well after surgery, and pet parents are quite relieved to never have to deal with anal gland problems again.

 


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