Your dog or cat has a body part that you don’t have. It’s nothing to envy, but more of a pain in the rear than it is worth. Literally!

Dogs and cats have a pair of anal sacs, located just inside the anus. These little beauties hold a thick, stinky secretion that you may have had the pleasure of smelling from time to time. Many wild animals can empty these voluntarily to mark their scent or in self-defense, however our dogs and cats don’t have this ability—thank goodness! In most animals, these sacs empty during defecation, however some animals will have a problem doing this, resulting in uncomfortable, impacted, and even infected anal sacs.

Some pets require their anal sacs to be emptied manually, but how often this needs to be done will vary widely from pet to pet. Some signs that your pet may be having a problem include holding the tail down, chasing their tail, licking at the anus, scooting, reluctance to walk, or general discomfort.

In some instances pets will continue to act as if there are anal sac problems despite having them expressed. Some animals will need their anal sacs expressed several times before they get relief. Other problems such as itchiness, parasite infestation, or even back pain need to be ruled out if the symptoms persist. In pets that have frequent need to have their sacs emptied, a common recommendation is to increase fiber in the diet. This increases the bulk of the stools, hopefully encouraging normal emptying during bowel movements.

If all else fails, a procedure known as an anal sacculectomy can be performed. This involves removing the anal sacs for a permanent solution to problems. Obviously, this is an invasive procedure and should only be considered if the problem is severe and frequent.

If you’re not sure whether your pet’s anal sacs are causing problems, you can check for lumps near the anus as signs that the sac is already impacted. Or you can bring your pet in for a simple exam. Anal sac issues are not always visible but they are definitely uncomfortable for your dog or cat.