The cat has two anal glands, or sacs, located at about four o’clock and eight o’clock in reference to the circumference of the anus. A cat’s anal glands are about the size of peas. The openings of the anal sacs are found by lifting up the cat’s tail, drawing down on the skin of the lower part of the anus, and looking for the openings in those locations.
These sacs are sometimes referred to as scent glands. In the cat they mark the stool with an odor that identifies that particular individual-which helps the cat establish his territory.
The most common behavior problem reported by pet parents of cats is inappropriate elimination. It’s estimated that 10% of all cats will eliminate outside their litter box at some point in their lives. Quite a few of these cats have issues with some characteristic of their litter box (please see our article on Litter Box Problems for more information on litter box problems), but approximately 30% don’t have litter box problems at all. These cats are urine marking, and urine marking isn’t a litter...
Normally, the anal sacs are emptied naturally by rectal pressure when the cat defecates. The secretions are liquid, malodorous, and light gray to brown. At times they may be thick, creamy, or yellowish. It is not necessary to express the cat’s anal glands manually unless there is some medical reason to do so. However, when frequent odor poses a problem (for example, in a cat with overactive anal sacs), you can control it by expressing the sacs yourself.
Impaction (the sacs become filled and cannot empty) is uncommon and occurs when the sacs fail to empty normally. This may happen if the small ducts are plugged by their pasty secretions. Often, it is not recognized until infection is present. Some complications that may occur from anal gland impaction include infection and abscess.
Uncomplicated anal sac impaction is treated by manual emptying. If no discharge is noted, you may need to put a warm compress on the area for five to ten minutes twice a day to loosen up the secretions. Try emptying the anal sacs after the compress treatments.
How to Empty the Anal Sacs
Raise the cat’s tail and locate the openings. You can feel the sacs as small pea-size lumps in the perianal areas at the four o’clock and eight o’clock positions. Grasp the skin surrounding the sacs with your thumb and forefinger and squeeze together. As the sacs empty, you will note a pungent odor. Wipe the secretions away with a damp cloth. If the discharge is bloody or purulent, the anal sacs are infected and you should contact your veterinarian.
The anal sacs are emptied by pinching the anal skin between the fingers.
Anal Sacculitis (Anal Sac Infection)
This condition complicates impaction. Signs of infection include the presence of blood or pus in the anal sac secretions, swelling on one or both sides of the anus, and the presence of anal pain and scooting. You may notice the cat licking the area more than usual. These signs also occur with anal sac abscess.
Treatment: The anal sacs should be expressed and emptied daily, after which an antibiotic may be put into the sac through the opening. This procedure is difficult and should only be done by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian may show you how to do some of the care.