How to Express Your Cat's Anal Glands

Cat at vets office
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A cat's anal glands naturally express a scent-marking liquid when they defecate or rub their hind end on the ground. When the duct inside the gland becomes inflamed or swollen, an impaction may occur that prevents the fluid from escaping. This can be painful for your cat and lead to further problems and infections.

Assuming your cat has been examined by a vet, with no problems found with the anal sacs, you can help by manually expressing the anal sacs. It's not the most enjoyable experience for you or the cat, but it is necessary for your cat's health. Though your vet can do it, you can save money by doing the procedure at home.

illustration of anal glands in cats
Illustration: Elnora Turner. © The Spruce, 2018

Before You Begin

It is important to understand the function of anal glands (also known as anal sacs) in cats. They are small vestigial organs located on both sides of the anus at roughly the 5 and 7 o'clock positions. Tiny ducts beneath the skin lead to openings next to the anus.

In cats, the glands' purpose is to leave a powerful territorial scent message via anal sac secretion mixed with feces. The firm feces resulting from a natural cat diet "milk" the anal glands while passing through the rectum and anus. Cats may also spontaneously express anal sac secretions when excited or frightened.

Unfortunately, some modern cat food diets do not contain enough fiber to maintain firm stools, thus causing anal gland problems. Veterinarians will often prescribe a high-fiber cat food or a fiber supplement for cats with ongoing anal sac problems.

Signs that you may need to express the glands manually include any redness in the area, the cat scooting around, licking excessively, or appearing unable or unwilling to sit down all the way.

What You Need

  • Sturdy surface for the cat to stand on: A bathroom counter-top would be excellent. You may want to line it with a layer of newspapers first.
  • Surgical gloves: You'll want to avoid getting the secretions on your hands.
  • Moist wipes: For cleaning the anal area after expressing the anal glands. Damp paper towels will also work quite well.
  • Kitty treats: Handy for ensuring your cat's cooperation and as a reward when you are finished.

Get a Second Hand

You will likely need the help of another person to hold the cat still while you perform the procedure. Have them hold the cat from the front (so it's facing away from you) with a firm but reassuring touch.

Be sure that both of you remain calm and talk softly to your cat to reduce as much stress as possible. Offering treats as a distraction will help as well.

Locate the Anal Glands

Hold the cat's tail up. Locate the anal glands on either side of the anal opening.

Press Gently

Using either the index fingers of both hands or thumb and index finger of one hand, place your fingers on the outside bottom of the sacs. Gently press inward and upward at the same time. Your nose should tell you if you have been successful.

Clean Up

Clean the anal area with the moist wipes or damp paper towel. Give the cat a final treat and release it. Remove the surgical gloves, wrap them up along with the used moist wipes in the newspaper and discard. Give your partner a high-five and celebrate!

Preventing Problems With Your Cat During Anal Gland Expression

If you were not successful, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have them express your cat's anal glands. When you go into the office, ask the vet to coach you on the procedure so you can try again the next time it's needed. Be sure to get a few tips on restraining and distracting your cat as well.

The cost of having this procedure done at the vet will vary. In addition, your vet may charge for an office visit, as they will likely want to examine the cat thoroughly unless it has been seen very recently. In addition, your veterinarian will check for evidence of anal gland disease, including:

  • Impaction: Normal anal sac (gland) secretion is a yellowish color and oily in appearance and texture. If not regularly expressed, the secretion thickens to a mush-like consistency, and may ultimately become very hard and grainy.
  • Infection leading to abscess: Bacteria may find its way into the anal sac, which will become swollen, painful, and red. If caught in time, the infection may be treated with antibiotics, however, abscesses must be lanced by a veterinarian. Warm compresses may also reduce the pain and swelling.

Cats with ongoing anal sac impactions or inflammation may be treated by removal of the anal sac, which has no real physical function. Anal gland tumors, which are not common, will also be treated by removal of the whole sac.

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.