Why is my dog scooting? Recognising anal gland problems in dogs

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Why is my dog scooting? Recognising anal gland problems in dogs

When dogs drag their bottom along the floor, we often call this commonly seen behaviour ‘scooting’. It is usually associated with irritation of their anal glands, which sit just inside the anus at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions. These glands are scent-producing glands used to send signals to other animals. Each time a dog defecates, a small amount of gland secretion (‘scent’) is expressed from the anal glands via a duct onto the faeces. In most dogs, they do not cause any worries. Our vet looks at the causes and treatment in this article.

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Occasionally, some dogs can suffer with blocked anal glands or impacted anal glands, which can lead to an anal gland infection or an anal gland abscess. The accumulation of secretions produced by the anal gland when the gland or duct becomes blocked creates pressure and becomes uncomfortable. This fluid inside the sac also becomes thicker, making it difficult for them to be expressed naturally.

In this article our vet discusses the clinical signs, causes, treatment and prevention of common anal gland problems that occur in dogs.

Signs of anal gland problems in dogs

Some of the signs you may see if your dog as an anal gland problem include:

  • Scooting (dragging their bottom along the ground)

  • Chewing, nibbling or licking at the base of their spine, thighs, and occasionally the tail, groin or feet. Please note: these signs can also be seen with other conditions, for example, fleas or allergies

  • Occasional vocalising or turning to look at the tail (again this can also happen with fleas). Sometimes this may only be noticed when your pet passes stools

  • A strong fishy odour, usually around their bottom

  • Bleeding from around the anus

  • Straining to pass stools

  • Bad breath (halitosis), despite healthy teeth and gums

  • Anal gland abscess: a lump/swelling next to their anus, or a burst abscess (wound/hole), either on the lower left or right side of the anus

Causes of anal gland problems in dogs

A combination of reasons are often identified as the cause for irritated, impacted or infected anal glands. These include:

  • Poor gastrointestinal health: an imbalanced gut microbiome

  • Small, soft, or loose stool: the anal glands may not be emptied naturally if your pet does not regularly pass firm faeces or if they have soft faeces or diarrhoea

  • Causes for soft faeces or diarrhoea may include intestinal parasites, food sensitivities/ allergies or other gut problems. You can find more information on diarrhoea here

  • Abnormal anatomy: in some dogs the anal glands may be abnormally positioned or the exit channel is may be narrower than normal. This means that insufficient pressure is applied to the glands when defecating and do not express naturally

  • Obesity: excess fat around the anal area in obese dogs changes the position of the glands in relation to the rectum and anus meaning they are not expressed properly naturally. Weight loss will help improve anal gland emptying. You can find more information on obesity and weight loss here

  • Allergies (including Atopy): dogs with underlying allergies often have anal gland issues because the area around the anus becomes irritated in the same way as the skin and ears. Other signs your dog is suffering from allergies include recurrent ear disease, and/or licking and chewing of the paws and abdomen. You can find more information on allergies in dogs and cats here

  • Stress: dogs that appear to get nervous or easily stressed appear to be more prone to suffering with impacted anal glands

  • Regular manual expressing of the anal glands: manual expression of anal glands can actually cause further irritation if done too frequently. Therefore this should only be done if your dog’s anal glands are very full or impacted

  • Other causes: although much less common, fibrosis or tumours of the anal glands can cause problems. Your vet may be able to feel a swelling in the area of the anal gland. If this is the case they will discuss further investigations with you

Treatment of anal gland problems in dogs

Manual emptying of the anal glands by a veterinary surgeon is the main way of relieving the discomfort caused by blocked anal glands or impacted anal glands in dogs. There are internal and external methods of emptying the anal glands. It is possible for owners to express their dogs anal glands at home. However, it can be difficult and is not suitable for everyone. It is important not to cause harm, so please seek advice and a demonstration from your vet before doing so.

Some dogs need their anal glands expressed frequently, whereas for others it may only be once in their lifetime. Anti-inflammatory medication might be prescribed by your vet if your pet has an inflamed or painful glands. Additional treatment, such as antibiotics may be required for an anal gland infection or an anal gland abscess. If the problem is recurring, your vet may discuss investigating an underlying issue such as poor gut health, allergies or a resistant bacterial infection.

If underlying medical problems have been ruled out and anal gland impactions or infections are frequently recurring despite medical and nutritional management, surgical removal of the anal glands may be considered as a last resort. The anatomy of the anal area is complex and surgery is a delicate procedure because the anal glands are situated within the sphincter muscles of the anus and close to important nerves, which control the excretion of stools. The surgery is complicated and not without significant risks and complications, and therefore needs to be discussed carefully with your vet, on a case by case basis.

How to prevent anal gland problems in dogs?

  • Keep your pet slim. Overweight dogs are more likely to struggle to empty their anal glands normally. Regular Body Condition Scoring (BCS) of your dog will help you to manage their weight

  • Stay up to date with anti-parasite treatment, depending on your pet’s individual level of risk

  • Feed your dog a good quality complete food to promote good digestive function

  • Try adding extra fibre to your dog’s diet to help firm up and bulk out their faeces. Fibre supplements for dogs, such as Protexin Pro-fibre, can be useful. Alternatively, try adding a tablespoon of dry bran flakes, oats or cooked brown rice to their meal, or use a commercial higher fibre diet, for example Burns

  • Follow your vet’s advice on how often your pet’s anal glands need to be expressed. Healthy anal glands shouldn’t need regular emptying. So, unless you notice a problem, we do not recommend that your dog’s anal glands need to be examined or emptied

When to see a vet

  • If your dog is scooting along the floor or licking the area constantly

  • If you notice any swellings or blood around the anal area

  • If your dog is straining or uncomfortable when defecating

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