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Anal Sac Problems in Your Dog

Why Is My Dog Scooting?


Ron Hines DVM PhD

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Many of us have been exasperated to see our treasured pet scooting along on the rug due to anal irritation. Traditionally, owners have attributed this to "worms". Worms almost never cause this problem.

In a few female pets, this can be due to vaginitis; but the majority of these pets have enlarged anal sacs (anal glands) that will not empty. The anal sacs are two pea-sized sacs on ether side of the rectum. They are found in a variety of animals. Pets have these sacs to impart an odor to their stool that is unique to the animal. The material it secretes is extremely bad smelling to us - but not to our pets. This is how dogs recognize who has eliminated on their turf. In a normal pet, the firm, globular stool (feces) presses on these sacs as it is passes them and leaves the body. However, if the stool is too soft or hard or if the pet has a tendency to thick, anal gland secretions, the sacs do not empty well and eventually become itchy, enlarged and inflamed. In extreme cases, the sacs will burst. As you can imagine, this is an extremely uncomfortable condition. Besides scooting, pets with this problem often spend a lot of time licking the area under their tail. If nothing is done, one or both of the glands may reputure and form an abscess. If the abcess is left untreated, a tract usually forms between the gland and the skin. This may close, reabscess and reform periodically.

In approximately 60% of the cases, the problem is caused by feeding the dog overly rich foods and table scraps. Spiced, barbecued or marinated marinated foods and the shards of hard bone are the worst. About 10% are due to the “garbage hound” syndrome where the pet forages through the thrash eating “Big Mac” rappers, plastic objects, dirt, gravel or sand. Some cases are due to the pet being overweight or just genetically predisposed to the problem. Toy poodles and miniature schnauzers fall into this group. A few cases are due to intestinal parasites (hookworms or whipworms) which cause chronically loose stools which can not express out the anal sac contents normally.

If the problem is treated early, a gentle massage of the area around the rectum with a damp “Klenex” every week or two is often enough to empty the sacs. I try to instruct my clients how to do this by observing me do it the first time. Most veterinary technicians and groomers are proficient in this technique and could instruct you. One must never massage harder than one would squeeze a grape without rupturing it. However, in some dogs, the problem has been present so long they can not be emptied by massage. In these dogs, the sacs are so large that they must be empties using a latex finger cot through the anus. This is not a procedure a normal pet owner should attempt. In other advanced cases, the tubes leading from the sac to the rectum are scarred shut. In these cases, or when the problem reoccurs again and again , I usually remove the glands surgically. First I treat the dog with a ten-day course of antibiotics. The surgery causes no ill effects when it is done correctly.

Once the glands are empty, dietary management that produces robust, clay-textured stools usually eliminates the problem. High fiber diets can help in this respect. Dogs with normal stools that do not have a history of this problem do not need to have their anal sacs periodically expressed. Dogs that do have the problem usually scoot or lick the area to tell you it is time.