Could This Be a
Feline Anal Glands Problem?

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Feline Anal Glands are often an unknown anatomical part of the cat's body to their human caretakers. Dog owners are well aware of the existence of anal glands around the anus of their pet. They also know the problems that often arise involving these glands.



What we actually see and describe on cats as anal glands are really sacs which contain the glands. These feline anal glands secrete a substance with a smell you will never forget, and it's not a pleasant one!

The purpose of these secretions is to "mark" a territory. In the wild, this makes sense, but in our house cats, it's a bit more offensive.

The primary mechanism by which these secretions are expressed in the wild is the pressure of feces passing through the anal canal. Spontaneous secretions from the feline anal glands can also occur when a cat is suddenly alarmed.

Most of the time, your own kitties at home will not spontaneously release secretions from their feline anal glands. It can happen, however, if they are suddenly frightened.

More often, if there is a problem with feline anal glands, it is the occurence of impaction which can include infection and even abscess and rupture.

The following question and answer illustrate a medical case in which problems with feline anal glands should be included in the list of possible conditions.

QUESTION:

My cat, Lily Grace, has a serious health issue that is baffling us and her vet. We are getting very worried and so I write hoping you might have some idea what could be the cause of her problems as her vet appears stumped.

I have two cats, Cash and Lily Grace. I adopted them together, they were both around 4 weeks old. They were both already spayed/neutered at this young age and were not litter mates.

Now both 4 years old, they both starting eating the prescription diet food "Prescription Diet W/D" in late December. Prior to this time, they ate "Prescription Diet I/D".

While Cash appears to be in perfect health (if overweight, he is a Tonkanese weighing in at 18 lbs-he is the dominant cat), Lily has been having the following major health issues for about 6 months (she weighs about 16 lbs and is a Tabby).

Lily has a very runny fecal matter discharge from her anus. It is very smelly and she is constantly attempting to clean this area. Her bottom around this area is red and raw. Her vet prescribed the topical "Neopredef Powder" which we have been using.

The rectal issue appears to cause a reaction in her vagina - an inflammation of sorts. Perhaps these two are not caused by one another, but that is what we are suspecting.

She has been barbering her tail and chewed nearly all the hair from the tip of her tail during the first bout of this problem. The next time it got really bad again, she was barbering the middle of her tail.

We have taken her to our vet at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital in Morgantown, WV. The vet has performed:

xrays
ultrasound
stool samples
urine samples
blood work
steroid shot

They also have anesthetized her and cleaned, shaved and explored her rectal area. After they cleaned her and we started using the topical medication, she appeared to be better for about a week and a half.

We thought she had healed, but then we noticed that she was barbering once again - the middle of her tail was nearly chewed completely away. My other cat Cash was seen barbering himself a bit so as a precaution we treated them with Frontline flea medication and that seemed to take care of their barbering issues.

While Cash has never showed any odd behavior since, Lily started doing some barbering once again and her anus is a total mess once again - it has a very, very foul smell.

Lily has been to 5 veterinarians at the Cheat Lake Animal Hospital and they have all discussed her case together and have not been able to diagnose her problem. We've spent nearly a thousand dollars and still have no solution. I am writing in hopes you may have an idea.

We have never seen an indication of Cash causing Lily pain or anything. They are, as always, very affection with one another and play together.

Lily is still very loving and sweet but is not as outgoing and playful as she was before this illness struck. I'm so worried about her and have many theories:
- maybe her very young spaying was not done correctly-caused problems?
- Googling her symptoms, I got the possibilities of Pyometra, Acute Metritis, Vaginitis, Uterine or Ovarian Cancer....?

Thanks for taking the time to consider all of these factors. We will look forward to hearing from you.

Yours truly, Jessica

ANSWER:

Hi, Jessica,

I certainly understand your concern and frustration. Although I can't give definite answers without examining Lily, I'll share my thoughts with you.

(1) First of all, I see many different problems, including skin conditions, develop due to a cat being overweight. Extra skin folds that occur with excess fat can lead to areas of the body staying more moist than normal. Moist skin folds can become irritated.

(2) Cats that are overweight frequently cannot groom themselves properly, especially the areas above and below the tail base. This can lead to urine and feces remaining on the rear end which also leads to irritation.

(3) Cats can have feline anal glands with problems. The anal glands can become impacted or infected. This can cause the cat to lick obsessively around the anus, also leading to redness and hair loss and irritation. Certain disorders of the feline anal glands can also lead to excessive spontaneous discharge of the secretions. This will cause skin irritation and a horrible smell. You mention a very, very foul smell and the two odors that come to mind first are the smell of feline anal glands secretions and the smell of infection. Either or both could be present on Lily.

(4) Allergy is a definite possibility. Flea allergy is the most common allergy that cats have and you mention improvement after the cats are treated with Frontline. The fact that Cash showed symptoms also until the treatment with Frontline makes one think Lily's problem is one they both could have shared and that is fleas.

Cash may have had fleas, but not be allergic to fleas. Lily may have a true flea allergy, which means that ONE flea can make her horribly itchy and miserable and cause excessive licking and grooming. You may never see a single flea on a cat with true flea allergy because they have such a reaction to only one flea and in their desperation to lick and groom, they swallow the flea. ( To purchase flea medicine, click here. ) The puzzling thing, however, is that you describe a "runny fecal matter discharge from her anus". That doesn't sound like feline anal glands secretions. If that is not secretions from the anal sacs (which the vets should be able to ascertain), and it is truly fecal material, the concern would be why her stool is leaking. Has she just been irritated for so long that the discharge is a loose portion of fecal material that is leaking out because she is holding back on having bowel movements because it is too painful? Or does she have true diarrhea and why?

I assume the exam under sedation ruled out tumors of the anus or rectum or any other kinds of growths or abnormalities.

As far as Pyometra, Acute Metritis, Vaginitis, Uterine or Ovarian Cancer go, they would not cause an inflammed anus or secretions from the anus. Also, since she was spayed, one would hope she doesn't have ovaries or a uterus and couldn't have these diseases. It is possible, even after being spayed, for a cat to have pyometra of the uterine stump, but this is highly unlikely 4 years after her spay.

Oh, one last very unlikely possibility is mites. Cats can have mite infections on their tails from having ear mites and lying with their tails next to their ears. I would want to ask the vets if they are sure the feline anal glands are healthy. I would also want to repeat examination of various stool samples a few times looking for parasites. Eggs can be shed sometimes and not at other times, so one negative fecal does not rule out parasites.

I would culture the secretions from the anus and I would do a vaginal swap for culture and sensitivity.

I would apply Frontline once monthly , indefinitely, to both cats and use a flea comb daily on both cats looking for fleas and/or flea "dirt".

I also would clean Lily's rear end for her every day or more frequently as needed with a warm wash cloth and apply a combination antibiotic/steriod cream afterwards. Continuing to try and help her lose weight would be beneficial as well.

If her stools are generally too firm except for the loose secretions, I would add fiber to her diet and perhaps a stool softener so it is not uncomfortable for her to defecate.

Repeat a blood glucose test to make sure she is not diabetic and try to avoid steroids by mouth or injection due to the risk of acquiring diabetes which can happen with overweight cats that receive steroids.

If none of this helps, I would, if at all possible, make an appointment with a veterinarian who is a board certified GI specialist.

I would be grateful if you would keep me informed. You have my email address and there would be no charge for updates or further questions.

My very best wishes,
Dr. Neely

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