Appointments for dogs who “scoot” are common for many general practitioners, and owners are frequently grossed out by this behavior. They’ll ask their veterinarian if the problem is their dog’s anal glands, and they may even complain, “Bella was just at the groomer! Why does this keep happening??” So why does it keep happening? The worst case is anal gland disease, and that’s certainly an important condition to rule out. But there are many other possible reasons for this behavior that your veterinarian will want to cross off the list. This article will hopefully help you make sense of your dog’s anal glands and the various problems that can affect them, and explain why he just won’t stop scooting.
So what are anal glands? Anal glands—or anal sacs, as some veterinarians refer to them—are secretory organs located near the opening of the anus (there are two, and they sit just below the anus under the skin at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions). Think of them as round sacs that fill with liquid intended to have an odor used for marking territory. These sacs have tubes that travel upward into the rectum to discharge the fluid they produce. Normally, when a dog defecates or at other times (i.e., during stress), these glands will expel their contents to then exit the anus, leaving a scent at that particular location. When the anal glands are not able to excrete properly, problems arise.
A common reason that a dog may be scooting is that his anal glands are full. Small breed dogs, especially, seem to be prone to this affliction. When your groomer or veterinarian says your dog’s anal glands are full, he or she will likely recommend “expressing” the anal sacs. This involves using gentle manual (finger) manipulation to gently apply pressure to squeeze the accumulated fluid or debris out of the anal glands. If your dog is truly scooting because of full anal glands, expressing them should alleviate the scooting within a couple days. Some dogs may require routine expression every month, every few weeks, etc., if they are not able to do so on their own. It’s not always clear why some dogs tend to have issues with their anal glands, but nutrition, stool quality, and other factors may play a role.
When anal sacs do not easily express, they may be “impacted.” This can become painful for the dog as the glands become more full and irritated, and it may lead to other problems, such as anal sacculitis (inflammation of the gland), anal gland abscess (local infection), and anal gland rupture (when an abscess creates an opening through the outer skin to drain out the pus). If impacted anal glands get to this point, an owner will likely notice not only scooting behavior but also their dog licking at their back end, vocalizing due to from pain, and showing a bloody discharge. Every veterinarian will have a different protocol for treating these symptoms, but it will likely include a combination of antibiotics, pain management, and cleaning and flushing the affected anal gland or wound. Additionally, an Elizabethan collar (cone) will be necessary to prevent the pup from causing further irritation and delayed wound healing to the site.
So what if your veterinarian rules out the above conditions? What else could be causing Scout to scoot? Allergies are another common differential to rule out. Dogs are commonly afflicted with allergic skin disease that can be caused by flea saliva, food allergies, or environmental factors (e.g., dust mites, pollens, etc.). If your dog has allergies, it likely will have other skin signs, but early on, it could show only scooting as a sign. Talk to your veterinarian about ways to rule out allergies as a cause as she works through the list of possibilities for scooting behavior.
If not allergies and not anal gland impaction, then what else could it be? One possibility is fecal parasites, such as tapeworms (which can be transmitted from flea larvae). A fecal test and appropriate preventatives will help to rule out parasites. Anal gland tumors are another possibility—your veterinarian should palpate for masses rectally when evaluating your dog for scooting. Foreign bodies—e.g., plant thorns, stickers, etc.—can also get lodged in the skin around the rectum and cause a patient to scoot (although they are less common than other mentioned causes). Over-conditioning (i.e., an overweight, “chunky” dog) is another potential cause for scooting, as the skin around the anus is more likely to develop irritation. Appropriate nutrition and diet will help alleviate this as a cause. There are other potential rule-outs for scooting that your veterinarian may explore if all of the above conditions have been eliminated.
As you can see, there is more to scooting that just anal glands, although they are important to evaluate. Hopefully, the next time your dog starts scooting, you’ll feel a bit more informed and a little less grossed out. Remember, scooting can be much more than just a pain in the butt!