Perianal Fistulas in German Shepherds

Have you ever heard about Perianal Fistulas in German Shepherds? Any owner of a German Shepherd Dog can tell you what wonderful, loving pets these dogs can be. Loyal and dedicated to protect their family, a German Shepherd is a great choice for any family who wants to own a dog.

But when deciding to own a German Shepherd, there are several things you will need to become familiar with - some of them being the inherent medical conditions that are common to this particular dog breed. One such medical condition:  perianal fistula, also known as anal furunculosis, is the one we will discuss today.

What is a Perianal Fistula?

A perianal fistula begins as a painful abscess or lesion somewhere near a dog’s anus. A fistula is an abnormal crevice or tract that forms from an abscess. There are usually more than one fistula present, and if left untreated, they can result in chronic, painful, draining deep sores.

Perianal fistulas affect several types of dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, Border Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Bulldogs and Spaniels. However the breed most affected by this painful condition are German Shepherd Dogs.

Why are German Shepherds Prone to This Disease?

While it is thought that a hereditary trait gives certain dog breeds the predisposition to have anal furunculosis, many veterinary experts believe that it may also have to do with the way a German Shepherd Dogs tail sits over their hips. Because they have broad tails that sit low and close to their bodies, there is little ventilation in the anal area, trapping fecal matter near the folds of the anus.

German Shepherds also have more apocrine sweat glands than a lot of other dog breeds. This type of sweat gland secretes a smelly, oily substance which can promote infections in the anal area. In addition, most German Shepherds are prone to skin allergies which may also contribute to this condition.

Middle-aged, male dogs (ages 5-8) are more commonly affected than any other group, but perianal fistulas may occur in dogs of any age or sex.

What are the Symptoms of Anal Furunculosis?

The early symptoms of anal furunculosis often go unnoticed by pet owners since examining under a dog’s tail is not something most owners routinely do. Many times this condition is found by a veterinarian during a dogs yearly exam, or when a dog is being bathed or groomed.

If you own a German Shepherd, you can look out for the following signs or symptoms of Perianal Fistula:

  • Constipation or unusual straining.
  • Chronic diarrhea.
  • Bloody stools
  • Painful bowel movements.
  • Unusual biting and licking of the anal area.
  • Aggressiveness (biting) if tail area is touched or tail is lifted.
  • Decreased appetite.

If your dog shows any of these signs, then you should take him to a veterinarian immediately. Early detection of anal furunculosis is important so treatment can be administered as fast as possible. A veterinarian will perform a thorough history and medical examination, usually under sedation. A biopsy may also be done to confirm any diagnosis and to rule out other concerns, such as benign tumors or certain types of cancers.

What are the Common Treatments for Anal Furunculosis?

Effective treatment for Perianal Fistulas in German Shepherds may require a combination of treatments in order to achieve long-term results. However, non-surgical treatments are used first before any surgical procedures are recommended.

Typical medical treatments include:

  • Clipping the hair in the anal region; cleansing the area with an antiseptic solution, and flushing it all with large amounts of water.
  • Oral antibiotics, such asketoconazole or metronidazole for secondary infections.
  • Oral anti-inflammatory/immuno-suppressive drugs - commonly used ones are cyclosporine, prednisone,and azathioprine.
  • Topical (“applied to the skin”) immuno-suppressive creams, such as Tacrolimus.
  • Stool softeners to help with any problems with constipation.
  • Diet change to a hypoallergenic, or novel protein diet, made from unusual protein sources such as rabbit, duck, fish, or venison.

This medical strategy is normally administered for 7-10 weeks, possibly even longer in some cases. Unfortunately recurrence of the disease often happens when any medical applications are stopped. At this time, surgical procedures may be needed.

Surgery is usually recommend if the following conditions are found:

  • The fistulas are small and can easily be surgically treated.
  • To remove anal sacs that are involved or infected.
  • After medical treatment that fails, especially if the condition reoccurs.
  • In recurrent or severe cases in order to make a dog more comfortable.

If surgery is necessary there are several ways in which the dead and diseased tissue can be removed so healing can occur. Surgical treatments may include:

  • Traditional surgical removal of dead tissues associated with the fistulas.
  • Cryosurgery - freezing the diseased tissues
  • Laser surgery - using a laser to remove the fistulas
  • Cauterization - burning of the affected tissue.
  • Tail amputation, if the position of the tail is a major contributing cause of the disease.

If a dog has laser surgery or cryosurgery, the treated area will need a gentle cleansing every day for several weeks to remove any dead tissue, bacterial, and/or fecal matter from the area. These dogs will have also have to wear a "cone" collar in order to stop them from biting and licking the area.

What is the Long-term Outlook for Dogs With
Perianal Fistulas?

The chance of recurrence with this disease is very common, especially in dogs whose condition is moderate to severe. Early detection is the key to the best prognosis in cases of anal furunculosis.

If you own a German Shepherd or any breed predisposed to this disease, watch for any signs of any problem in your pet, and get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible if you observe any signs of this debilitating canine condition. Perianal Fistulas in German Shepherds can be treated even though anal furunculosis requires lifelong management. Even after surgery this is still true, which can be very frustrating for both the pet or pet owner.

"What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

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