Most dog parents are at least mildly horrified when their furry family member scoots across the carpet, an expensive area rug or some other fabric-covered surface.
“Scooting,” as it is lovingly called, signals an itchy or irritated backside. Rarely, the behavior is caused by tapeworms, in which case there are usually other symptoms such as weight loss, poor coat or skin condition, a painful abdomen or diarrhea. Scooting can also signal other problems like a perianal tumor, or irritation caused by diarrhea or a perineal yeast infection, but most often the reason is an anal gland problem.
Your dog is dragging or scooting his bottom across the ground to try and relieve itching or irritation caused by an inflamed, infected or impacted anal gland. In this recent Healthy Pets article, Dr. Becker explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know about your dog’s anal glands, but were afraid to ask.
What Exactly Are Anal Glands?
Your dog’s anal glands or sacs are small and oval shaped, and sit just inside of the rectum on either side of the anus at around the 8:00 and 4:00 o’clock positions. They secrete a remarkably stinky, oily substance. This fluid may function as a territorial marker in the world of canine communication, allowing your dog to leave a personal biochemical mark for other dogs to investigate.
When your dog poops, if the stool is normal consistency, this potent fluid is expelled out of the glands through tiny ducts and onto the feces.
This is an efficient design of nature, but unfortunately, today’s dogs often have loose stools are irregular bowel movements that don’t press against the anal glands during evacuation.
Other contributors to anal glad problems can include obesity where there is insufficient muscle tone and excess fatty tissue, certain skin disorders, and infections. Dr. Becker describes three main causes of anal gland problems: diet, trauma to the glands or the position of the glands.
Problem #1: Your Dog’s Diet
The grains in commercial pet food are allergenic and inflammatory, and the first thing you should do to reduce recurrent anal gland issues is eliminate all grains from the diet. It’s a good idea to eliminate anything containing corn, potato, oatmeal, wheat, rice or soy.
Dr. Becker also recommends switching to a novel protein for your dog. For example, if your dog has been eating only beef and chicken, make a transition to bison or rabbit. A constant diet of 1-2 proteins can trigger a food sensitivity, meaning an allergic inflammatory response. Unaddressed food intolerances are a common cause of chronic anal sac issues.
If your dog’s poop is frequently unformed, soft, or watery, her anal glands aren’t getting the firm pressure they need to empty. Feeding a balanced, species-appropriate diet will address this issue, as well as adding probiotics, fiber, and digestive enzymes by creating consistently firm stools.
Problem #2: Trauma to Your Dog’s Anal Glands
Many injuries to dog’s anal glands are caused by well-meaning but misguided groomers, veterinarians, and pet owners. Although not a routine service at the Barkery, many groomers are in the habit of expressing the anal glands of every dog they groom as part of “included services,” along with cleaning ears and trimming nails.
However, routine expression of healthy anal glands is pointless, unpleasant and potentially harmful. So if you take your pet to a groomer, make sure to mention that no anal gland expression is necessary. Over time, regular expression of these little sacs can interfere with their ability to function on their own.
Many veterinarians immediately express the anal glands if the owner mentions their dog scoots now and then. This approach doesn’t identify or address the cause of the problem, only the symptom. It’s important to identify the root of the cause, rather than repetitively treating the symptom by manually expressing the glands.
The anal sacs are delicate little organs that can easily be injured through squeezing and pinching, and trauma causes tissue damage and inflammation, leading to swelling. Swollen glands can obstruct the exit duct through which the fluid is expressed. If blocked secretions build up and thicken in the glands, it can lead to impaction and anal gland infection.
Problem #3: Poorly Positioned Glands
Certain dogs have anal sacs that are located very deep inside their rectums. As stool collects in the colon, the pressure should cause the glands to empty. But if a dog’s anal glands aren’t adjacent to where the greatest amount of pressure builds in her large intestine, they won’t express properly.
This is a situation that may require surgery to correct because the location of the glands is genetically dictated.
Impactions, Infections, Abscesses and Tumors
When a dog’s anal sacs malfunction, it is most commonly a problem of impaction. This occurs when the oily substance builds up in the glands and thickens, and isn’t expressed, resulting in enlargement and irritation of the glands. Gland infections are usually bacterial in nature and cause irritation and inflammation. As the infection progresses, pus accumulates within the anal gland.
An anal gland abscess is the result of an unaddressed anal gland infection. The abscess will continue to grow in size until it eventually ruptures. For these extreme cases, Dr. Becker recommends infusing the anal glands with ozonated olive oil or silver sulfadiazine (diluted with colloidal silver).
Anal gland tumors, classified as adenocarcinomas, are usually malignant. Occasionally anal gland tumors cause elevations in blood calcium levels, which can result in significant organ damage, including kidney damage.
Getting to the Root of the Scooting
If your pet is having anal gland issues, your vet should work to determine the cause of the problem rather than just treating it symptomatically by manually expressing the glands.
It’s important to try to re-establish the tone and health of malfunctioning glands using a combination of dietary adjustments, homeopathic remedies and natural GI anti-inflammatories. Sometimes manually infusing the glands with natural lubricants or herbal preparations can help return them to normal function.
The goal should be to resolve the underlying cause and return your pet’s anal glands to self-sufficiency. If your pet doesn’t have anal gland issues already, we recommend telling your vet to leave the glands completely alone to avoid future problems down the road.