What is Anal Sac Disease?
The anal sacs are located on either side of the anus at the four o’clock and eight o’clock positions. These small pouches store an oily, foul-smelling fluid that is secreted during defecation, but can also be released to mark territorial boundaries and ward off predators. The anal sacs--more appropriately the anal glands--are sometimes impacted or infected by bacteria. The condition affecting the feline’s anal glands can soon worsen and result in an anal sac abscess or rupture, which requires prompt veterinary attention.
Symptoms of Anal Sac Disease in Cats
The symptoms associated with anal sac disease in cats depends on the severity and nature of the problem. In any case, anal sac disease is a painful condition and will make even the gentlest feline display aggression. The first sign a cat owner will notice is scooting, rubbing, licking or biting of the rear portion of the body. As the condition worsens, additional clinical signs can include:
- Scooting of the rump along the ground
- Rubbing or licking the anal area
- Localized pain
- Redness of the anal tissues
- Bloody discharge from around the anus
Causes of Anal Sac Disease in Cats
Anal sac disease in cats can be caused by bacterial infection or gland impaction.
Bacteria can infect the anal sacs due to the close proximity of the glands to the anus. Feces naturally contains healthy bacteria from inside the colon, which can travel into the ducts during a bowel movement. The anal sacs do not contain healthy bacteria and soon become infected.
The original purpose of the anal sacs was to allow the feline to mark his/her territory and ward off predators. However, due to the domestication of our felines today, most do not find a need to mark territory and go unthreatened by predators. Therefore, underuse of the glands can lead to an over accumulation of the oily fluids, which impacts the gland. Obese felines are at a high risk for developing anal sac impaction.
Diagnosis of Anal Sac Disease in Cats
The clinical signs of anal sac disease commonly point the veterinarian in the direction of an anal sac complication. However, intestinal parasites such as the tapeworm, can also cause a few similar symptoms to anal sac disease (scooting and biting or licking of the anal area) and will be ruled out as part of the differential diagnosis. The veterinarian may request a fecal floatation test to rule out parasites, but most anal sac disease cases are pinpointed on physical examination.
Treatment of Anal Sac Disease in Cats
The treatment of anal sac disease in cats depends on whether the problem is caused by impactions or infections, and if the condition has progressed to an abscess or rupture. In all cases, the feline will be prescribed pain management medication for several days not only to alleviate pain, but inflammation and swelling as well.
Anal Sac Impaction
Disease caused by anal sac impaction will need to be manually expressed by a veterinary professional. Anal sac expression may require an anesthetic and is carried out by gently squeezing each sac. The veterinarian, technician, or assistant may complete anal expression as they are trained professional. Anal expression should never be completed at home or by a groomer, trainer, or other unlicensed professional, as anal sac rupture may occur.
Anal Sac Infection
Disease of the anal sacs caused by infection will require expression and antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria. The veterinarian may choose the flush out the infected sacs depending on the specific case at hand.
Anal Sac Abscess
Disease of the anal sacs that has progressed to an abscess will require lancing and flushing the affected area. This procedure will likely require sedation and will be carried out by the veterinarian.
Anal Sac Rupture
Disease of the anal sacs that has cause the glands to rupture requires surgical treatment. The glands may be repaired or removed depending on the specific case at hand.
Recovery of Anal Sac Disease in Cats
Anal sac disease in cats that was caused by impaction or infection and did not progress has a very positive outlook. The condition may reoccur, which is why it is important to revisit your veterinarian and discuss prevention methods of anal sac disease in your cat.
Felines that have undergone anal sac surgery may experience a lack of bowel control following surgery. The nerves used to control the muscles surrounding the anal sphincter are manipulated during the surgical process, causing inappropriate defecation while walking, sleeping or laying down. In most cases, this behavior of inappropriate defecation will improve with healing and is only a temporary problem. However, severe rupture cases or abscess that have been left untreated may leave the feline unable to control bowel movements for life.