Anal Gland Impaction , Infection, and Abscesses in Dogs

Key Takeaways

The anal glands (AGs) are two small glands situated either side of the anus which produce secretions that are deposited on the feces during normal bowel movements. 

• Anal gland impaction is a common condition where secretions remain in the glands for longer than normal

• Symptoms include anal “scooting,” chewing around the tail and hind legs, straining to defecate, painful defecation, and not allowing examination of the area

• AG infection is a related condition presenting with the same symptoms

• Without treatment, AG impaction/infection can develop into abscesses, which are painful and distressing

• Diagnostics involve physical examination, bacterial culture, and biopsy

• Mild cases are managed at home with manual expression of the glands

• Persistent impaction or infection may require medication including pain relief, antibiotics, or steroids

• In severe or recurrent cases, the AGs are flushed or removed

• The overall prognosis for AG conditions is good but some cases recur

A Closer Look: What is Anal Gland Impaction in Dogs?

AG disease is generally a mild condition which is managed at home, or with simple veterinary treatment. Without treatment, the AGs sometimes develop infection and/or rupture. Both these conditions are painful and irritating, requiring prompt veterinary care, but are not emergencies.

Other more serious conditions such as perianal fistulae, perineal hernias and AG cancer present with similar symptoms. Persistent or recurrent AG issues warrant thorough veterinary work-up.

Note: a small amount of scooting, and licking or chewing around the tail is normal dog behavior. Veterinary advice should be sought if symptoms persist or become more frequent.

Risk Factors

AG abscesses develop as a result of ongoing impaction or infection. Abscesses present with a red, painful swelling either side of the anus, which sometimes rupture before symptoms develop.

Possible Causes

Causes of AG impaction and infection include:

Obesity - Fat deposits around the tail and anus compress the anal sac, making normal expression more difficult.

Allergic skin disease - Irritation around the anus and tail base results in thickening of the skin and inflammation of the anal sacs

• Alterations in stool consistency - the anal sacs naturally express by the passage of feces pressing against the glands. Stools which are too soft (diarrhea) or too firm (constipation) sometimes prevent natural expression of the glands.

• Parasites - tapeworms sometimes block the AG duct

• Genetics - smaller breeds are prone to AG conditions

Main Symptoms

AG symptoms are a result of pain or irritation around the anus. Common symptoms of AG impaction are:

Scooting • Licking or chewing around the anus and tail base • Straining or pain when defecating

• Reluctance to sit down or have the area examined • Fish-like odor • Discharge from the AGs

Testing and Diagnosis

The main diagnostic tests used to identify AG diseases are:

• Physical examination, including  rectal palpation

• Culture and sensitivity - testing the gland contents for bacteria

• Biopsy - sampling when a lump is present in the AG

Steps to Recovery

Simple AG impaction is managed by regular manual expression. Cases of infection, abscessation, or frequent recurrence of impaction require additional treatment. Antibiotics and pain-relieving medications are commonly prescribed for infection or abscessation.

Cases of recurrent AG impaction are sometimes prescribed steroids, particularly where allergic skin disease is also present. In recurrent cases, the AGs are flushed with saline and antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medication is instilled directly into the gland. In severe or recurrent cases, the anal glands are sometimes surgically removed (anal sacculectomy).

The prognosis for AG issues varies depending on the cause and the patient. Individual cases of AG impaction are sometimes a one-off occurrence, particularly when associated with self-limiting diarrhea. AG infections or abscesses resolve with treatment, but patients are likely to experience recurrence. Flushing of the AGs reduces recurrence in some cases but success rates are variable.  Anal sacculectomy is the definitive treatment of AG issues, however, it is an advanced procedure with with a risk of complications including recurrent abscessation and fecal incontinence.  AG tumors are serious and often life-threatening. They have often spread internally by the time of diagnosis. Surgical treatment prior to metastasis carries a good prognosis; surgical treatment after the tumor has spread has a poor prognosis.

Prevention

Some cases of AG impactions are prevented by increasing dietary fiber, weight management, regular parasite control, and control of skin disease around the anus or tail base.

Is Anal Gland Impaction Common in Dogs?

Mild disease is common in dogs and is often managed at home. Severe disease such as AG tumors is rare.

Typical Treatment

• Manual expression • Surgical excision (anal sacculectomy)

• Flushing with an antiseptic solution while under sedation or general anesthesia)

• Medication such as antibiotics, antiparasitics (worming), pain relief

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