The Royal Veterinary College has had new research into the frequency and treatment of anal sac problems in dogs published in the Veterinary Record.

The authors say that study seeks to redress the lack of evidence-based information that has so far been published on the epidemiology and clinical management of non-neoplastic anal sac disorders (ASD).

The study, which was carried out within the RVC’s VetCompass programme, focused especially on identifying breeds with increased or reduced risk of anal sac disorders.

The breeds at greatest risk of an anal sac disorder compared with crossbreeds included Cavalier King Charles spaniel, King Charles spaniel and Cockapoo.

Conversely, breeds at reduced risk included larger breed dogs including Boxer, German Shepherd Dog and Lurcher. Flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds such as Shih Tzu had 2.6 times the risk for anal sac disorders compared to long-skulled breeds such as Border Collies. Spaniel-types, Dachshund-types and Poodle also showed increased risk for anal sac disease.

The study identified 2,372 anal sac disorder cases from a population of 104,212 dogs attending VetCompass participating practices during 2013.

Other findings included:

  • Anal sac disorders affected 4.4% of dogs.
  • Six breeds had increased risk of anal sac disorders compared with crossbred dogs: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (x 3.31), King Charles Spaniel (x 3.30), Cockapoo (x 2.59), Shih-tzu (x 1.66), Bichon Frise (x 1.63) and Cocker Spaniel (x 1.24).
  • Six breeds had reduced risk of anal sac disorders compared with crossbred dogs: Boxer (x 0.29), German Shepherd Dog (x 0.37), Lurcher (x 0.51), Staffordshire Bull Terrier (x 0.56), Border Collie (x 0.60) and Labrador Retriever (x 0.70).
  • Flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs had 2.62 times the risk of anal sac disorders compared with long-faced dogs.
  • Spaniel-types had 2.09 times the risk of anal sac disorders compared with non Spaniel-types.
  • Dachshund-types had 1.38 times the risk of anal sac disorders compared with non Dachshund-types.
  • Poodle-types had 1.46 times the risk of anal sac disorders compared with non Poodle-types.
  • The risks of anal sac problems were higher in older dogs.
  • Insured dogs were 1.53 times more likely to have anal sac problems diagnosed than uninsured dogs.
  • 20% of dogs with anal sac problems were prescribed antimicrobials while 12% were given pain relief.  
  • Anal sacs were surgically removed in under 1% of affected dogs.
  • Dietary change was recommended in 8.18% cases and weight loss was recommended in 1.14% cases.

Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior Lecturer, Companion Animal Epidemiology, at the RVC, and author of the paper, said: “During two decades in first opinion practice, anal sac problems in dogs were a routine daily presentation for me. However, when I searched the literature to find evidence on the best way to treat these dogs or even on which breeds were at most risk, there was almost no information available. It seemed back then that only problems that were severe enough to be referred to universities in large numbers were researched.

"As a result, vets in first opinion practice generally had to work out for themselves what seemed to be the best treatment in these cases. It is refreshing now to see research on common problems in dogs under first opinion veterinary care being reported. Owners and vets needs this evidence vitally.”

Anette Loeffler, Associate Professor of Veterinary Dermatology at the RVC and co-author of the paper, said: "This study shines a spotlight on critically important area of veterinary practice: antibiotic usage. Twenty percent of dogs presenting with an anal sac disorder received antibiotics even though diagnostic criteria for anal sac infection or proof of efficacy of antibiotic treatment are lacking.

"At a time when antimicrobial resistance presents one of the biggest threats to human and animal health, this highlights an urgent need for further study of these disorders in order to improve dog welfare but also to help vets in making responsible antibiotic treatment decisions in the interest of public health.”

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