Why is my pet scooting? Recognizing anal gland problems in cats and dogs
“Scooting” (when an animal drags their bottom along the ground) is a common behavior associated with anal gland problems. Anal glands are found in both dogs and cats. These small scent-producing sacs sit just inside the anus. Animals use these glands to send signals to other animals. Each time they defecate, a small amount of “scent” is emptied from the glands. The pet typically “scoots” when these glands become over-filled, impacted, infected, or inflamed.
Signs of Anal Gland Problems in Dogs and Cats
- Scooting - Your pet drags it’s bottom along the ground.
- Chewing, nibbling or licking at the bottom, thighs, tail base, or groin. Please note: these signs can also be seen with other conditions like fleas or allergies
- Bad breath (halitosis), despite healthy teeth and gums. This is usually associated with excessive licking at the bottom and tail base.
- A strong fishy odor, usually around the bottom
- Occasional vocalizing or turning to look at the tail. Sometimes this may only be noticed when your pet has a bowel movement.
- Bleeding from around the anus
- Straining to pass stools
- Anal gland abscess. You may notice a lump or wound on either side of the anus.
- 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 Problems
Occasionally the anal glands become over-filled, blocked, impacted, or inflamed. This leads to an accumulation of fluid inside the sacs. The fluid inside also becomes thicker and more difficult to empty. The increase in pressure creates discomfort for the pet.
Many reasons for this have been identified, including:
- Poor gastrointestinal health: an imbalanced gut microbiome
- Small, soft, or loose stool: If your pet has soft stools, diarrhea, or infrequent bowel movements the glands may not be emptied properly.
- Anatomy: The glands may be abnormally positioned, or the exit channel is narrower than normal. As a result, the pressure needed to empty the glands may be insufficient. This is often noticed in pets that are overweight.
- Allergies (including atopy): Dogs with underlying allergies often have anal gland issues, which can also manifest as recurrent ear disease, or licking and chewing of the paws and abdomen.
- Stress: Pets that are nervous or easily stressed appear to be more prone to anal gland impaction.
- Other causes: frequent or incorrect emptying, intestinal parasites, infections, or cancer
How Can You Help Your Pet?
- Keep your dog or cat slim. Overweight dogs and cats are more likely to struggle to empty their anal glands normally.
- Regular Body Condition Scoring for cats and dogs will help you to manage their weight.
- Regular anti-parasite treatment, depending on your pet’s level of risk.
- Feed your pet a high-quality complete food to promote good digestive function.
- Adding probiotics or fiber to your pet’s diet may help improve gastrointestinal health.
- Speak to your vet about treatment options for underlying diseases such as diarrhea or allergies.
- Follow your vet’s advice about how often your pet’s glands need to be expressed. Healthy anal glands shouldn’t need regular emptying.
Treatment of Anal Gland Problems
Exam and manual emptying of the anal glands by a veterinary professional is the best way to address the issue. Owners can express their pet’s anal glands at home, but it can be difficult and isn’t suitable for everyone. You must use caution not to damage the glands and avoid being bitten or scratched. Please seek advice from your vet before attempting to empty your pet’s anal glands. Further information and a useful demonstration video can be found here.
Some pets with chronic or ongoing problems may need their anal glands expressed frequently. Others may have a problem that is resolved after a single treatment. Depending on the condition, your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication or antibiotics. Diagnostics to determine if your pet has an underlying disease, like allergies, may be necessary.
Surgical removal of the anal glands is usually only advised for pets that have frequent problems that don’t respond to common treatments. Underlying conditions, like skin disease, must be ruled out.
Removal of the anal glands is not without significant risks and complications. The glands are situated within the sphincter muscles of the anus and close to important nerves that control the excretion of stools. Incontinence for a few days after surgery is common. In a small number of cases, this becomes a long-term side effect. This treatment method should be thoroughly discussed with your vet.
When to See Your Vet
- Persistent scooting, despite regular anti-parasite treatments, firm stools and a consistent, high-quality diet
- Your pet is in pain or discomfort
- You’re concerned about any of the signs associated with anal gland problems listed above
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