An editor at Catster recently asked me a very simple question. Can cats get hemorrhoids? My first response was to wonder what inspired the question. But, although the question is a bit unsavory, it actually is a good one.
Hemorrhoids apparently are common in people. Based upon the fact that hemorrhoid creams are heavily advertised on national news broadcasts, it is evident that older people especially are predisposed to them.
The veins most frequently bulge as a consequence of straining to defecate, which causes increased pressure in the area of the anus. Hemorrhoids also commonly occur as a complication of pregnancy. The bulging veins are painful and, I imagine, unsightly. (But who’s looking?) I’m told they’re fleshy and purple.
Cats often get constipated, and if they aren’t spayed they’re nearly certain to get pregnant. But I’ve never seen a cat with a hemorrhoid. The simple answer to the editor’s question is no. However, that doesn’t mean cats never suffer from painful problems in the area of their most sensitive orifice.
In fact, cats are highly predisposed to an uncomfortable phenomenon that causes them to develop fleshy purple swellings right next to the anus. I’m referring to anal gland abscesses.
The anal glands, as the name implies, are glands that are located near the anus. They are relatively simple as far as glands go (in fact, they’re not true glands, but let’s not get too technical). They consist of a sac and a duct. The sacs are located on either side of the anus, and the ducts open into the anus itself.
In skunks, the anal glands are used for defense (skunk glands are modified anal glands). In hyenas, anal glands are used to mark territory and signal dominance. There is some debate about the purpose of anal glands in cats, but they appear to be used for scent marking feces and staking territory.
The concept of scent-marking feces might have caught your attention. Feces has a pretty strong odor on its own, so one might imagine that anal gland juice is pretty ripe. In fact, it smells like a combination of fish and feces. If you smell it once you will never forget its unique bouquet.
Normally when a cat defecates the sacs contract and express their contents through the ducts and onto the feces. However, if a cat has diarrhea or constipation the gland may not express itself normally. The glands also may not empty normally if, for whatever reason, the anal gland secretions are thicker than usual, or if the duct becomes clogged by a piece of grit or debris. Such glands become distended.
Animals with distended anal glands may “scoot” or exhibit mild discomfort in the area of their anus.
The anal glands are located directly adjacent to the body’s number one source of bacteria. When the glands don’t empty properly bacteria may migrate up the duct and into the sac. An infection results.
In the early stages, anal gland abscesses show up as painful red or purple swollen areas near the anus. In other words, they look (and evidently feel) a lot like hemorrhoids.
Later on, infected anal glands burst, leading to a bloody stoma (opening) near the anus. The dramatic appearance of ruptured anal glands causes many people to panic, thinking that someone or something has “ripped their cat a new one.”
In fact, the rupturing of the anal gland abscess generally reduces the pain associated with the phenomenon. Anal gland abscesses are quite amenable to treatment. I have had good success rates with conservative management — I generally clean the area up and send the cat home on antibiotics and pain killers.
Another problem in cats that can resemble a hemorrhoid is severe inflammation of the skin in the anal area. This happens most commonly in longhaired cats who are unfortunate enough to have feces get caught in their coat. If feces is in contact with the skin for any significant period of time, the skin will become very angry and painful.
Treatment involves trimming the hair, and it should be performed only by a professional. Antibiotics — in the form of oral medications or ointments — and painkillers generally are prescribed.
Finally, there is one very serious problem that can resemble hemorrhoids in cats. I am referring to rectal prolapse. Rectal prolapse occurs when a portion of the gastrointestinal tract — the rectum — passes out of the anus.
They most often occur as a result of constipation with heavy straining. Rectal tissue that is chronically prolapsed can become devitalized, leading to life threatening complications. Cats with rectal prolapses require immediate emergency care.
If your cat has a problem with his most sensitive and private spot, don’t ignore it. Take him to the vet.
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