What Are Anal Sacs?
Anal sacs (also called anal glands) are two small glands just inside your pet's anus. The material secreted into these glands is thick and foul smelling. Most animals can empty these glands voluntarily for scent marking or in self-defense, like a skunk might.
Domestic animals have largely lost their ability to empty these sacs voluntarily. Walking around and normal defecation usually serves to empty the glands but some animals become unable to empty their glands on their own at all. The sacs become impacted and uncomfortable. Dogs with impacted anal sacs usually scoot their rear on the ground in an attempt to empty the glands. Some dogs will lick their anal area and other dogs will chase their tails. Cats often lick the fur off just under their tails.
What Happens if an Impacted Sac Doesn't Get Emptied?
An abscess can form and rupture out through the skin. This is a painful, messy, and pretty smelly condition often mistaken for rectal bleeding. If an anal sac abscess forms, it must be properly treated by your veterinarian. Antibiotics will be needed.
How Often Should Anal Sacs be Emptied?
This is a highly individual situation. The best recommendation is to let the pet tell you when the sacs are full. If the pet starts scooting again, it is time to bring him in.
What if My Pet's Sacs Seem to Require Emptying All the Time?
To avoid the expense of having the sacs emptied, you can learn to empty them yourself at home but most people feel it is well worth having someone else perform this service. A non-invasive technique that helps some patients is a change to a high fiber diet. This will produce a bulkier stool that may be more effective in emptying the sac as it passes by.
If the sacs need to be emptied every few weeks or more, you may opt to have the sacs permanently removed. This procedure is complicated by many local nerves controlling fecal continence, the fact that any change in the local musculature of the anal sphincter area can affect fecal continence, and the fact that with chronic anal sac problems anatomy is distorted. Draining tracts can develop after surgery if the gland is not completely removed. Still, despite these pitfalls, anal sac removal is considered a relatively simple surgery by most board certified surgery specialists. If this procedure is to be done we generally recommend that a specialist (a veterinarian with extensive experience with anal sacculectomy) perform it.
Many people own pets for years without ever learning that anal sacs exist at all, and the wives' tale that worms cause scooting erroneously continues. If you have further questions about anal gland disease, ask your veterinarian.
What to do About Scooting?
The first step is to check the anal sacs when any pet has a history of scooting. The anal sacs can be emptied in one of two ways, externally or internally; see the demonstration below.
What if Scooting Continues?
If scooting continues for more than a few days after sac emptying, the sacs should be re-checked. For some individuals, it takes several times in a row of expressing the sacs before the sacs stay emptied. If the sacs are empty and scooting is persisting, another cause (such as itchy skin or lower back pain) should be pursued. If the sacs have been emptied adequately, the scooting should resolve in a couple of days.