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Thursday, April 18, 2013

An Anal Gland Facial

Vets sometimes have to deal with some pretty gross things.  But it's worse when you get it all over yourself.

Today I was dealing with a sick cat and not having much luck finding what was wrong.  All of the lab tests were coming up normal yet the cat was acting abnormal at home.  Finally I decided to put it on an appetite stimulant and send it for ultrasound tomorrow.  As my techs were giving it some fluids one of them noticed that the rectal area seemed a bit puffy.  She felt back there and thought that the anal sacs were full.

For those not in the know, anal sacs are normal structures on dogs and cats.  There are two of them, one on either side of the rectum in about the 4:00 and 8:00 positions.  The secretions are used for scent marking and when the animal has a bowel movement the feces moving through the rectum pushes against the sacs, expressing them onto the stool.  At least, that's what normally should happen.

Owners of small breed dogs know that the glands often get full or impacted, resulting in the dog "scooting" on their bottom.  Groomers and vets can easily express the glands manually and it's a common occurrence.  However, cats rarely get impacted anal sacs.  In fact, I may see 1-2 anal gland expressions per year in cats.  

Anyone who has been around an anal gland expression knows that it's very stinky.  Few things can turn the stomach of even an experienced veterinary worker than anal gland secretions.  It's a sort of "fishy" smell and will quickly fill the air in a room.  Definitely not something you want to get on yourself or your clothing.

So I slipped my glove on, liberally applied lubricant, and stuck my finger into the cat's rectum.  Much to my surprise the sacs were extremely full.  And as I tried to express them I discovered that the secretions were much thicker than normal and impacted.  I began gently but firmly squeezing, knowing that I had to get the material out.  The first sac was difficult but I finally accomplished it.  I switched to the other side and began working.  That sac was particularly full and I had to squeeze harder.

Can you see where this is going?  I learned long ago to put a paper towel over my hand so everything goes onto my glove or the towel, keeping mess to a minimum.  In this case I wanted to watch for problems since it was so tough, so I left it partially uncovered.

Big mistake.

There I was squeezing and all of a sudden everything released.  The very thick, malodorous material flew out, spattering along the entire length of my arm.  As soon as I noticed this I felt a wet splat on my face.  And it was not an insubstantial splat.

Keep in mind that I have facial hair.

There I was with thick anal gland secretions along my arm and a large amount on my face.  Yet the sac wasn't completely empty and my finger was still up the cat's bum.  I had to finish what I was doing while the goo sat there on my cheek.

One of my assistants looked up and saw it.  Apparently it was a sizable amount extending from the edge of my mustache nearly to my chin.  She started gagging, holding back a vomit reflex.  And this is someone who has been working in the veterinary field for about 10 years!

Once I was done with the cat I started to wipe the mess off.  That ended up smearing it into my mustache which caused my assistant to gag again.  I went over to the sink and started washing my face so thoroughly that I could taste the soap.  But eventually I got cleaned up.

I know other vets and staff who have had similar experiences.  This was the first time it's happened to me.  And it's not an experience I'm anxious to repeat.

Ain't being a vet grand?