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What is Perianal Fistula?

Tunnel-like formations in your dog’s skin and deeper tissues in the surrounding area of your dog’s anus are called perianal fistulas. These lesions can be minor or more serious; they begin as small holes in your dog’s skin and then can become wide and deep and can ultimately surround your dog’s anus in its entirety. This condition is most likely to occur in German Shepherds, though it can happen in any breed. 

Perianal fistulas can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort in your dog. Dogs that experience a perianal fistula may also have chronic diarrhea as a result of inflammatory bowel disease; it is thought that these two conditions may be connected.

Perianal fistula, which is also known as anal furunculosis, occurs when a dog experiences chronic lesions around their anus that worsen, leading to deep ulcers that drain and are painful to the dog.

Symptoms of Perianal Fistula in Dogs

Should your dog have a perianal fistula, you may observe the following:

  • He is experiencing pain when defecating
  • He is struggling to defecate
  • He is constipated and/or experiencing diarrhea
  • Mucus or blood in his stools
  • Extensive licking and biting of his anus
  • He may appear restless and cry out when he is about to have a bowel movement.
  • Should you try to lift his tail he may struggle or bite.

Types

 

A dog can experience a mild perianal fistula or his condition may be moderate or severe.

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Causes of Perianal Fistula in Dogs

The exact reason that perianal fistulas occur is not known. It is thought that the condition begins as inflammation of the sweat and oil glands that are in and around your dog’s anus. This then results in an infection of the area, which can then lead to abscesses that open and drain. The area under the tail and around the anus is warm and moist, which makes it easy for bacteria to multiply.

While perianal fistulas most often affect German Shepherds, they can occur in any breed of dog. German Shepherds often carry their tail low between their hip bones, which will cover their anus; it is thought this may predispose them to this condition. Because German Shepherds are more often affected, genetics may play a role in the condition developing.

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Diagnosis of Perianal Fistula in Dogs

Should you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, you will want to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. In addition to asking you for information regarding the symptoms you have seen in your dog and when you first noticed them, your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination. This will include a rectal exam because perianal fistulas may be caused by an infection or blockage of the anal sacs. Some dogs will need to be sedated in order for the exam to be conducted. Your veterinarian will obtain samples of cells or tissues from the anal sacs or fistula which can be looked at under a microscope or used for bacterial culture and sensitivity testing.

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Treatment of Perianal Fistula in Dogs

Your veterinarian will likely consider providing both medical and surgical treatments as 80% of those experiencing perianal fistulas will experience a recurrence of the condition. When the condition is relatively mild, your veterinarian may clip any hair in the anal area and cleanse the area with an antiseptic solution and then flush the area with water. Should the condition be more severe, treatment options include:

  • Modifications in your dog’s diet (a novel protein diet)
  • Antibiotics (for example metronidazole)
  • A combination of oral cyclosporine and ketoconazole
  • Administration of oral anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications like prednisone (this has been less effective than cyclosporine and ketoconazole)
  • Topical immunosuppressive medications

Treatment will usually take place for 7-9 weeks, though recurrence is typical once treatment is stopped, particularly in dogs with moderate disease.

Your veterinarian may also consider surgical treatment which will include removing any affected tissue, whether through freezing it, cautery or laser surgery. Anal sacs may also be removed during surgery. In some cases, the veterinarian may recommend removing the tail as it may help with keeping the area clean and aerated, which will assist with healing of current fistulas and decrease the chance that the condition will recur.

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Recovery of Perianal Fistula in Dogs

Should a dog undergo cryosurgery or laser surgery he will have open wounds for a few weeks. These will need to be cleaned daily and dead tissue, bacterial and fecal material will have to be removed. Your veterinarian will likely recommend that your dog take stool softeners to help your dog not experience pain when having a bowel movement. An e-collar will likely be necessary so that your dog does not cause harm to the wounds.

The condition will often have to be managed over the course of your dog’s life, through diets and medication (immune suppressants). In cases where the dog experiences chronic damage to the perianal area, whether from the fistulas or after surgeries, it can impact the area’s nerves, which can cause fecal incontinence.

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Perianal Fistula Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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German Shepherd

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3.5 Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Sore Rear

My dog is whining when pooping. It seems that he feels he still has to go. I let him out and he poops and then wants to go out again. He has been to the vet twice and they said they didn't think it was a fistula and they expressed his glands both times. His rear end is sore. He is still eating normally but sometimes hesitant to go up stairs.

