A calico cat butt or bum a calico cat licking her butt.
A calico cat butt or bum a calico cat licking her butt. Photography © ablokhin | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

9 Things You Never Wanted to Know About Cat Anal Glands

Dogs aren’t the only ones with anal gland issues! Find out what causes issues with cat anal glands and how they're treated.

When I think of anal gland problems, I usually think of dogs, and there’s a good reason for this: Dogs are much more likely to have blockages and other issues with those little sacs than cats are. But, as I learned last week, cat anal glands can suffer blockages, too.

When I brought Siouxsie in for her three-month post-radioactive iodine therapy checkup, my vet noticed something odd: One of her little sacs was swollen to the size of a marble. Needless to say, we got that taken care of right away. “Better them than me,” I said as one of the techs brought Siouxsie back to the treatment room.

So, just what are cat anal glands and what do they do? Here are some things to know about cat anal glands:

1. They’re not actually glands, they’re sacs

A fluffy cat from behind.
Cat anal glands are actually anal sacs. Photography © Dorottya_Mathe | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

The anal sacs are lined with glands that produce an oily and stinky substance. If you look at your cat’s butt, you may be able to see the outlets of the anal sacs at about four and eight o’clock in relation to the anus.

2. In the wild, secretions from cat anal glands are used to mark territory

When a wild cat poops, the passage of feces through the anal canal squeezes the anal glands and expresses a little bit of that strong-smelling fluid. This serves as an extra tool for marking the boundaries of that cat’s range. Domestic cat anal sacs are considered vestigial, although they do seem to play a large role in cat social dynamics.

3. That butt sniffing thing? It’s all about the anal sacs

The secretions from cat anal glands are part of the unique smell that identifies individual cats. This is why cats often greet one another with mutual butt sniffs.

4. Cat anal glands can get impacted

If the oily substance plugs the opening of the anal sacs, the secretions build up inside and can cause pain and discomfort. Cat anal sacs are probably about the size of pine nuts, but they can grow to several times that size when the openings are clogged.

5. Cats don’t show symptoms for impacted anal glands like dogs do

When dogs get impacted anal glands, they tend to scoot their butts along the floor and lick the area excessively. Cats, with their legendary ability to hide their pain, just bear the discomfort. If you don’t see a problem, this can result in serious issues.

6. Some cats may be more at risk for anal gland issues than others

“We are not sure why some cats develop problems with their anal glands,” says Jessica Stern, DVM, DABVP (feline), of Cats Exclusive Veterinary Center in Shoreline, Washington. “In some cats, it is due to narrowing or strictures of the anal gland ducts (the tube between the anal gland and the rectal wall). The narrowing may be congenital or acquired. Obese cats can also have problems with completely emptying their anal glands. In other cases, we don’t know why it happens.” Dr. Stern adds that underlying food or environmental allergies can cause issues with cat anal glands.

There is no way to fully prevent cat anal gland issues, but keeping cats at a healthy weight can help. Some vets say that anal sac impactions are more common in overweight and inactive cats, perhaps because obese kitties can’t clean their bottoms as well as their leaner kin, and a lack of exercise could lead to constipation. Constipated cats don’t have frequent-enough bowel movements, and this may cause the secretions to plug the gland openings.

In some cases, Dr. Stern says, increasing fiber in the diet can increase the volume of the feces, which may help express the glands during defecation. Addressing underlying allergies can also help.

7. Treatment of cat anal sac issues

A supplement called Glandex can help cats with chronic anal gland problems. Dr. Stern says that although she hasn’t tried Glandex with her patients, “the ingredients make sense — pumpkin fiber to increase fecal bulk, antioxidants to help with inflammation, and probiotics to maintain healthy GI bacteria.”

“My typical recommendation is to increase fiber in the diet — this may or may not actually help, and you do not want to add too much fiber (then constipation may be a problem), but it is something to try,” Dr. Stern says. “We usually only recommend surgical removal of the glands if the problem is chronic or recurrent.”

8. Cat anal glands can rupture

“If the anal gland ruptures due to an abscess, then the area is typically cleaned and the cat is started on antibiotics, pain medication and possibly anti-inflammatory medication to treat the infection,” Dr. Stern says. “A surgery to open up and drain an unruptured abscess may need to be performed.” However, she adds, anal sacculectomies (the surgery to remove the anal glands) are not considered urgent or immediate surgery. “It is usually recommended to have this surgery after the abscess, infection and inflammation has resolved,” she advises.

