If your puppy is scooting across the carpet, ground or grass—sitting down and pulling itself forward while dragging its bottom—you might need to learn how to express its anal glands. Puppy scooting generally means the pooch's bottom is irritated and/or itchy and that can be caused by many things including tapeworms, diarrhea fleas, or irritated anal glands.
Anal Gland Functions
Your puppy has two anal glands located beneath the skin within the wall of the anus. The pea-size glands function like a skunk's scent organs. Usually, the anal glands are expressed when the dog has a bowel movement, giving your pet's bathroom deposits sort of an individual smelly fingerprint. Pets sniff each other's bottoms as a way to communicate and "read" these scented name tags to identify each other.
Normal anal glands secrete a liquid or a creamy brownish/yellow substance that’s expressed whenever the puppy has a bowel movement. Glands may also be expressed when the pup is suddenly frightened or stressed and it contracts its anal sphincter—that’s the circular muscle that controls its rectum. You’ll notice a strong odor if this happens.
Most pets don't need anal gland maintenance since they naturally empty the glands when they have a bowel movement. In fact, problems can occur when the glands are manipulated and expressed too often by well-meaning caretakers. A small number of dogs may have problems emptying their anal glands on their own and this can lead to clogged ducts. Sometimes this can be the result of chronically soft stools or problems with diarrhea may not supply enough pressure to empty the glands. In addition, some pups may have abnormally small anal gland openings. The most common reason is that the dog has other skin problems, usually allergies, causing inflammation of the skin and this can lead to thickening and inflammation of the glands, making it harder for them to express. An affected puppy may lick the area to relieve the discomfort or scoot.
Small dog breeds like Toy Poodles are affected most often, and unexpressed glands can become clogged or impacted. You’ll know your dog has a problem if the area on one or both sides of the rectum swells. When glands become infected the secretions may contain blood or pus. In severe cases, a painful abscess may develop. The swelling will be red to purple on one or both sides of the rectum.
When the glands are infected or become abscessed they'll need veterinary attention. Infected anal glands usually heal without complications, but pups that suffer recurrences of impaction or infection will need the anal glands checked frequently.
How to Express Anal Glands
The treatment requires manual expression of the anal glands. Many puppies object to owners messing with them down there, especially when they are very tender from inflamed anal glands. It’s best to have your veterinarian perform this service for your pet when anal glands are infected so you don’t cause further pain or injury. Additionally, since this is a painful condition, it is most humane to bring your dog to the vet so pain medication can be administered before any attempt and so care can be taken to make sure no one is bitten in the process. If you are a hardy soul willing to give it a try for the well-being of your pet, ask for a demonstration before trying this yourself and make sure to ask your vet it if is an appropriate treatment for your dog. For those who are NOT faint of heart—or nose—here's how it's done.
- Anal gland secretions stink, and the best place to perform anal gland maintenance is during your puppy’s bath. That way you can wash away any stray stuff that spills onto the fur.
- Wear latex gloves to protect your hands and reduce the “yuck” factor.
- Stand small pups on a safe raised surface or kneel on the floor beside larger puppies.
- You may benefit from an extra pair of hands to steady the dog’s head while you pay attention to the tail.
- Lift your pup's tail and find the glands on each side of the anus at about eight and four o'clock. They'll feel a bit like small marbles beneath the skin.
- Once you’ve located the glands, cover the area with a tissue. This will catch the debris as it’s expressed.
- With your thumb and forefinger on each side of the gland, gently push in and upward and squeeze as you would express a pimple. You should not have to press very hard, so if you are noticing a lot of resistance or your dog seems distressed, stop and contact your veterinarian.
- Use the tissue or a damp cloth to wipe away the smelly discharge as the sac empties.
- Offer your puppy a toy or treat as a reward for being a good dog.
Of course, it’s much better to prevent anal gland problems than treat once they develop. Watch for scooting puppies and get them checked to "nip problems in the butt!"