Anal Sac Disease in Cats


Overview of Anal Sac Disease in Cats

The anal sacs are glands located near the anus (rectum) that produce secretions that are normally expressed during defecation. The secretions from these glands are normally pungent (in fact, very smelly) and straw-colored with brown flecks. Anal sac contents may also be expressed in times of fright (producing a terrible odor in the area). Anal sac disease is uncommon in cats.

Below is an overview of Anal Sac Disease in Cats followed by detailed information on the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. 

Types of anal sac disease

  • Impaction, which can lead to inflammation or infection of the anal sacs
  • Inflammation
  • Infection or abscess formation
  • Tumors of the sac or related glandular tissues
  • Watch to Watch For

  • “Scooting” or dragging the anus on the ground or carpet
  • Frequent licking of the anus or tail base
  • Reluctance to sit or sitting asymmetrically to avoid pressure on the painful anal sac
  • Straining to defecate, difficulty defecating, production of ribbon-like stools
  • Painful swelling at the 4 o’clock or 8 o’clock locations around the anus
  • Diagnosis of Anal Sac Disease in Cats

    Diagnostic tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis and exclude other diseases causing similar signs. Tests may include:

  • A complete history and physical exam
  • Rectal examination, including an attempt to manually express (empty) the anal sacs – this could require sedation
  • Blood tests (anal sac tumors can cause an increase in blood calcium levels)
  • If a tumor is found, chest and abdominal X-rays to check for tumor spread to other organs (lungs, lymph nodes) and an abdominal ultrasound to check lymph nodes for tumor spread
  • Treatment of Anal Sac Disease in Cats

    For simple impactions and cases of inflammation, expressing the anal sacs may be all that is necessary. If the anal sacs cannot be expressed while your pet is awake, then anesthesia may be necessary to express and flush the anal sacs. Other treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs may be given orally or infused into the sacs if necessary.
  • Chronic cases of impaction or inflammation may require surgical removal of the anal sacs.
  • Abscesses of the anal sacs are lanced and flushed, and then treated with oral antibiotics.
  • Tumors of the anal sacs are treated by complete removal of the affected sac. Affected lymph nodes can also be removed, although this is more difficult.
  • Home Care

    Be aware of your cat’s normal defecation habits and stool appearance so that you can notice any changes, and contact your veterinarian if you notice any signs of anal sac disease. See your veterinarian for follow-up appointments to ensure the problem is adequately treated.

    Some veterinarians suggest increasing fiber (thus bulk) to the diet to prevent anal sac impaction. This may produce a bulkier stool and the sacs may be more likely to be expressed naturally.

    In-depth Information on Feline Anal Sac Diseases 

    The anal sacs are located at the 4:00 and 8:00 positions around the anus, embedded in the muscle of the anal sphincter (the muscle that closes the anus). Related glands produce a pungent yellowish secretion during defecation.

    Anal sac diseases include:

    Anal sac impaction

  • This disease is the result of large amounts of thick anal sac secretions that cannot be expressed by the cat during defecation. The secretions build up and cause discomfort as the sac becomes distended or even infected.

    The only symptoms you may notice are “scooting” or rubbing the anus on the carpet or ground, and excessive licking of the anus or tail base.

  • Anal sacculitis

  • This is inflammation of the anal sac, which can be caused by impacted anal sac secretions or bacterial infections of the anal sacs. Anal sacculitis is more painful than anal sac impaction. In addition to “scooting” and excessive licking, you may notice your cat straining to defecate, being reluctant to sit or sitting asymmetrically.
  • Anal sac abscess

  • This pus-filled anal sac results from a bacterial infection. Anal sac abscesses are more painful than anal sac impaction. In addition to “scooting,” excessive licking, and straining to defecate, you may also notice a red swelling near the anus, or pus dripping from an open wound near the anus if the abscess has already ruptured.
  • Anal sac tumor

  • Anal sac tumors (“apocrine gland adenocarcinomas”) are not often painful and do not usually have redness on the overlying skin or any open wounds. They can cause an increase in blood calcium levels, which can cause clinical signs such as increased drinking and urination. They most often spread to the sublumbar lymph nodes, which are located in the abdomen right below the lumbar vertebrae. If the lymph nodes become enlarged due to spread of the cancer, they can obstruct flow of feces by putting pressure on the colon. This may show itself as difficulty defecating or producing ribbon-like stools. Cats with anal sac tumors can also have symptoms associated with other types of anal sac disease (“scooting,” excessive licking, straining to defecate, reluctance to sit, or sitting asymmetrically).
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