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What is Perianal Fistulas in Labrador Retrievers?

Perianal Fistulas in Labrador Retrievers

Having a dog as a pet can be a truly rewarding experience. However, at some point health issues will arise in your dog, especially as they get older. This article contains information about one of the not so pleasant ones, an unfortunate condition called perianal fistula. The term “perianal” is used to identify the sensitive area ok skin surrounding the anus. A “fistula” is defined as an abnormal formation that extends from the inside of the body to the outer surface of the skin. If your dog develops a perianal fistula, then there is a severe lesion or hole along the anal area.

This condition typically begins with swelling and irritation around the anus. Perianal Fistula can be caused by any number of reasons, including bug bites, constipation, diarrhea, or allergic reactions. Regardless of the cause of the inflammation, the skin will begin to itch and become uncomfortable for the dog. This causes them to scratch and lick the area to try to relieve the discomfort. This can lead to infection, which is what results in the lesions. The anal area happens to be the perfect spot for bacteria to grow and spread because it is a dark, moist, and warm area, protected from view due to the positioning of the tail.

Most cases of perianal fistulas occur in breeds like the German Shepherd, whose long and broad tails are positioned closely to the anal area. The length and thickness of the tail and fur produce more sweat, allows for less air flow, and provides ideal coverage for bacteria to grow. Though Labrador Retrievers do not share the long, bushy tail of shepherds, they are not exempt from this disease. Unfortunately, Labrador Retriever is one of the breeds that are prone to developing perianal fistulas.

This condition can often be hard to catch in the beginning stages. The first few lesions can often go undetected due to the area being well covered and hard to see. Usually, symptoms do not become noticeable until it progresses to several painful lesions around the entire anus area. Left undetected and untreated, the holes become wider and deeper from continuous exposure to bacteria and irritation. As the condition progresses, the dog will become more and more irritated from the lesions and inflammation in the area. This will cause them to lick, scratch, bite, and rub the area against the ground in an attempt to relieve the itching. Unfortunately, this will contract more bacteria and make the condition worsen quickly.

Detecting Perianal Fistulas in Labrador Retrievers

In the worst cases of perianal fistulas, the dog will experience severe pain and discomfort that may interrupt normal living activities. There are many signs and symptoms that, if caught early enough and treated by a veterinarian, can prevent severe pain and discomfort. Some of those warning signs include:

  • Any signs of discomfort exhibited by constantly licking or scratching the anal area
  • Diarrhea or constipation, which make it painful to defecate and may cause anxiety over going out to use the bathroom
  • Lack of appetite from stomach discomfort that may be caused by digestive issues or simply from the anxiety of being in pain
  • A foul odor may appear due to the bacteria and infection in the area, made even worse by constant licking
  • Lethargy and depression may also occur as a result of lack of sleep from consistent discomfort
  • Heavy panting despite a cool atmosphere may also signify that your dog is in distress from pain or discomfort


What Do I Do if My Labrador has Perianal Fistulas

If you confirm or suspect the presence of perianal fistulas, your dog should be taken to the veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will perform a physical exam on your dog, as well as a rectal exam, and even a skin biopsy to confirm that there are no underlying problems. In some cases, cancer or tumors can have the same symptoms, so these procedures can rule out these underlying problems. For treatment of the condition, the veterinarian will prescribe an antiseptic solution to clean and disinfect the wounds, along with antibacterial medications to prevent further bacterial growth. Immunosuppressive medication may be given for any problematic autoimmune responses that may occur. Stool softeners may be recommended to make defecation easier for your dog since the area will continue to cause discomfort for some time while it heals. It is also common to prescribe a pain medication to relieve some of the pain while healing is taking place. If the condition was caused by an allergic reaction or problems with the diet of your Labrador, a dietary change or supplements might be required as well.

Though rare, if the condition is untreated for an extended period, or if the dog causes too much irritation to the area, there is a chance that permanent damage could occur as a result of perianal fistulas. In these cases, medication may not be enough to treat the condition entirely. Your dog may then have to undergo surgery to correct the problems. The surgical process involves freezing the tissues that have been affected by the condition and then scraping them off. Another surgical option involves removing the lining of the fistulas with the use of laser treatments. Because the anal area is very sensitive due to an abundance of nerves and blood vessels, surgery in the area is often very risky for your pet.

It is likely the Issue Can Reappear

Once your pet has developed this condition, it is more likely that the issues will reappear in the future. It is important to take the necessary precautions to lessen the likelihood that this unfortunate condition will return. First, in addition to regular vet checkups, be sure to perform periodic inspections of your dogs to check for diseases such as this, as well as for ticks, fleas, or other injuries. Also, changing their diet can eliminate any food allergens or ingredients your dog may be intolerant of so as to not cause the discomfort that leads to the lesions. Chinese herbs have also been found to help, but you should consult with your vet before beginning any supplements.

Unfortunately, despite all efforts to keep dogs healthy, sometimes health issues do arise. It ‘s hard to see your pet in distress, and you are the best person to tune quickly into any changes that may take place in your Labrador’s behavior. Perianal fistulas are an unfortunate and extremely uncomfortable condition. However, with proper awareness and preventative measures, you can shorten the extent of their discomfort and hopefully prevent any future flare-ups.


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