How Do I Express My Cat's Anal Glands?

Cat at vets office
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It is important to understand the function of anal glands, aka 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, their 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 when 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 ultimate anal gland problems. Veterinarians will often prescribe a high-fiber cat food or a fiber supplement for cats with ongoing anal sac problems.

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

What Does a Vet Charge to Express Cats' Anal Glands?

The simplest answer to how much a veterinarian will charge to express a cat's anal glands is, "Call your veterinarian and ask." The cost will vary from clinic to clinic, and among geographical areas. In addition, most veterinarians will charge for an office visit, as they will want to examine the cat thoroughly unless she has been seen very recently. In addition, your veterinarian will check for evidence of anal gland disease, which includes:

  • Impaction: Normal anal sac (gland) secretion is a yellowish color, 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.

Assuming your cat has been examined by your vet, with no problems found with her anal sacs, such as obvious swelling and inflammation, yes, you can help her by manually expressing the anal sacs. You will likely need a friend to help hold her still while you perform the procedure.

Things You'll Need to Express Your Cat's Anal Glands

  • A 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.

How to Perform Anal Gland Expression in Cats

While your partner holds the cat facing away from you, with her tail up, locate the anal glands on either side of the anal opening. 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 and gently press inward and upward at the same time. Your nose should tell you if you have been successful. Clean the anal area with the moist wipes or damp paper towel, give the cat a final treat, and release her. 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.

If, on the other hand, you were not successful, pick up the phone and make an appointment with your veterinarian. Ask him or her if they can coach you in the procedure.