Why is Your Dog Scooting?

by on September 18th, 2010
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Many people have the horrifying experience of seeing their dog scoot its rear end across the floor. There is even a Stanley Steamer commercial in which a boy excitedly calls to his mother, “Hey Mom Check out ‘Toby’s’ New Trick”. “Toby’s” new trick is scooting, which instead of garnering praise, results in mom screaming and the scene fades a photo of a Stanley Steamer truck.

What caused “Toby” to engage in such an unwise activity? When I was a kid I asked my father just that question, when I saw one of our farm dogs scooting across our lawn. He said “that is how dogs wipe after they go to the bathroom.” Since that time on the farm I have learned a thing or two. Dogs and cats usually scoot for one of two reasons, their anal sacs are full or they have tapeworms. I will discuss tapeworms in a subsequent article.

Dogs and cats have paired glandular sacs on either side of their anus that fill up with a malodorous fluid. We don’t know what purpose theses sacs serve, but because of their pungent odor we feel they are probably to mark territory.

Anal sacs have an orifice that sits near the boundary where the skin meets the anus. When dogs or cats have a bowel movement the sacks should express themselves. If anal sacs don’t express themselves they may become painful. In a way it may be comparable to the sensation of having a full urinary bladder. With no way to relieve the pressure it must be very uncomfortable, causing them to scoot on the ground.

The way to alleviate anal sac pain is to have the anal sacs expressed by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will perform a rectal exam and squeeze the anal sac fluid out. At that time, he or she will evaluate the material visually to see if it is infected. If infected it will appear pussy, with or without blood, and will smell even worse than normal.

If anal sac material has been in the sac long enough it will be hard and dry. Today I examined a patient that wasn’t showing any signs of anal sac discomfort, i.e. scooting, but her anal sacs felt very full. Her owner gave me permission to express them. The material was hard and dry so I also flushed both sacs with an antibiotic and steroid ointment. As I flushed the right sac, out popped a grass seed. How it got in there I will never know, but I was glad I had treated her. Getting that grass seed out had to have made her more comfortable.

Many dogs and some cats have chronic anal sac problems and will need to have their anal sacs expressed on a regular basis. How often is impossible to predict because we don’t know what causes the anal sacs to not express normally. I had a patient whose anal sacs needed to be expressed every two weeks because he went into a metabolic crisis if his anal sacs became full.

A more permanent solution is to surgically remove the anal sacs. Surgical removal will eliminate the need for frequent visits to your veterinarian, but complications are possible and must be taken into consideration before you opt for surgery. The anal sacs sit in the anal sphincter muscles from which they must be dissected in order to be removed; because of this the muscles may be damaged causing your pet to become incontinent. Anal sac tissue is very fragile and if any of the glandular tissue is inadvertently left in it will result in a chronically draining tract. None of our patients have ever suffered any of these complications, but they are a real possibility.

If your dog has learned a “new trick” or even if you don’t see him visibly scooting, consult your veterinarian for his or her advice for what course of action is best for you pet, but don’t ignore this source of very real pain and discomfort for your dog or cat.

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