Why does my dog ‘scoot’?

The anal sacs are two small pouches under the skin near the anus at the 8:00 and 4:00 positions. These sacs hold the thick fatty liquid that is strongly scented and produced by the anal glands. This liquid is used by wolves and wildcat species to mark their territories. In the domestic dog and cat, the use of anal-gland secretions for territorial marking is much reduced or completely absent; however, the glands and their associated sacs are still present. Occasionally, the anal sacs become blocked or impacted or infected. Normal emptying of the anal sacs occurs with defecation. Dogs and cats also empty their anal sacs voluntarily, but they usually only do so if they are frightened.

Failure of the anal sacs to empty during defecation can occur when animals eat low-fiber diets that produce feces that are soft and do not stretch the anus. Infection of the anal sac duct, possibly from bacteria or fungal organisms living around the anus, can cause swelling of the dog and prevent the sacs from emptying. Sometimes the infection can cause the anal sac to abscess, which can cause a severe redness and inflammation and irritation to the anal area.

Any impaction or swelling of the anal sacs can cause anal discomfort in both dogs and cats. The most common clinical sign is scooting or dragging of the animal’s rear end on the floor while it is seated. Other signs include excessive licking of the anal area, a foul odor and sometimes a presence of a small hole under the tail that drains pus or gritty mucous material.

Your veterinarian will always perform a rectal exam to assess the size of the anal sacs and to feel for other masses in this area. Uncomplicated impaction of the anal sacs is usually treated by manually expressing the sacs. After the sac is empty, clinical signs usually disappear rapidly. Prevention of further impactions can be attempted by increasing fiber in the diet and ensuring that your pet has frequent opportunities to defecate. Animals with infected anal sacs always need broad-spectrum antibiotics and flushing of the anal sacs underneath anesthesia. Prognosis for most dogs and cats with anal sacs impaction is good, because most cases are easily managed with manual expression, dietary change and antibiotics. Dogs with abscessed anal glands respond excellently with surgical flushing of the abscess and antibiotics.

If your dog is scooting, see your veterinarian to give your dog comfort.

Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.

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