Dear Doctor – Confused about Anal Sacs

Letters to Tufts Veterinarians


Q I need information concerning anal gland issues. Approximately every four months, I need to take my five-year-old Siamese to the veterinary clinic to have his anal glands expressed.

My concern is how frequently this is happening, and also whether there is anything I can do to be more proactive in his daily care. His current diet consists of dry cat food and a few daily cat treats. He also drinks plenty of water.
Diane Lawson

A Dear Diane: The anal sacs (often referred to as glands) are two small, balloon-like structures located just under the skin at 4- and 8 o’clock positions around the anus. The glands are similar to the “skunk glands” of skunks. The anal sacs create and store a liquid with a characteristic foul-smelling odor. The anal glands are normally expressed during defecation and a small amount of this fluid is expelled along with the stool. Anal sacs are thought to play a role in territorial marking.

The anal glands may become infected, and antibiotic therapy will often cure the problem. The presence of infection would be suggested by a bloody discharge. More commonly the anal sacs are not infected, but the characteristic of the anal sac material changes from its normal liquid consistency to a dry, pasty or crumbly texture. The cause for this change is unknown. In these cases, the anal sacs cannot empty, become stretched and uncomfortable, and dragging of the bottom or licking at the area may occur. In severe cases, the anal sac may burst under the skin and a large swollen area may develop.

Medical treatment for anal sac disease is sometimes effective. Adding fiber to the diet is thought to cause additional emptying of the sacs during defecation. Dehydration should be avoided to prevent the anal sac material from drying. Manually expressing the anal sacs (using a gloved finger inside the rectum) is often performed when distention is detected. In many cases, just one or two expressions will solve the problem.

If repeated expressions are needed, the remaining option is to surgically remove the anal sacs. This surgery is delicate and great care must be used to prevent damaging the muscles that prevent leakage of stool.

I generally express the anal sacs once or twice and assess the response. If cure is not attained, one option would be periodic expression for the remainder of the cat’s life. However, if the problem is recurring, I would discuss the pros and cons of removal of the anal sacs with your veterinarian.
Michael Stone, DVM, ACVIM
Clinical Assistant Professor
Cummings School of Veterinary
Medicine at Tufts University

Socialization for shelter adoptees

Q For years, I adopted kitten siblings who required little to no socialization to adjust to living in my home. However, the last four cats I’ve adopted from shelters took a long time to feel comfortable enough to come out of hiding from under my bed or behind my sofa. I am happy to report that they are all now well adjusted and contented.

Lately, I’ve been encouraging friends to adopt from shelters. This is my request for some professional guidance and explanation for the nervous and anti-social behavior that some cats exhibit. I look forward to suggestions to help shelter adoptees adjust to their new homes.

Cathy Oliver

A Dear Cathy: It’s quite true that cats rescued from the street or from a shelter can turn out to be absolutely wonderful pets.

When adopted cats first appear in a new home, they can be shy and are often unseen and unheard. Frequently, the only indication you have that they are there is that the litter box has been used and the food disappears at night. Given time and kind treatment, these initially reclusive cats can blossom and can become an owner’s best friend.

The important thing when trying to rehabilitate a nervous cat is not to force the issue. The philosophy should be easy does it — be patient and take your time. Protecting such shy cats from the unwelcome advances of well-meaning people and simultaneously rewarding any excursions from their hiding places with high-valued treats, you can gradually coax them out of their reclusive shells and teach them to trust you.

In extreme cases, some anti-anxiety medication, like buspirone, can be helpful. Use of this medication has helped new owners rehabilitate even formerly feral cats into their home.

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS

Animal Behavior Clinic Director

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here