Even after a rupture, cats can have another anal gland impaction or abscess in the same anal gland, or it can happen on the other side, so the anal gland issue can still be a problem.

9. Surgery may be performed on cat anal glands — in some circumstances

When it comes to anal gland surgery, “we typically send a cat to a board-certified surgeon,” Dr. Stern says. The price of the surgery can vary tremendously depending on where you live, but Dr. Stern estimates that in the greater Seattle area, you can expect to pay somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000.

“The real risk would be damaging nerves in the area and causing [temporary or permanent] fecal incontinence,” says Dr. Stern. “The benefit would be removing the potential for subsequent impactions or abscesses.” As long as there are no complications, the removal of cat anal glands doesn’t cause any long-term problems. “The glands are really just scent glands and don’t serve any other purpose than olfactory communication,” Dr. Stern says.

Tell us: Have you ever had a cat with impacted anal glands? Do you have any tips for us so we can see the signs before the problem becomes critical? Do you have any other comments about cat anal glands? Please share!

This piece was originally published in 2014. 

Thumbnail: Photography © ablokhin | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Learn more about related health issues with Catster.com:

About the author:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

21 thoughts on “9 Things You Never Wanted to Know About Cat Anal Glands”

  1. I've arrived here due to not accepting my cat having a behavior stress diagnosis. She's 8 years old and started out of the blue with hissing and fighting with the other cats in the house, plus pooping and peeing on a rug in the bathroom. I'd already treated her for tapeworms. X-ray revealed constipation. When I would try to pet her, she would act like she had a lot of nerve pain and run away. The other day I saw her scooting on the floor and got me wondering why. Up to recently I've had complete harmony with my multiple cat home, but one cat is starting to bully her. Both cats are indoor outdoor, so I ask myself if the scent isn't coming out of her properly from her anal sacs, well, the other cats are responding to her lack of scent, which logically would put her in defensive mode? Well, this makes sense to me anyway and would explain her behavior and the behavior of the other cats towards her, right? Maybe? She's just not herself in wanting to go outside as well. Have run tests but not the anal glands expression. So, if anyone can respond to my post it would be appreciated. I will be taking her to the vet this week for the anal sacs and hopefully get this soon sorted. I'll start giving her some psyllium husk and pumpkin puree in her food as well. Thanks in advance for anything you can add.

  2. My cat had ruptured anal glands and it was a nightmare. Now he is on and is going to the vet every 3 months for expression. My cat sitter suggests that I add a small amount of psyllium husks into their food to add fiber. I am hopeful that this will help.

  3. One symptom that I've noticed is that their poop has a small diameter, about that of a pencil. Not sure if this is a sign but my cat had SDP (small diameter poop) and took her to the vet. Her glands were close to rupturing and what came out was like mud. Maybe the poop was a sign that her glands needed expressing. Anyone ever not this?

  4. I realize some of these comments are a year or two old, but I’m just now seeing them after googling the issue I’m having with my cat now. I honestly laughed at people complaining about the content being “TMI” when they’re on a link called /cat-health-care/cat-anal-glands-facts. did they think the topic would be rainbows? LOL

    Thanks for the great info for those who shared :)

  5. One of my cats recently experienced a ruptured anal gland which took about 2 weeks to heal and several visits to the vet. She wasn’t showing any signs of distress until it ruptured which is the challenging part because there was no way to know it was happening or to prevent it. My other cat now had a swollen rear end and had been licking it a lot. I took him to the vet and had his glands expressed, thankfully I caught this one before it got worse. This is the second time he had had swelling & needed his glands expressed in the last year or so. I think I am going to have to take the both to the vet on a regular basis to have their anal glands expressed to avoid any further issues.

    1. I woke up this morning to patches of blood on my kitchen floor as well as on my bed. Needless to say I kind of panicked when I saw the blood. Called vet right away. She had a ruptured abscess on anal gland. Abscess was drained and fur under her tail shaved. She was given anti inflammatory and antibiotics. She seemed much more herself by the time we got home. I was so worried about what could be wrong with her and was relieved when they were able to help her so quickly and efficiently.

    2. Have you tried adding a teaspoon of pureed pure pumpkin to their wet food daily? I have been doing this with my old boy for some time now and it definitely helps. He’s also on a grain and sugar free diet.

