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April 29, 2022 — A recent survey conducted by Morris Animal Foundation found veterinarians in general practice listed anal gland/anal sac problems as one of the top issues they see in their daily practice. Although most diseases of the rectum and anal area tend to be less serious, it’s important for owners to recognize the clinical signs of rectoanal disease and know when to seek veterinary care.

Clinical signs
Most dog owners have seen their dogs scooting their bottoms across carpet or grass. This familiar behavior can be a sign of rectoanal problems, but other signs may be less familiar. These include:

  • Straining to defecate
  • Pain on defecation
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Fresh blood in and/or around the stool
  • Sensitivity to touch around the tail area
  • Excessive licking of the anal area

Rectoanal diseases can share similar clinical signs but a good physical examination by your veterinarian can narrow the diagnosis.

Common diseases
Several diseases in dogs affect the rectoanal area, with some of the more common ones being:

  • Proctitis is an inflammation of the tissue lining of the rectum. Proctitis is believed to be one of the main reason dogs strain to defecate. Sometimes proctitis can be a sign of more generalized inflammation in the large intestine.
  • Several cancers can be located in the rectoanal area and can be diagnosed by careful digital rectal examination. Depending on a few factors, these cancers typically have an excellent prognosis with surgical removal.
  • Perianal fistula is a chronic inflammatory disease leading to ulceration in the anal region. This disease primarily affects German Shepherd dogs but is sometimes found in other dog breeds.
  • Anal sacculitis/impaction/abscess is one of the most common rectoanal problems diagnosed. Inflammation can be isolated or progress to an abscess. Some dogs suffer from chronic problems with impacted anal glands which can lead to inflammation and abscess formation.

Treatment for rectoanal disease is dependent on the type of diagnosis.

Proctitis often is a self-limiting problem and can respond to an easily digestible diet, application of rectal steroid foam and, occasionally, oral anti-inflammatory drugs. In cases of more chronic problems, further diagnostic tests, such as colonoscopy and biopsy, are necessary before treatment can begin.

For some types of cancer, surgical removal can be curative. However, others are more serious and require adjuvant chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Perianal fistulas are more difficult to treat and are controlled rather than cured. It’s important to keep the area clean and dry. Bathing the area with antimicrobial solutions or shampoos is sometimes helpful. Perianal fistulas are sometime associated with food sensitivities so changing foods to a hypoallergenic diet can help. Lastly, oral medications, such as cyclosporine (an immunosuppressant) and antibiotics are used frequently.

Treatment for anal sac disease can be achieved by keeping the anal sacs empty to avoid impaction. Abscesses of the anal sacs often need surgery to place drains and flush the wounded area. Warm compresses, antibiotics and infusions of ointment into the anal sacs are other treatment options. Surgical removal of the anal sacs can be necessary in recurrent cases.

For dog owners, the good news is most diseases affecting the rectoanal area have a good to excellent long-term prognosis. However, always have your veterinarian do a thorough exam if signs last longer than a few days, your dog is in pain or if you note blood in or around the stool. Catching a problem early is always best!