Vet Advice and Home Remedies for Dog Scooting
A vet on what to do when “anal sacs go bad.”
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When it comes to gross behaviors, your dog scooting their butt across the floor (or on your new rug), definitely tops the list. It may seem funny or weird, but scooting is no laughing matter — in fact, it’s usually a sign of an issue with your dog’s anal sacs. They drag their butts across the floor in an attempt to empty their full anal glands. Some dogs will also lick the anal area, while others will nip and bite at their bottom or chase their tails.
Dog anal gland issues are a fairly common problem. Anal sac impaction, a.k.a. blockage, most often results in only minor irritation, but if left unchecked, an anal gland abscess (a swollen, pus-filled mass) can develop. Ew is right. As a vet, ruptured anal glands are a common complication that I see with dogs in the ER. People usually present their dog for “bleeding from the rectum” and swelling under their dog’s tail when, in reality, it’s a ruptured anal sac that is draining blood-tinged fluid. It’s what I refer to as “anal sacs gone bad.” Keep reading to learn more about dog scooting, including how to keep your dog’s butt healthy.
What is dog scooting?
Dog scooting is when your dog drags their butt across the floor to try to empty their anal glands. It's a common behavior that can be caused by a variety of medical and behavioral issues. If your dog is scooting, it's important to take them to the veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. Once any medical issues have been addressed, you can work with your vet to develop a plan to prevent your dog from scooting.
What are dog anal glands?
Canine anal sacs are two grape-sized glands just inside a dog’s anus that contain a foul-smelling brown material. People often describe the dog’s anal gland smell to be “fishy.” Prior to domestication, dogs used the material produced by these glands to mark their territory, emptying the sacs voluntarily.
These days, dogs have largely lost their ability to empty their sacs on demand, but the process occurs naturally during normal defecation when firm feces are passed, lubricating the anal opening in the process. These glands can also “spontaneously empty” during times of stress or excitement; you may recognize this has happened when your dog suddenly develops a very unpleasant odor, or you notice that your dog smells like fish when scared.
How do dog anal abscesses form?
Dog anal sacs become impacted when a blockage develops in the duct that leads from the gland to the anus. The main causes for a blockage in the duct include having a softer stool or diarrhea, allergies that result in inflammation of the sac and duct, or just plain luck of the genetic draw. It is a common misconception that scooting means that a dog has worms. Surprisingly, worms are not a general cause for anal gland swelling.
At this stage, the anal gland is generally swollen and not painful. However, if an anal gland infection develops, the dog’s butt will become painful and swollen and an abscess may form, leading to bleeding from the rectum.
Anal sac infections develop because blockage of the duct results in inflammation of those local tissues. In general, any tissue that’s inflamed is no longer happy and healthy, making it easy for the bacteria that normally live in the area to get out of check and “take over,” causing a bacterial infection.
How are swollen anal glands treated?
I bravely tackled the mission of watching a disturbing array of YouTube videos, trying to find one that best demonstrates how swollen anal glands are treated. This video provides a good primer. It may be considered graphic by some, so please don’t click the link if you are easily queasy — some things are best left to professionals.
That said, it is possible to express your dog’s anal glands at home. Obviously, it’s not for everyone, but if you feel comfortable doing so, you can. I strongly recommend asking your veterinarian or groomer to demonstrate how to do this before you try it for the first time. A second pair of hands up at the front of your dog is helpful to give distracting rubs on the head and praise. A word of caution: Expressing incorrectly can cause irritation and lead to further problems, so make sure you are able to perform the task correctly.
What if your dog continues scooting after treatment?
Your veterinarian should recheck the anal glands if your dog’s scooting behavior continues for more than a couple of days following sac-emptying. If left unattended, an abscess can develop in the gland and rupture through the skin of the rectal region, causing bleeding. A ruptured anal sac abscess is oftentimes mistaken for rectal bleeding. Anal sac abscesses are generally treated at home with antibiotics, pain medications, and warm compresses on the area. Another important reason to take your dog to the vet if the scooting continues is that there could be another issue at play, such as allergies, parasites, or even referred back pain.
If your dog is scooting on a regular basis and their anal sacs need to be expressed every month or more, you may opt to have the sacs surgically (and therefore permanently) removed. The procedure to remove a dog’s anal glands can be complicated, as the sacs are located next to many important nerves — specifically, those that control rectal sphincter function. If improperly performed, your dog could permanently lose control of their bowel function. Despite how scary this sounds, anal sac removal is considered a relatively “simple” surgery by experienced surgeons.
Can I express my dog’s anal glands at home?
Yes, manual expression of anal sacs is possible to do at home. That said, you may want to have a veterinary staff member guide you through it the first time because it can be tricky. Some dogs won't put up a fight, but others will so it's best to have your technique down pat beforehand. It also helps to have another human present so they can keep your pup in place while you work. Here is a step-by-step guide for expressing your dog's anal glands at home.
When should I stop using home remedies and consult a vet?
Some anal gland issues need medical attention. If an anal gland is leaking, noticeably swollen, the skin over the gland is broken, or the gland is hard and cannot be expressed, you should call your vet. These can be signs of a tumor, anal gland infection, or ruptured anal gland abscess.
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Dr. Shea Cox, DVM, CVPP, CHPV
Dr. Shea Cox is the founder of BluePearl Pet Hospice and is a global leader in animal hospice and palliative care. With a focus on technology, innovation and education, her efforts are changing the end-of-life landscape in veterinary medicine.