Anal Glands in Cats

Cat walking on fence outside, marking territory with its tail in the air
Cats use their anal glands to mark their territory.

Chris Winsor / Getty Images

Many mammals, including cats, have anal glands located around their rectum. These glands typically go unnoticed until you smell their secretions or there is an issue with them. Knowing the purpose of these glands as well as the potential complications that may occur involving them will help you keep your cat happy and healthy.

Tabby cat grooming itself, twisting body to lick fur on inner side of back leg, white whiskers, long bushy tail.
Excessive licking near the rear end can be a sign of an anal gland problem. Paul Bricknell / Getty Images

Cat Anal Gland Anatomy

Both male and female cats have two pea-sized anal glands located around their rectal openings. From the outside, two very small holes on the left and right sides of the anal opening may be seen. Each anal gland sits at about five o'clock and seven o'clock around the opening and the tiny visible openings lead to the small, balloon-like anal glands that are under the skin. These glands naturally fill with foul-smelling fluid. The fluid in the glands is typically a liquid but it can also thicken and become gritty, or even chunky, if stored for too long or there are issues with the glands.

Why Do Cats Have Anal Glands?

Anal glands serve a specific purpose in helping a cat mark its territory. In the wild, cats mark their territory several different ways and secreting anal gland fluid is just one way to communicate their presence to other animals. As a cat defecates, the feces naturally push against the internal portion of the balloon-like 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. The anal gland liquid may spray or just drip out creating a very bad odor.

Problems With Cat Anal Glands

Cat anal glands sometimes need to be manually expressed if they don't do so naturally when a cat defecates. This is usually necessary to prevent discomfort, anal gland rupture, or infection. Several reasons exist as to why anal glands may not express on their own.

  • Inflammation - When tissue in the anal gland and its duct becomes inflamed it can make it difficult or impossible for the secretions to exit the body.
  • Tumors - If a growth or tumor is present it may be blocking the anal gland duct, making the fluid unable to exit.
  • Infection - The fluid in the anal sacs can harbor bacteria if not regularly emptied. Bacteria will then reproduce and cause an infection which will consequently make the anal gland secretions thickened, bloody, and often unable to exit the gland through the small duct.
  • Low fiber diet - If a cat is not regularly expressing its anal sacs on its own it may need a higher fiber diet to help apply more pressure on the glands during defecation.
  • Obesity - Some cats are so overweight that the anal glands are unable to be naturally expressed due to the anatomy of a cat. Weight loss is the best course of action for cats who are having issues with their anal glands due to obesity.

If a cat is unable to express its anal glands on its own then manual anal gland expression needs to occur. If anal glands are not regularly expressed, impaction, infection, and rupture of the gland can occur.

If a cat develops an infected anal gland, they will receive antibiotics and may need the glands flushed. 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 are 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.

Manually Expressing Cat Anal Glands

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.

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. Manual pressure is applied to the glands to cause the secretions to come out.

Veterinarian giving advice to cat owner
vm / Getty Images

Preventing Cat Anal Gland Problems

The best thing you can do for a cat to help prevent anal gland issues is to feed it a high quality cat food and keep it in a good physical condition. If you're worried about it developing anal gland problems, prevent your cat 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 your cat's stool for diarrhea and do not attempt to express the anal glands unnecessarily. Manually expressing anal glands without them needing it can cause actually irritate the glands so it is best to leave them alone unless a reason to express them arises.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.