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Why is my dog scooting? Recognising anal gland problems

When dogs drag their bottom along the floor, we often call this commonly-seen behaviour ‘scooting’. It is usually associated with their anal glands. Both dogs and cats have anal glands which sit just inside the anus. They are scent-producing sacs that they use to send signals to other animals. Each time they defecate, a small amount of ‘scent’ is expressed from the glands. In most dogs, and cats, they do not cause any worries.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Signs of anal gland inflammation

There are a variety of signs, including:

  • Scooting (dragging their bottom along the ground)
  • Chewing, nibbling or licking at the base of their spine, thighs, occasionally their 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 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 next to their anus, or a burst abscess (wound/hole), either on the lower left or right side of the anus, at the 5 o’clock or 7 o’clock position

Signs in cats may be less obvious, but you may notice them straining to defecate, or defecating outside the litter box

Causes of anal gland inflammation

Occasionally the anal glands become over-filled, blocked, impacted, or inflamed. This leads to an accumulation of fluid inside, which creates pressure and becomes uncomfortable. The liquid inside the glands also becomes thicker, making it difficult for them to be expressed normally. A combination of reasons are often identified, including:

  1. Poor gastrointestinal health: an imbalanced gut microbiome
  2. Small, soft, or loose stool: if your pet does not regularly pass firm faeces, they have soft faeces, diarrhoea or don’t pass faeces frequently, the glands may not be emptied properly
  3. Pet's anatomy: if the glands are abnormally positioned, or the exit channel is narrower than normal, for example in overweight pets, then pressure needed to empty the glands during defecation may be insufficient
  4. Allergies (including Atopy): dogs with underlying allergies often have anal gland issues, which can manifest as recurrent ear disease, or licking and chewing of the paws and abdomen
  5. Stress: dogs that appear to get nervous or easily stressed appear to be more prone to anal gland impaction
  6. Other causes: frequent expressing (iatrogenic), intestinal parasites, infections or cancer

How can you help your dog?

  • Keep your dog or cat slim. Overweight dogs and cats are more likely to struggle to empty their anal glands normally
  • Regular anti-parasite treatment, depending on your pet’s individual level of risk
  • Regular Body Condition Scoring for cats and dogs, will help you to manage their weight
  • Feed your dog or cat 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 and cats are useful, for example Protexin Pro-fibre. Try adding a tablespoon of dry bran flakes, oats or cooked brown rice to their meal, or a commercial higher fibre diet, for example Burns
  • Follow your vet’s advice about how often your pet’s 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 or cats anal glands need to be examined or emptied

Treatment of anal gland inflammation

Manual emptying of the anal glands by a veterinary surgeon is the main way of relieving the issue. 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, or to get bitten or scratched, so, please seek advice from your vet before doing so. Further information and a useful demonstration video can be found here.

Some pets need their anal glands expressed frequently; some need it once a month, whereas for others, it may be once in their lifetime. Anti-inflammatories might be prescribed by your vet if your pet has an inflamed or sore bottom. Additional treatment, such as antibiotics, may be required for an anal gland infection. If the problem recurs, your vet may discuss investigating your dog or cat for underlying allergies.

Surgical removal of the glands is usually only advised for dogs that have frequent recurrent problems: where underlying conditions, such as skin disease, have been ruled out, and the problem cannot be resolved by any other means. The anatomy of the anal area is complex; it is a delicate procedure because the 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.

When to see your physical vet

  • Scooting
  • Persistent scooting, despite regular anti-parasite treatments, firm stools and a consistent, high quality diet
  • Any of the signs associated with anal gland problems listed above

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