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Exotic pets, rodents and birds

Impacted Anal Sacs

What is this and how did my piggy get this?
by Kirstin Key, Companion Animal Care Services, Copyright 2001

Did you know that guinea pigs produce two kinds of pellets? One type of pellet is the long ovoid ones shaped like torpedos that you clean off the bottom of the cage. This of course, is waste product. The other type, is a small grape like-cluster, much softer, and full of nutrients, particularly Vitamin B. Many vegetarian animals do not get Vitamin B in their diet, which is found in high concentrations in red meat. They way they get around this is by producing it, but then it must be ingested.

This process of ingesting these pellets is called coprophagy. The etymology in Greek is koprophagos, from kopr- + -phagos -phagous, which literally means dung eating. This dates back to 1826, according to the Merriam - Webster Dictionary. Many animals engage in this behaviour as a normal part of life, including many primates, but most notably, gorillas.

Both sexes excrete these pellets, and immediately bend over, tucking head under their front legs and pull the pellets out as they are excreted. Your piggy is either grooming it's belly or pulling the pellets out when head is down in this manner.

Now boars, because they have the perianal sac just prior to the testicles and rectum, have a lovely storage facility for these uneaten pellets. Often times, this sac becomes impacted (stuffed) with soft pellets, shavings, musk and hair. Sometimes, the rectal musculature becomes a bit weak with age, and the boars can't seem to 'push' the pellets fully out. These pellets form a larger soft ball, and get packed into the sac. This is not unheard of in younger boars, of course, just more common and prevalent in older animals. This can be dangerous in any extent, due to the strain of the digestive system of the animal and the lack of comfort in the nether regions.

Boars can also get impactions when they court a sow, or are challenging another boar. They do a certain purr, often referred to as a rumblestrut, where they pick up their body, flare out their pouch, and secrete musk, all the while purring madly. As the pouch is flared and the musk is being secreted, they drag their hind end along the ground, to scent and distribute the musk. Those kept on shredded or wood bedding tend to pick up bedding on accident, and when they relax the pouch muscles, as it closes it pulls in bedding. Uncomfortable in the least, another way they can cause an impaction.

The first thing you'll usually notice is a very unpleasant smell coming from your boar, or possibly even your boar 'walking funny' or less interested in foods. You might also see some separation of the sac, revealing a mass within. You can use your fingers, a q-tip dipped in mineral oil, or even a tissue. Keep in mind that the tissues of the sac are usually at this point, already sensitive and inflamed, so be gentle!

What I do is to flip the boar over on his back and hold him against my chest in the crook of my arm. I then support his hind end with my wrist and arm, and use both sets of forefingers to gently roll the sides of the sac down and back, exposing the lump. Be forewarned: The resulting odor will usually knock you down, so please start this seated! This stuff should be used for biological warfare, it's so potent. The good thing is your pig will feel much better and it only takes a couple of seconds to complete.

Either swipe the area with the moistened q-tip or use your fingers to squeeze and flick the resulting mass out of the sac. Set the pig back down, and give him a treat.

Sometimes if it's been in there a while, the mass may become rather embedded or stuck to the skin of the pouch. If this is the case, you'll notice a much harder impaction (a soft impaction is usually softer than cottage cheese, while a harder impaction is about the consistency of harder cheese), and it won't release from the pouch with squeezing pressure. If this is the case, often a nice warm water soak of the piggy will help loosen it, and you can also squirt a bit of olive or mineral oil in the pouch, allowing soaking time to loosen it from the skin. Don't simply pull it out, as this can cause the delicate skin to tear!

This may need to be done only once, or every other week, it's completely dependant upon the health of the boar and it's environment.

You may supplement with a bit of Vitamin B complex powder over the food for a day or two to return the piggy's digestive system to a semblance of it's previous order, or even a probiotic will help reseed the intestine with the necessary flora and fauna.

If you have questions, please email me.

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