Why Is My Dog Scooting? How to Deal with Anal Gland Problems

If you have ever seen your dog scooting their bottom across the ground it may look funny but actually, it is a sign that your dog is in discomfort and that some action will be needed to ease this discomfort.

Many people think that this scooting behaviour is a sign their dog has worms.  It is incredibly unlikely that this is the case and, in fact, it is usually a sign that your dog has an issue with their anal glands.

For anyone with a sensitive or squeamish disposition, you may find this article a little nausea inducing but it is something that it is important to be aware of if you are a dog owner, given how common a problem it can be.

Your dog’s anal glands are located on either side of your dog’s rectum

What Are Anal Glands?

The anal glands, or anal sacs as they are also known, are two bean-sized pouches that are found at the sides of your dog’s anus, just behind the opening.  They are often described as being located around the four and eight o’clock position to allow you to more accurately identify their location. They are essential scent glands and they fill up with a strong smelling, oily secretion that is naturally expressed a little every time that your dog poops.

Why Do Dogs Have Anal Glands?

The main reason dogs have anal glands is to provide them with a unique territorial marker.  Every time the secretion is released through the act of pooping, it means that a scent will be left behind for other dogs to pick up on.  Now it might make more sense as to why dogs often gravitate towards smelling each others butts and why they want to smell other dogs poop (much to your disgust).  Anal glands also release toxins that are not needed by the body.

You may even notice that if a dog is extremely frightened they may involuntarily excrete fluid from their anal gland as their sphincter muscles can reflexively tighten when they are fearful.

Dogs sniff each others butts so they can identify their specific scent that is emitted from their anal glands 

How Do I Know If My Dog’s Anal Glands Are a Problem?

Generally speaking, the anal glands are designed so that they will express naturally, sometimes though this does not happen and they can become impacted and this can lead to a number of possible problems.  Whilst usually expressing the build up for them will help solve the problem, if the problem is more serious, medical treatment may also be required. There are a number of telltale signs that your dog may have a problem with their anal glands that it is important to look out for.

Smell

The smell of anal gland secretions is not the nicest even when there are no problems.  When there is an issue the smell is extremely strong and not at all pleasant. It can have a pungent, almost fishy odour.  For some owners, this is the first sign that there is a problem and, often, if they have never experienced it before, owners can be confused about where this awful smell is coming from and it can take a while for them to realise it is actually coming from the dog!

Scooting

Another common behaviour when your dog has uncomfortable anal glands is that they will scoot or drag their bottom across the floor in an attempt to ease their discomfort.  If you start seeing your dog doing this it is a sign that things are very uncomfortable for your dog and that action needs to be taken. Sometimes when they scoot some of the foul-smelling excretions will be left on the floor and you will get an even stronger whiff of the offending smell.

Licking

As well as scooting, your dog may also be paying more attention to their bottom than normal and may obsessively lick or gnaw at their rectum area or at the top of their tail.  Again, this may be accompanied by a stronger whiff of the secretions that are within the anal glands.

Pain

Your dog can be in severe discomfort if there is a problem with the anal glands.  They may show signs of being in pain when they scoot, or if you try to examine the rectum area.  They may also show signs of straining or pain when they are trying to defecate.

If your dog growls or shows other signs of distress when you try to examine their rectal area this could be a sign of a problem with the anal glands 

Inflammation

There may be signs of swelling, redness or inflammation around the immediate rectum area.

Traces of Blood or Pus in the Faeces

When your dog passes their stools if there is blood or what looks like pus evident then this could be a sign of a problem with your dog’s anal glands if accompanied by some of the other symptoms listed above.

Blood in the faeces can also be an indicator of other health problems for your dog and it is always important to seek veterinary advice in this case.

What Can Happen If the Problem Is Not Treated?

If your dog’s anal glands are not expressing themselves effectively and they become impacted this can be very uncomfortable for your dog.  If they are left like this it can also lead to more serious issues, some of which are outlined below.

Infection

If the anal glands are not naturally expressing the secretions can become stale and a haven for bacterial growth and this can lead them to easily become infected. Normally the secretions that come out of the anal glands are thin and a light brown colour.  If they become infected then it can be a thicker, lumpier consistency and a darker colour too. Often antibiotics are required to help clear up any infection in the anal glands.

If you suspect that the anal glands have become infected then it is important to see your vet for advice and appropriate treatment 

Abscess

Infections can lead to abscesses forming in the anal gland area.  Often these abscesses can be visible around the rectum area. They tend to be swollen and red and they can be very painful for your dog, especially if they are trying to pass faecal matter.  If the abscess ruptures pus and unusual coloured fluid may leak from the wound and it can become further infected and usually needs medical intervention to help clear the problem up.

Anal Gland Tumours

In very rare cases problems with the anal gland could actually be related to cancer.  The official name for cancer of the anal glands is Adenocarcinoma and it can be a very aggressive form of cancer.  While it is rare, the sooner your dog sees the vet, the better the chance of having a positive long term prognosis.

