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Anal Sac Disease in Dogs and Cats

By

Alex Gallagher

, DVM, MS, DACVIM (SAIM), University of Florida

Last full review/revision Oct 2020 | Content last modified Oct 2020
Topic Resources

There are several types of anal sac diseases, including impaction, inflammation, and abscessation. Clinical signs are related to discomfort associated with sitting or defecating. Diagnosis is typically made by physical examination, but may require microscopy, ultrasonography, or biopsy. Treatment may include manual expression, antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications, or surgical drainage or removal.

Anal sac disease encompasses several specific disease entities, including anal sac impaction, anal sacculitis, and anal sac abscess. Small breeds are predisposed; large or giant breeds are rarely affected. Apocrine gland anal sac adenocarcinoma may also occur. In cats, the most common form of anal sac disease is impaction.

Etiology and Pathogenesis of Anal Sac Disease in Dogs and Cats

Anal sacs may become impacted, infected, abscessed, or neoplastic. Failure of the sacs to express during defecation, poor muscle tone in obese dogs, and generalized seborrhea (which produces glandular hypersecretion) lead to retention of sac contents. Such retention may predispose to bacterial overgrowth, infection, and inflammation.

Clinical Findings and Lesions of Anal Sac Disease in Dogs and Cats

Signs are related to pain and discomfort associated with sitting or defecation. Scooting, licking, biting at the anal area, and painful defecation (dyschezia) with tenesmus may be noted. Induration, abscesses, and fistulous tracts are common. In impaction, hard masses are palpable in the area of the sacs. The sacs are packed with a thick, pasty, brown secretion, which can be expressed as a thin ribbon only with a large amount of pressure. When the sacs are infected or abscessed, severe pain and often discoloration of the area are present. Fistulous tracts lead from abscessed sacs and rupture through the skin. These must be differentiated from perianal fistulas.

Anal sac neoplasms are usually nonpainful and may be associated with perineal edema, erythema, induration, or fistula formation. Apocrine gland adenocarcinomas of the anal sac are typically seen in older female dogs. These dogs may be presented for signs secondary to hypercalcemia, such as polyuria and polydipsia, or for problems related to the perineal mass.

Diagnosis of Anal Sac Disease in Dogs and Cats

  • Physical examination, although microscopy, ultrasonography, or biopsy may be required

Diagnosis of impaction, infection, or abscessation is confirmed by digital rectal examination, at which time the sacs can be expressed. Microscopic examination of the contents from infected sacs reveals large numbers of polymorphonuclear leukocytes and bacteria. A tumor should be suspected (anal sac apocrine adenocarcinoma) in anal sacs that are firm, enlarged, and nonexpressible even with irrigation. Ultrasonography may be useful to determine whether a firm, nonexpressible anal sac is due to infection/abscessation or neoplasia. In the case of a suspected tumor, the diagnosis should be confirmed by biopsy. Regional and systemic metastasis should be evaluated, and serum calcium should be measured.

Treatment of Anal Sac Disease in Dogs and Cats

  • Manual expression, flushing, antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications, or surgery as needed

Impacted anal sacs should be gently, manually expressed. A softening or ceruminolytic agent or saline can be infused into the sac if the contents are too dry to express effectively. Infected sacs should be cleaned with antiseptic, followed by local and systemic antibiotic therapy. Hot compresses, applied every 8–12 hours for 15–20 minutes each, are beneficial for abscesses. Repeated weekly flushings combined with infusion of a steroid-antibiotic ointment may be needed. Adding supplemental fiber to the diet may increase fecal bulk, facilitating anal sac compression and emptying.

If medical treatment is ineffective, or if neoplasia is present, surgical excision of the sac is indicated. The closed technique for excision is preferred and has the lowest complication rate. However, fecal incontinence, a common complication of anal sac surgery, may result from damage to the caudal rectal branch of the pudendal nerve and may be complete if damage is bilateral. Chronic fistula formation may be seen when sac removal is incomplete or when the sac ruptures. Scar formation in the external anal sphincter may result from surgical trauma and result in tenesmus. (See also Apocrine Gland Tumors of Anal Sac Origin.)

Key Points

  • Anal sac disease is a common problem in dogs but infrequent in cats.

  • Most cases can be treated with manual expression and local instillation of antibiotic/steroid ointments.

  • In severe cases, surgical therapy may be needed.

For More Information

  • Also see pet health content regarding anal sac disease in dogs and cats.

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