As a veterinarian, I have seen – and smelled – way more than my share of anal gland discharge. So who better to explain the subject to a reader who asked about it?
Q: After my cat got off my lap recently, I noticed a couple of wet spots on my pants. When I gave them a sniff, the smell just about knocked me over. What was that?
A: You have just been introduced to the secretions of the feline anal glands. These pea-size glands, also called anal sacs, produce a malodorous substance that enables cats to identify and communicate with each other as well as mark territory. When the cat defecates, the contents of the anal sacs are squeezed out, coating the cat’s stool and allowing him to leave a stinky warning — “Tom’s Club: No other cats allowed” — to other cats who pass by.
Usually, anal gland secretions aren’t an issue in cats, but sometimes anal glands become overactive, resulting in a noticeable odor. Anal glands that malfunction and don’t empty normally can become inflamed, infected or impacted.
Inflamed or infected anal glands may become swollen and tender, inhibiting normal passage of the secretions. If you notice your cat frequently scooting on the ground or biting at his rear, this may be the problem. Left untreated, the anal glands can abscess or rupture, which isn’t pleasant for your cat or for you when you have to medicate the area. Luckily, this condition is rare in cats; they are more likely to develop impacted anal glands.
Impaction occurs when stools don’t exert enough pressure on the glands as the cat defecates. This may occur in cats with chronic soft stools because the anal musculature has nothing to push the sac against to release the fluid.
Your veterinarian can relieve the situation by emptying the glands manually. If your cat has soft stools related to food allergies, a change in diet may help. Adding plain canned pumpkin to the cat’s food can boost his fiber intake and improve stool consistency as well.
Read more, including about treating pets with fecal transplants, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.