What Can Cause Anal Gland Problems?

Anal gland problems are very common in dogs of all breeds, sizes and age but there are some dogs that seem to be more likely to develop problems than others and there are also other factors that can impact on anal gland issues.  Some of the more common ones are outlined below.

Diet

A poor quality or inappropriate diet is one of the most common reasons for dogs developing anal gland problems.  If their stools are frequently or generally not a healthy consistency then they will not be able to help the process of natural excretion and this can lead to more regular impactions.

Obesity/ Exercise

It has been observed that dogs that are overweight are more prone to problems with anal gland impaction.  Some of this is likely attributed to the fact that some overweight dogs are not getting an appropriate amount of exercise, and exercise and plenty movement is important for encouraging the natural expression of the glands.  An inactive dog is likely to have more issues than one that receives a good amount on physical activity. It is also believed that excess fat could cause issues with natural expression and the fact that an overweight dog may have more issues with reaching round to lick their bottom to encourage natural expression too.

An overweight/inactive dog can be more at risk of developing problems with their anal glands

Certain Medical Conditions

There are certain medical conditions that can impact on how effectively the anal glands will naturally express.

Amongst others, dogs with chronic skin conditions  and those that suffer from Hypothyroidism are often seen as having more problems with their anal glands.

Breed Predisposition

While any dog can develop a problem with their anal glands, there are certain breeds that seem to be more predisposed to having problems than others.  Some of these breeds include Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos, Cocker Spaniels (I know from personal experience), Basset Hounds and Beagles.  

Some breeds are more likely to develop anal gland problems than others, including Cocker Spaniels

Dog Size

Dogs of any sizes can be affected by anal gland problems but it is widely recognised that it seems to be more of a common problem in smaller dogs. It is not known for sure why this is but it is believed that it could be as simple as the fact that the anal sac is much smaller so the openings are not as big and this can make it more tricky to naturally express and more likely to then become impacted.

Allergies

For dogs that suffer from environmental and food allergies there seems to be a correlation between this and a higher chance of having anal gland issues.  Some of this may be to do with the dogs having a greater chance of stomach upsets leading to diarrhoea and less effective natural expression as a result.  Some could be to do with the toxins that may be building up in your dog’s system.

Gastrointestinal Issues

If your dog has chronic stomach problems that mean that they frequently have loose stools then the anal glands are not as likely to be properly expressed when a poop is passing through the rectum.  If your dog does have a chronic stomach problem it is important to see your vet to rule out any medical condition and then diet again may be playing a part and your dog could benefit from trying a different food.

How to Treat Anal Gland Problems?

Depending on the severity and type of problem that your dog has with their anal glands there are a number of different treatment options, including those listed below.

Manual Anal Gland Expression

If your dog has impacted anal glands but there is no sign on infection, abscesses or other major problem then it may be that your dog just needs help to have the anal glands emptied.  The process can be done externally or internally. Whilst both methods can work, there are some that believe that expressing externally can increase the chances of causing inflammation.

Vets and sometimes even groomers are trained on how to perform an effective anal gland expression and some people choose to get a lesson from their vet to allow them to do it themselves at home.

If you are not squeamish and do plan to do it yourself it is important that you do get appropriate guidance, that you only do it if your dog does not have signs of an infection or other underlying problem, that you make sure that your dog is not showing any signs of pain or discomfort, that you are prepared for the smell and mess and that, generally, you only attempt external expression.  It is best to leave internal expression to the experts. If you have a weak tummy it is not a job to do yourself. The secretions can be very foul smelling and it can be hard to control where the excretion will squirt. Make sure you do it somewhere that is easy to clean up, that you have plenty wipes and that you use gloves for your own and your dog’s protection from germs.

If you have a particularly hairy dog and the secretions have gone onto their fur you may want to give them a bath as the smell can linger, even with the use of wipes.

If you are doing it at home, some dogs will not will not bat an eyelid, others may, quite fairly, not like being restrained and having their tail lifted and their bottom examined.  It may help to have a second person there to help and for them to administer some yummy treats to help make it a more pleasant experience for your dog. This video from the company Glandex showing how to express externally may be a useful initial point of guidance (if you are at all squeamish you may not want to watch this), but again we would generally recommend seeking advice from your vet too.

We can’t overstate the importance of ensuring that you seek vet advice and do not express yourself if your dog is in any pain or showing other symptoms of more than just a simple impaction.

Some Groomers manually express the anal glands as part of a regular grooming session.  There are some experts that argue that there is a chance that expressing glands when it is not necessarily required could actually cause problems with the anal glands.  It is believed that the frequent squeezing action can lead to inflammation and this can cause a thickening of the tissue around the duct and it could actually then make it even more difficult to naturally express in the future.   It may also stop the muscles from working as effectively on their own, they may lose some of their tone. If you are in doubt then it is best to just ask your groomer not to do this as part of the grooming session. You could always speak to your Vet when your dog is getting a checkup to establish if they think there would be any need for the glands to be expressed.

