If your pet drags his butt across the floor in front of house guests you might be totally embarrassed! But, for your pet this could be a minor nuisance or a sign of a serious problem!
Many pets scoot periodically when their hinder is a bit messy after going outside. Keep a journal and note when your pet performs this objectionable behavior. Is it daily? Does it occur outside or inside the home? Has your pet just urinated or defecated? Small dogs tend to scoot when they have a back-end issue. Large dogs and cats tend to lick the affected area. Be observant. Look closely. Is the pet rubbing or licking the perineal area around the rectum or, if a female, is she licking the perivulvar area where urine comes out. Does the stool appear normal? Is it loose or hard? Is there a frequent small amount of urine passed or large volumes of clear urine voided? Is that vulva fold are “sucked in” with an irritated crease around it or a vaginal discharge? The answers to these questions can help determine if your pet’s problem is simple cleaning of a normal area or if you need to delve further into determining cause and then proper treatment.
Scooting is Not Always an Anal Gland Issue
Sometimes scooting or excessive licking is due to a urinary tract issue such as a bladder infection that burns or a urine crystal problem which feels like microscopic bits of glass are being expelled. If your pet is a puppy or a kitten, scooting is most likely due to an itch created by the presence of parasites. Worms or microscopic eggs may be passed in fecal matter. Fleas like to bite the hind quarters and tail base of dogs. An adult small dog that scoots most commonly has an anal gland issue. Anal gland issues are less common in cats, but do occur.
Types of Anal Gland Problems
If a young pet is diagnosed with an anal gland problem it may be anatomical and need lifetime maintenance. It may also be diet related and be completely correctable with diet change. If an elderly pet suddenly develops this issue, it may be due to a change in anatomy or even the development of an internal anal gland tumor.
Anal Gland Anatomy
If you look at your pet’s anus, the anal glands cannot be seen, but they reside under the skin at the five o’clock and the seven o’clock positions. Anal glands have no necessary function. They simply contain a marking material much like a skunk’s scent glands. The intent is that this odoriferous material should be naturally expelled when the pet defecates properly. A normal secretion is gray and pasty. This secretion is expelled via a duct on either side of the anus. The holes for elimination are located at approximately two o’clock and ten o’clock.
Anal Gland Expression
Just like a skunk, your pet might become alarmed and suddenly express these contents onto your lap or other inappropriate location. This is not pleasant, but it is normal. This does NOT mean your pet has an anal gland problem.
If your pet is born with the anal glands situated improperly inside, the material may not be expelled properly. It may sit inside and dry out and become hard and difficult to expel. The glands may become infected. If the secretion is dry and hard or very watery and chunky, this is abnormal.
How can you tell what the secretion is like? A veterinarian or veterinary technician can wear an examination glove and place a finger on the inside of the rectum and a finger on the outside over the location of the gland and gently squeeze and milk the material out of the gland. She can observe the consistency of this material to help make a diagnosis. Some groomers also perform this procedure routinely. However, I would caution that an exterior only squeeze can lead to inadequate removal of contents, an increase in surrounding inflammation, lack of proper diagnosis and even be a cause of anal gland disease by damaging glands in otherwise normal dogs that do not need an anal gland expression.
Chronic/Recurrent Anal Gland Issues
Signs of scooting or excessive licking should not be ignored. Abnormal anal gland material may block the outflow duct and cause the gland to abscess and rupture. You will notice this as a bulge or bloody sore next to the rectum. Your pet may warn you that this is happening by scooting or licking. It can also happen quite suddenly with no apparent warning.
If your pet was born with incorrect anatomy, he will likely need routine anal gland expression for a life time or surgical removal of the anal glands. Some pets develop a constant need for expression when they become overweight. The aging process and an increase in weight can change the position of the anal glands. Pets can also develop dietary sensitivities or allergies which seem to affect the anal glands.
Middle age or elderly pets can also develop internal anal gland tumors. A skilled doctor can palpate the gland at the time of expression and feel a developing tumor. Additional testing will often be recommended and then likely surgical removal. There are benign and malignant tumors which can occur in this region. Early removal is very helpful!
Diet is an important consideration for cause and treatment of anal gland disorders. I am not a fan of dry kibble diets as they are high in starch. The breakdown of this starch is sugar, which incites inflammation everywhere in the body. I also discourage cooked meat, as the cooking incites the production of heterocyclic amines which are mutagenic. I don’t want to feed anything that is potentially cancer-causing!
Raw, species-appropriate diet is ideal, but this is not easy to mimic properly. Even raw diet eaters get anal gland problems. Bone content and fiber content matter. If a pet has stool that is too loose or too hard, this can lead to improper natural anal gland expression. An episode of scooting commonly follows when a pet has had diarrhea. An anal gland expression at the vet can often take care of this, so long as the diarrhea is not recurrent!
I recommend consistent variety with raw feeding. Vary your protein sources, but always include some flesh/muscle, some organ, some bone or ground bone and an adequate amount of vegetation. Mimic what is found in the stomach of a prey for example. Or mimic what a carnivore consumes when foraging outside. They do eat hair, feathers, fur, leaves and sticks. They need some roughage on a daily basis. If you are feeding a balanced, commercial raw diet, which I highly recommend, you can add vegetation to this.
My magic recommendation has been a spoonful of canned or frozen/thawed pumpkin or whole or chopped green beans with every meal! Try these and see what your pet likes! I was surprised to learn how many cats like green beans, and most love pumpkin! To be consistently effective, this must be provided with EVERY meal. For cats and small dogs I would feed roughly one teaspoon twice daily. For larger dogs, even up to one tablespoon per meal is fine.
Beware of any recommendation of powdered or capsule of human laxative products or psyllium. The human recommendation is to use these with several glasses of water. If you don’t, this method creates poop bricks! You can’t control the amount of water your pet consumes. I prefer that the fiber enter a carnivore as plant with moisture, as it is in pumpkin or greens beans.
Additionally, I always recommend intermittent use of quality fish oil as an omega-3 source. I prefer an anchovy sardine blend that is properly distilled and packaged to prevent rancidity. This proper EPA:DHA ratio provides a natural anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Pet versions have dosing recommendations on the bottle. Don’t forget to refrigerate and use up with in three months.
The combination of fish oil, fibrous vegetation and starch-free diet seems to be very safe and effective! I have seen many pets avoid surgery and live comfortably with this simple regimen for healthy anal gland management.