  6. Pingback: Cat Scooting — Why It Occurs and What to Do – Cute funny cat kitten pictures videos

  7. I have a 2 year old orange tabby. Quite often he stinks after you pick him up. This morning, I picked him up to put him on the floor and then I smelled it. I found a substance on the area that I picked him up from. It was horrible smelling and kindof a creamy grey color. What could this be?

    1. I just had 2 look this up! Yep, it's juicy anal gland excretion!! Yum …EEEW!
      A cat may also spontaneously express its anal glands if alarmed or upset. The secretions inside the anal glands are normally composed of foul smelling liquid that is light gray to brown in color.Jul 16, 2014
      https://www.northernilcatclinic.com › …

      One of my cats has AG issues also …why I'm here. 😥🐈‍⬛ I MIGHT try expressing the glands myself but heard it's very messy & stinky … not 2 mention GRRRRRRROSSSS! 😖😖

  8. My 10 year old cat started needing anal gland expression about every 2-3 months a year ago. We found out when we were at the vet for other reasons. She doesn’t show any symptoms or outward signs, but cries at me off and on. After several days of this and trying to find out other reasons for the crying, we go in. She stops the crying so I figure that was what the problem. The vet techs tell me the liquid was a little thick. They can’t say whether I should have brought her in or not or whether this was a problem or not. I’m still unsure whether this is necessary or not. It is super stressful on her to ride to and from the vet in the car. Does anyone have any opinion on this?

  9. Thanks for the informative article, JaneA. For those who are TMI-adverse: stop reading here. Do anyone else’s cats get plugs sticking out of their scent glands? I know this is gross, sorry. I periodically put on a disposable glove & pull a sticky plug out of one of the openings, something the cats hate. Anyone with experience with this?

  10. As with the previous post, very informative, but T.M.I. Could have lived my whole life not reading that and been just as well off. . . Butt (heh, get it?) I am glad I stumbled upon this article, as I do believe I now know what is going on with my two Felines: White Paw and Sisssta.
    As stated in the article, I too believe that the food we are giving our animals has a lot to do with them getting allergies, acne, and many other health-related illnesses. Just as with us Humans. Our bodies and those of our furry friends were not intended to sustain on CHEMICALLY enhanced meats, fruits, and vegetables – and the more we ingest, the further away from healthy we become…
    Our poor animals cannot tell us that, “That can of cat food tastes like that can that the cat food came in and please go bring us a rabbit!” But that is exactly what they (and we) need. REAL meat. Non-genetically enhanced anything! Just straight from the wild fields of Kansas, or California, or North Carolina!
    Well, would you look at me? You’d think I jumped up on a soapbox or something!!
    Great, GREAT Article!
    Thank you!!

  11. I have a 14 year old black female cat who needs to have her anal glands expressed by the vet about 4 times a year. She will usually tell me when it’s time to go by scooting (like dogs do) in front of me. I put warm, moist compresses on her butt periodically in between visits. She seems to like that, though for only a few seconds at a time. Not sure why she has issues. I got her when she was about a year old shortly after she had finished nursing her first and only litter of kittens. She was just out of kitten hood herself. She was spayed before I got her. Maybe it came from having given birth at such a young age? While she’s not really constipated, her poop is a lot harder than my other 3 female cats. She gets very grumpy, almost nasty when it’s time. So I’m guessing it makes her pretty uncomfortable.

    1. one of my cats had a major problem with impacted anal glands when he was younger. I saw him scooting one night and had him into the vet the next day, and they said the goop was almost solid! I was bringing him in almost every three months. then, for entirely different reasons, I switched him to a grain free diet and discovered that his anal gland problem cleared up. he’s suddenly scooting again six years after the last time I brought him in for that, but I think it’s because he’s had loose stool recently because of stress. (I have had foster cats in the house, and he hasn’t been very pleased about that. one of them was just adopted about four days ago, though.) anyway, my point is, maybe try changing her diet. maybe it won’t be the answer for you as it was for me, but it’s something to try!

    2. I just took my 13 yo cat to the vet as she excessively licked near her butt and made it bleed. Turns out she has an abscess near her right anal gland. She needs antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. After having no issues her whole life with anal glands, I wonder if she will need to have them regularly expressed now. I got her at 8 weeks and she never had kittens. Maybe it’s an older age thing.

  12. Pingback: 9 Things You Never Wanted to Know About Cat Anal Glands | Funny Cute Cats

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