Anal Gland Disease in Cats

Most dog owners are aware of anal gland disease and the need to bring their pets into a veterinarian to have ‘their glands squeezed’. Unfortunately, this problem often goes unrecognized in cats because the cats rarely show the classic signs of licking and scooting. The cat habit of hiding their health problems means they all to often suffer in silence.

The anal glands are actually two sacs that lie under the skin on either side of the anus, usually at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. Small openings are seen on the anal opening. The lining of the sac secrets a smelly material that is unique to each cat. When the cat contracts to pass stool, the material is excreted.  Stool is one of the ways cats mark their territory. This is why dominant cats do not cover their feces.

Anal gland disease is broken down into two separate categories based on cause:

  1. Impaction – When the glands are not emptied, the material builds up causing pressure and pain. I see this develop in cats with constipation, diarrhea, obesity and anal dysfunction because the cat does not evacuate the sacs on a regular basis. The secretion dries out forming a thick black paste that requires a good deal of pressure to express. The thickened secretion is often seen protruding through the gland opening like a plug.  It can appear like two black dots.
  2. Sacculitis – Sacculitis means inflammation of the anal gland usually caused by a bacterial infection. These cats act sick and often have a fever. The secretion is usually a mix of blood and pus. If the cat is not treated at this stage, the gland will rupture through the skin.

Treatment varies depending upon the cause and severity of the anal gland disease. The first step is expressing both glands through digital pressure. Additional treatments may include infusing medication into the sacs, antibiotics, compresses and anti-inflammatory medications. Once the glands have been distended, regular expression may be needed to keep the glands empty. High fiber diets that bulk up the stool and weight loss are used to prevent further impactions.  Below is a video clip of me expressing a cat’s anal glands.

Cat AG expression


-Rothrock, Kari. ‘Anal Sac Impaction and Infection’ Associate Database, VIN, last updated 4/6/2011.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.