Feb. 18, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello so sorry to hear about your dog having issues. I would have you vet check for hip dysplasia. This is commonly seen in German Shepherds and can cause your do you be painful when trying to get in the correct position to poop. You can try adding fiber to his diet to help make it easier for him to poop. Or joint supplements to help with with hip pain he may be having.

Feb. 18, 2021

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Boxer

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Tarry Stool

My dog is bloated and only poops liquid in very small amounts. The butthole looks to be purple on the inside and has a crust on either side. She has trouble breathing because of the bloat.

Jan. 7, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, So sorry to hear that your dog is having issues. His rectum looks very inflamed and irritated. It would be best for your vet to look at this. Pooping tarry stool is a concern of a GI ulcer or other bleeding into the intestinal tract. This can cause infection to set up in their intestines and cause a lot of issues. I think it would be best for your dog to be examined by your vet and them to prescribe medications to help them feel much better. I hope your dog quickly improves.

Jan. 7, 2021

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Bernedoodle

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1.5 years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Constipation,

I think my dog is showing symptoms of a periniel fistula. Very raw and irritated skin around his butt and extreme pain when he attempts to poop. Had only been able to pass small, hard stools. I have never heard him yelp out in this kind of pain before :( I took him back to the vet and they didn’t seem concerned and sent me back with an antinflamitory, antibiotic, spray, ointment, and probiotic

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. I hope that your pet is feeling better. Your veterinarian did send you with quite a bit of treatment, I think they were probably concerned for him. If they are still having problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 22, 2020

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German Shepherd

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea Chronic Three Days

No vomiting, she is eating and drinking. She has already been diagnosed with peri anal fistulas. I was wondering if its possible that she could have a bowel obstruction and that's why she had diarrhea. She has had diarrhea for three going on 4 days.

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. The medications she is on can be irritating to the GI tract, and that may be contributing to the diarrhea. If she had a bowel obstruction, she would likely be quite ill, vomiting and lethargic. If she seems to be okay otherwise and is eating normally, you may be able to feed her a bland diet of boiled white chicken and boiled white rice for 2-3 days and see if that helps clear up her diarrhea. If it is continuing, or she is lethargic or vomiting, then it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. I hope that she does well.

Aug. 1, 2020

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Australian Shepherd

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Five Years

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Unknown severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wound Where Tail Is Docked

Hi, My Aussie has a wound where her tail was docked when she was a puppy. She seems very uncomfortable and is trying to lick the wound. Any ideas what this could be from?

July 17, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. There may be a deep-seated infection in the bone in that area, or it may have opened up if she had some sort of trauma to her tail or hit it on something. She may need antibiotics or pain medication. It would probably be best to have her seen by your veterinarian, as they can look at it, see what's going on, and get the right medications for her. I hope that all goes well for her.

July 17, 2020

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Stanley

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Rottweiler

dog-age-icon

7 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Constipation
Constant Licking
Swollen Anal Glands
Bleeding From Butthole.
Hard Time Pooping
Dramatic Weightloss

I have a pit bull/ Rottweiler mix named Stanley. He was diagnosed with Perianal fistula and it’s been on going for over a year now. It got better for a second after we got his anal glands expressed but recently he started licking again and bleeding so I took him to the vet again and she said it only temporarily got better. I’m scared because last time he lost 50lbs from it and was always pooping on himself with and outrageous amount of blood always coming out of him butthole.

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Poppy

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Chihuahua

dog-age-icon

5 Years

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Serious severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

See Above Please

my little dog had poop all around his rectum today. i cleaned him and had to pull out something that was still in his anus. i dont know what this was. Now theres a bloody scab covering his anus so i applied triple antibiotic cream just hoping itll soften it. what happened to my dogs butt?

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Princess

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German Shepherd

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Anal Discharge
Pain
Anal Leakage
Diarre
Diarrhea
Eating Fecal
Anal Swollen
Anal Itching

Princess is 9 years old and Perianal fístula that her diagnosis. We have tried everything except surgery she won’t make it. She isn’t eating. The atopic medication is too expensive for our family right now. Is there anything I can do?

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Arian

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Germn Shepherd

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3 Years

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Fair severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Anal Fishtula

Hello, My Girl is a 3 1/2 year old German Shepherd. She was diagnosed with anal fistula, upon the vet exam i was told that her anal glands were fine. She currently is on Cyclosporin and antibiotics but i dont see her getting any better. Is there something else I can do for her, maybe cold compressor to help with the swelling? I feel so bad for her, cause i know that she is in pain and I feel helpless. Any recommendations? Thanks, Maria

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