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Why Is My Dog Scooting? Could It Be Anal Gland Disease?

Updated on March 18, 2015
DonnaCosmato profile image

Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.

Dr. Cathy - Pet Parent

Keep your dog healthy and happy with proper diet, consistent exercise, and regular visits to the vet.
Keep your dog healthy and happy with proper diet, consistent exercise, and regular visits to the vet.

If your dog has started scooting its rear around the floor or across the ground, it could be a sign of anal gland disease. Dr. Cathy Alinovi, owner of Healthy PAWsibilities answers some of the questions she is frequently asked about the causes, diagnosis and treatment of anal sac disease.

Question 1: What is anal sac disease?

Dr. Cathy: The first part of this answer is to describe the anal sac or gland. Dogs have little glands on either side of the rectum at about four and seven o'clock as you look at the dog's rear with the tail up at 12 o'clock.

In normal dogs, the anal gland will fill with a clear, brown, smelly fluid that empties when the dog defecates. Anal glands are scent glands; when they empty, they are a dog's way of saying "I was here."

When things go wrong, the fluid does not empty, the anal sac fills with pus, and is very hard for the dog to squeeze with normal bowel movements. This makes the gland itchy, and many dogs spin or drag their butt on the ground (also known as the booty scooting boogie or sit and spin.) In some cases, the gland becomes so infected it will cause a rupture, which makes a bloody, stinky mess on the outside of the dog's bottom, near the rectum.

Common Causes of Anal Sac Disease

Weight issues
Short docked tales
Chiropractic issues

Q2: What causes it?

Dr. Cathy: I find five things typically cause anal gland disease (see chart to the right)

In cases of allergies, the dog's skin is very inflamed. The inflammation can make the skin swollen, which can make the opening from the anal glands swell closed.

Alternatively, the inflammation from the allergies makes the skin ooze, feel greasy and have dander, all of which can fill up the anal gland.

In dogs with short tails, some of the nerves to the rear end have been cut short. If the dog cannot feel its rear end well, it cannot feel when it needs to empty its glands. Similarly, a dog in need of chiropractic care cannot feel its backend well.

For any human who has ever had sciatica, you understand how things do not feel the same on the backside. Fat dogs have bigger problems because the fat gets around the gland and make it hard to empty; these tend to be chiropractic patients. Finally, dogs experiencing a bout of diarrhea may have full/infected anal glands; the loose stool does not stimulate the gland to empty when the dog poops.

Healthy pets are happy pets
Healthy pets are happy pets

Q3: How common is anal sac disease in dogs?

Dr. Cathy: Extremely! There's not a day in my practice that I do not see at least one patient with an anal gland issue.

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Q4: What are the symptoms of anal sac problems?

Dr. Cathy: As mentioned above, most commonly dogs scoot their booties. Some dogs just lick, while others get a nasty smell.

Other patients show more subtle signs like loss of appetite or vomiting. Some may seem painful.

A few dogs keep it such a secret nobody knows until the anal gland ruptures. Then there is no way to mistake the issue.

Q5: How does a vet diagnose anal sac disease?

Dr. Cathy: First, put on an exam glove. Next, apply a dab of lubricant to the pointer finger. Make sure someone has a firm hold of the patient. Insert finger into the rectum and feel to either side at approximately four and seven o'clock.

It feels like a balloon and the mass can be the size of a pea to the size of a walnut. Massage the contents from deep inside toward the rear end while holding a towel to catch the contents. If the contents won't come out without serious pain, then the glands are impacted.

If the fluid comes out and is thick and creamy, there is infection. If the glands are full but empty easily and the fluid is brown and clear, this is a normal condition. In this case, the patient may simply need to defecate.

The other condition is a rupture. This is diagnosed easily by lifting the tail and seeing bloody, smelly discharge to the side of the rectum. It will also be painful.

Q6: How serious is it?

Dr. Cathy: Mostly, anal gland issues are a nuisance. If the infection is caught early, it is easy to treat symptoms. However, if that is all that is done, the dog will have problems repeatedly, which is frustrating for some owners. A rupture is serious because it is painful.

Q7: What are the treatment methods?

Dr. Cathy: A minor infection is usually treated with a good squeeze and antibiotics. Dogs with recurrent issues often have their glands flushed.

To flush, the dogs need to be sleepy so a small tube can be inserted into the opening of the gland. Next, a disinfectant solution is rinsed into the gland. Once the gland is cleaned out, the gland is filled with antibiotic ointment.

If the gland has ruptured, there is no need for anesthesia because there is a hole on the outside of the body. The vet and the owner can easily insert the tip of an antibiotic ointment into the hole until it closes.

Avoiding Anal Gland Problems

Q8: What happens if a dog needs anal sac surgery?

Dr. Cathy: These days, anal sac surgery is rarely performed. It's like taking out tonsils; it used to be a common surgery, but now doctors realize that by treating the underlying issues, there is little need for surgery.

However, if things progress to the point where a dog needs surgery, the sac is dissected away from the rest of the rectal tissues. With laser surgery, there is little bleeding and rapid healing time.

Q9: What are the risks of surgery?

Dr. Cathy: Other than the typical anesthesia risk, the risks of anal gland removal are potential damage to the nerves in the area, resulting in fecal incontinence. This means the dog cannot tell if it needs to poop and the poop just comes out.

Abscessed canine anal gland
Abscessed canine anal gland | Source

Q10: What can pet owners do to prevent a recurrence?

Dr. Cathy: Keep their dogs' weights maintained, determine the underlying cause of any allergies, exercise the dog consistently, and use veterinary spinal manipulation (chiropractic) as needed to maintain sensation and keep skin condition optimal.

Q11: Will I have to empty my dog's anal sac at home?

Dr. Cathy: This is not normally done. As mentioned above, the more you mess with your dog's glands, the more they need to be emptied. It becomes a vicious cycle. Dogs should be able to live in harmony with their anal glands, which should empty when they use the restroom.

Q12: How does obesity affect dogs with anal sac disease?

Dr. Cathy: Pudgy dogs have fat everywhere - including their bottom. The fat deposits around the rectum make it hard to squeeze the gland due to muscle weakness and fat interfering with emptying. Low carbohydrate diets trim excess pudge and allow normal anal gland function.

Q13: What else should pet parents know about anal sac disease?

Dr. Cathy: If your dog does not have anal sac issues, do not mess with it. Do not have your groomer routinely empty the gland. The more the anal gland is messed with, the more irritation is caused, which leads to problems.

Regular checkups with your veterinarian and frequent observations of your dog's overall appearance, coat, teeth and gums are some commonsense ways to practice preventive health maintenance. Keeping your best friend as healthy as possible is much easier and more enjoyable than trying to heal him or her.

© 2014 Donna Cosmato


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