Today, we are discussing poo (or lack thereof) and anal gland clogging. Interested? Well, of course you are---who wouldn't be.
Cats and dogs have anal glands, one on either side of the anus, that are expressed each time the animals defecate. In fact, emptying glands spontaneously may occur when an animal is startled/anxious or feeling extremely relaxed and calm. These anal sacs house a gland fluid that has a distinct odor and is used when animals identify one another. Thick and bulky bowel movements push on the glands during defecation and squeeze out the sac contents.
A raw diet leads to smaller, thinner, dried stool and this is expected. A raw meal is utilized by the body completely as opposed to canned and dry food (made of fillers and grains) that cannot be recognized by the animal's digestive system and is thereby, discarded from the body. Animals on the raw diet will express their glands without a problem. The fluid contents are liquid and easily emptied. However, a small percentage of animals may experience anal gland impaction. Some cats and dogs (more frequently in dogs) are prone to this condition for various reasons. Without proper expression, the gland fluid will become thick and semi-solid, clogging up the sac openings and making further emptying more difficult. This is commonly followed by impaction, infection, and internal/external abscesses. Internal abscess eruption may infect the bloodstream and cause serious harm or death in dogs and cats. While constipation may lead to anal gland impaction (from improper emptying), anal gland impaction may lead to constipation (inflamed and overfilled sacs don't allow the anus to fully open).
Signs to watch for:
1. Small fecal matter
3. Distinctive/foul odor around anus
4. Excessive licking at the anus
5. Inflamed anus and surrounding area
6. Butt scooting on furniture, ground, etc.
7. Hair loss around affected area due to excessive licking
8. Protruding mass around anal area
When this happens, the best advice I could give is to NOT EMPTY ANAL GLANDS AT HOME, without a trained professional. No matter how many YouTube videos you watch, this does not make you a licensed veterinarian. I wouldn't let an untrained individual give me a rectal exam, so I wouldn't do that to an animal. Anal gland expression must be done at the veterinarian's office. Also, these signs are not guarantees of anal gland impaction. Butt scooting may be a sign of an intestinal parasitic infection, an inflamed anus may be due to tears or injury, protruding masses may be signs of tumors, etc.
We have experienced this firsthand---one of our hunters constantly experienced constipation, small bowel movements, butt scooting, etc. He was dewormed as a precaution, given fiber and probiotics, and his diet was switched to raw. Many of the signs mentioned above presented themselves periodically even with the changes. One night, excessive anal licking exposed a protruding mass on the right side of the anus. So, a trip to the ER, a diagnosis of right anal gland impaction/infection/external abscess, a large bill, and a two-week medicated isolation resulted. We take a trip to the veterinarian every few months for anal gland expression and prevention of another anal abscess. Most animals will not require anal gland emptying and others may need it once and never again. Some will require it routinely to prevent dangerous and costly complications.
What can you do:
1. Watch for signs.
2. Probiotics Supplementation: This is a great way to establish intestinal flora in the gut. Many animals eat junk or are forced to (especially recent rescues who eat trash leftovers on the streets) and need this. All cats and dogs need periodic probiotic supplementation. Every few months, do a week of daily probiotic supplementation to ensure that the intestines are supplied properly. For constipated carnivores, probiotics may need to be supplemented for a longer period of time than a week. Don't give probiotics with preservatives and fillers and don't give medications/supplements meant for human consumption to animals. The best two we've used are NWC Naturals' Total-Biotics Powder and Total-Zymes PLUS Wafers. These are blends of probiotics and activated enzymes. Another option is Ark Naturals' Gentle Digest, but it contains magnesium stearate, so this is a backup to the two NWC Naturals products.
3. Fiber Supplementation: Fiber will bulk up bowel movements and propel fecal matter down the intestines, causing anal gland emptying. Pumpkin puree is a great natural source of fiber, full of vitamins and minerals, and cats/dogs love its taste. You can make your own or purchase it from a grocery store.
4. Switch from dry/canned food diet to raw diet.
5. Hydrate with water. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water to each raw meal. Keep water bowls filled with clean, fresh water daily.
6. Routinely visit the veterinarian with your feline/canine pal for proper anal gland expression.