There are some people that suggest that applying a warm compress to the rectum area can encourage natural excretion from the anal glands.  In cases of impaction, full manual expression is a much more guaranteed method but, if you want to try a less invasive technique first you could always give this a whirl.  Make sure that you use a clean cloth and that it is only warm and not hot and then this can be pressed up against the bottom for 5 – 10 minutes (if your dog is patient enough to sit this long) a couple of times a day.  Do not persevere with this technique if the impaction does not go away and for those cases where an infection is present, visiting a vet is recommended.

Some groomers will perform anal gland expression as a standard part of their grooming package.  If you do not want this though it is okay to ask them to leave this out 

Medications

If your dog has an infection or an abscess it may be that oral antibiotics are needed to help clear up the problem.  

Surgery

In extreme cases, usually involving chronic infected anal glands that are not expressing properly, and when it is beginning to impact on your dog’s quality of life then a more radical treatment may need to be considered.  Surgery to remove the anal glands is usually only done as a last resort though as the surgery is very delicate and specialized and can present a number of potential complications. The main one is that there is a risk of nerve damage and this can lead to incontinence issues.  

Sometimes, for serious infections or impaction, a smaller operation may be done to flush out the anal glands if the contents of the sac are too difficult or painful to remove manually.

What Can Be Done to Avoid Anal Gland Problems Occurring?

For some dogs, regardless of any preventative measures that you take, your dog may still suffer from anal gland problems but often there are some steps that you can take that will greatly reduce the risk of anal gland problems starting in the first place or of them reoccurring.  Some of the most common things to look at are included below.

Make Sure Your Dog Is Getting Enough Fibre in Their Diet

Diet is one of the most important considerations for helping to minimise any problems with your dog’s anal glands.  If your dog has consistently soft poop, not only does this mean that the food they are eating is likely not ideal for them anyway, but it also means that the poop is not firm enough to help naturally express the anal glands.  If your dog has constipation or is pooping infrequently this can also cause problems.

Making sure that you have a diet that is working for your dog and one that is promoting firm, good sized poops is important.

If they are on a high-quality diet already you could consider adding some fibre to their diet.  Pumpkin is often recommended as a safe and healthy source of fibre for dogs. Adding some tinned pumpkin (with no additives) to their diet can sometimes be enough to help.  Also the Diggin Your Dog Firm Up Pumpkin Supplement is an extremely popular and well-reviewed option too.

There are also some commercial diets that contain a higher fibre content than others and often raw feeders speak positively about poop size and consistency.  If you are raw or home cooked feeding it is important to ensure that your dog is getting the right balance of nutrients. Consulting a qualified canine nutritionist can be a good place to start if you are not selecting a pre-made, complete raw diet.

We would always recommend introducing a change of diet or introduction of new ingredient gradually to minimise the chance of stomach upset caused by a sudden or drastic change.

Keep Your Dog at a Healthy Weight

As mentioned earlier, obesity has been linked to causing anal gland problems.  By keeping your dog at a healthy weight, not only is this better for their overall health and well being but it can also help to ensure that the anal glands are able to effectively express naturally.  See our article on obesity and weight loss for more guidance on introducing a weight loss programme.

Consider Introducing a Regular Probiotic to Your Dog’s Diet

There have been some encouraging studies to show that probiotics can help to improve the overall gut health of your dog and this could also have an impact on the anal glands.  Not only can this help to bulk up the stool but, if your dog has had to have antibiotics after an anal gland infection this can help to restore the natural gut flora that may have been compromised by the antibiotics.

Supplements That Can Be Beneficial for Anal Gland Problems

There are a variety of different supplements on the market that may help to promote the natural expression of the anal glands.  

Glandex is probably the most well known, well respected and well-reviewed supplement specifically marketed for anal gland problems that is available over the counter (without a prescription).  It contains a number of ingredients that help increase your dog’s daily fibre intake, including pumpkin, and it also contains probiotics and it comes in a palatable chewy peanut butter flavoured biscuit form.

Some people also advocate the use of Fish Oils as the Omega 3 Fatty Acids as they may help to reduce any inflammation around the anal gland area because of their possible anti-inflammatory qualities.

The Importance of Hydration

Making sure that your dog is getting an appropriate amount of water every day is important for lots of reason, including helping anal glands express naturally.  It is not just the food that helps your dog have regular and healthy bowel movements. Whilst we monitor food intake much more closely we often don’t really keep track of how much our dogs drink and sometimes they may not actually be taking enough voluntarily.  If you are concerned you may want to add some water to their food to encourage them to take it or add some doggy appropriate, salt-free stock. This is especially important when we have hot weather.

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