A bum deal…
Dogs, of course, have suffered the indignities of their anal glands (or anal sacs) being emptied or ‘expressed’ for a long time.
Cats, though don’t suffer the same problem do they? Actually, they do. Although it’s nowhere near as big a problem as in dogs, it is becoming more common in cats.
Whether it is a change of lifestyle or a breed problem in cats is hard to say – but Dr Kim is seeing more cats with the same problems! But cats REALLY HATE their anal area being interfered with (no cat has asked twice to even have its temperature taken never mind anal sacs emptied!), so regular ‘release’ is not an option. However, there are a couple of hints that the problem is arising, and there is a dietary (rather than surgical) solution. It is not common, and does not appear to be related to skin disease as is often the case in dogs.
What are the symptoms?
The underlying problem is that the anal glands are not emptied by the normal method of defacation. The position the cat perches in to empty their rectum is important, and the consistency of their bowel movements is critical. If the cat can’t ‘get into position’ easily – due to arthritis or other impediment – and cannot or does not empty their bowel regularly, then the faeces becomes hard and even impacted. This causes a problem in itself, but the follow-on is that the anal glands have filled with their normal sticky smelly stuff and then because of their location .. infection has set in. This results in a very painful abscess in their anal region – the cat will lick the area a lot trying to relive the discomfort, and will often be cranky (though rarely off their food).
A similar situation happens for some cats after an episode of diarrhoea – the bowel contents are too soft to provide the pressure to evacuate the glands, gunk builds up, gets infected, same scenario.
It does seem to be an affliction of indoor cats, and Dr Kim sees it most commonly in Burmese and Birmans, so it may be a conformation problem (both breeds are a bit prone to constipation as well).
Relief and treatment require veterinary intervention – and often an anaesthetic if not deep sedation and pain relief at the very least. The cats tell Dr Kim it is a horrible violation and very very painful, and little dry bits of anal sac secretion has to be flushed out and hardly any cat will tolerate that. Antibiotics are usually required as well, as the infection has usually penetrated into the local tissues.
After treatment – then what? My cat would never want that to happen again?
Fortunately, getting the cat to eat more fibre to increase the volume of the stool or faecal mass seems to be enough for most cats. If constipation is an ongoing problem despite the addition of fibre, then other measures may be needed – juggling a faceal softener or laxative along with the fibre may be needed. However, usually just an increase in fibre suffices.
The very rare cat needs surgery to remove the anal glands. Usually the abscess has destroyed the anal sac lining on the one side (and part of the reason for the anaesthetic and exploration is to remove the rest of it where possible) so another abscess does not usually occur on the same side, and the fibre prevents the problem building up for the other gland. HOwever, 2 abscesses and the gland comes out – cats just won’t tolerate clearing the glands on a regular basis. Dogs are very bottom-oriented may be why they put up with regular ‘doing the glands’. Enough said.
So if your cat is paying too much attention to their back end – it may be that there is an abscess under their tail that needs attention!