What do you get when you mix the smells of unwashed, musty, old athletic socks, dead fish, and moldy limburger cheese (because the fresh stuff smells so much better)?
I know a few of you will get this one right away, because once you have been blessed with this aromatic pleasure it will be impregnated into the olfactory part of your brain forever. One drop of this substance in our exam room will initiate hazmat Condition Red. All hospital exhaust fans are linked up to maximum warp drive, windows are opened, doors to the reception area are sealed, glade plug-ins are turned up to 5, and Lysol spray cans are handed to all staff members. Now that we have blocked almost half of the smell we can hope that by the following day we will be able to reopen that exam room.
Here is another hint. You have noticed your dog has been scooting on his rear for the past week (nope, this doesn’t mean he has worms!). You may even notice they are licking at their anal area or sitting uncomfortably. Fortunately, (for me especially) most dog or cat owners won’t have to worry about this problem, yet every day our office is helping out some poor pet with a pain in the @*#. Anal gland or anal sac problems in dogs and cats show up with a variety of symptoms and causes. They can be impacted (plugged), swollen, infected, abscessed or all of the above. They are found in a variety of mammals, especially carnivores (except bears) and are the same glands that skunks use to spray a nosy canine.
Anal glands are paired sacs located on either side of the anus just under the skin. In a 60-pound dog they are about the size of a grape. Normally, these sacs have watery, yellow or tan fluid that is expressed when your pet has a bowel movement. In nature, anal sacs identify an individual, are used to mark territory, and can also be released under times of stress. If the tiny duct that opens to the skin becomes blocked, fluid builds up in the sac and causes discomfort. Over time that fluid becomes thicker, the gland swells, becomes inflamed, and may even rupture through the skin with a bloody discharge.
If your pet displays these signs, we (meaning my technicians-thank you, ladies) try to relieve the obstruction by inserting a gloved finger just inside the anal opening and gently squeezing the gland to blow out the plug. Extreme caution is needed here. Even with tissues, paper towels, and baby wipes to block the spray, anal Pinatubo will try to find your face with the accuracy of a Navy Seal in Abbotabad. My insensitive staff will relish in my poor misfortune and won’t even attempt to hide their glee. If the fluid becomes thick it can be just like a Play Doh fun factory as the clay-like substance slowly makes a several inch long black macaroni shaped concretion.
The opposite of obstructed anal glands is even worse. We call them “leakers”, because they leak fluid regularly when they sit down on the carpet or furniture. It’s such an annoyance we inevitably surgically remove the glands in these patients (anal sacculectomy). This can also be done for chronic “pluggers,” recurring abscesses or cancer of the gland. For an abscess, the gland needs to be lanced and flushed with an antiseptic.When a client tries to describe this foul odor they have experienced at home, I have to admit I enjoy the wrinkled nose expression on their face when I bring a Q tip into the exam room with one drop on it. They usually just nod and shudder. We have shown a few clients how to express anal sacs themselves for those pets with frequent problems, but inevitably for some unknown reason we always see them back offering to pay double the fee.