Anal Glands in Cats

Cat walking on fence outside with tail in the air
Cats have two anal glands and use them to mark their territory. Image by Chris Winsor / Getty Images

Many mammals, including cats, have anal glands located on their hind end. In cats, anal glands only seem to be noticed when you suddenly smell what has come out of them, your cat is scooting its rear end on the ground, or your cat is excessively licking its rear end. But what is the purpose of these anal glands and how do you avoid problems with them?

Cat Anal Gland Anatomy

Both male and female cats have two pea-sized anal glands located around their rectal opening that are only visible as very small holes on the outside of the skin. Each anal gland sits at about 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock from the rectal opening and the tiny visible openings lead to the small balloon-like anal glands under the skin. These glands fill with fluid and should naturally express when a cat defecates or purposefully expresses the glands by rubbing its rear end on something. The fluid in the glands is typically liquid, but can thicken and become gritty or even chunky if not expressed out of the gland regularly.

Why Do Cats Have Anal Glands?

Anal glands serve a purpose other than creating a foul smell. In the wild, cats mark their territory in several different ways. Secreting anal gland fluid is just one of those ways a cat will say something belongs to them. As a cat defecates, the feces naturally push against the internal portion of the anal gland, which causes it to be squeezed and secrete the anal gland fluid with the feces. A cat can also manually express its anal glands, much like a skunk does, if it is scared or frightened. This is often seen when a stressed cat needs to visit the veterinarian or groomer.

Problems With Cat Anal Glands

Cat anal glands sometimes need to be manually expressed. This is usually necessary to prevent discomfort, anal gland rupture, infection, or because of medical reasons. Anal glands should naturally secrete fluid during defecation but sometimes there is inflammation in the duct of the gland–making the fluid unable to exit, a growth or tumor is present in the general vicinity of the anal gland, or there are other reasons for the fluid to be unable to exit the body on its own. These are times when manual anal gland expression needs to occur, so as to not risk a painful impaction, infection, and rupture of the gland.

Manual anal gland expression is easy to learn how to do but cats do not enjoy it. Ask a veterinarian about restraint methods, distraction techniques, and exactly how to safely express a cat's anal glands if you want to do it at home. A cat that is scooting its rear end on the floor, licking excessively at its hind end, appears to not want to sit on its hind end, or has signs of redness around the rectal area may be trying to tell you that it needs help expressing its anal glands.

If a cat develops an infected anal gland, they will receive antibiotics. If the anal glands are impacted and unable to empty, then a veterinarian will need to sedate or anesthetize the cat in order to remove the thickened contents of the anal glands. If the impaction is not addressed, the glands will rupture and need to be cleaned out under anesthesia while the pain and infection is also managed. Sometimes cats have such chronic issues with their anal glands, or a tumor is found in or around the glands, that they are surgically removed.

Preventing Anal Gland Problems

The best thing you can do for a cat to help prevent anal gland issues is to feed it a quality cat food and keep it in a good physical condition. If you're worried about your cat developing anal gland problems, prevent it from becoming overweight and let your veterinarian know if it's scooting its rear end on the floor or has any inflammation around the rectal area. Monitor for diarrhea and do not attempt to express the anal glands unnecessarily. Manually expressing anal glands without them needing it can cause irritation problems in the future, so it is best to leave them alone unless a reason to express them arises.