A pet scooting or dragging the hind end on the carpet, grass, or your favorite rug is something many pet owners encounter. It is more common in mid- to smaller-sized dogs, but occasionally it's seen in larger dogs or cats and in overweight pets. Both dogs and cats have anal sacs that may become impacted or infected if not emptying properly. This causes scooting, itching, bad odor, and can be painful to your pet. Severe cases may create an abscess and rupture. Learn the signs of anal sac problems and how to keep your pet comfortable and scoot-free.
Most often pets engage in scooting because their anal sacs are bothering them. Anal sacs should empty regularly (and unnoticed) with normal bowel movements. If they don't, they may become impacted, infected (abscessed) and possibly rupture.
While anal sac problems are the most common cause, there are other possible causes of scooting or anal discomfort. These include a perianal tumor that is infected or bothersome and irritation from diarrhea, parasites, or matted hair. A scooting pet should be examined by your vet to rule out these potential problems.
Anal Sac Function
Anal sacs collect the oily secretion of the glandular tissue that lines the sacs (also called Anal Glands). The sacs are located between the external and internal muscular rings of the anus. Viewed from behind, the sacs would sit at approximately the 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock positions, below the anus.
The sacs secrete an oily substance that is thought by many to be a means of territorial marking or communication between dogs and cats. The exact purpose isn't known for sure. Skunks also have this type of gland, and they use the secretion for defense.
Normally a bowel movement is sufficient to express the sacs. However, if the animal is sick, i.e. with loose stool or diarrhea, the sacs may not get emptied as they normally would. Dietary changes that cause a temporarily looser stool than normal can also be a cause.
Animals that are overweight have less muscle tone and sometimes additional fat tissue in the way of proper emptying of the sacs. Skin infections and seborrhea may delay sac emptying as well.
Inflammation (irritation), infection, impaction (plugged up with thick or gritty secretion) and even tumors in the sacs can cause the discomfort leading to the scooting behavior. Cats most commonly suffer from impaction, which can lead to an abscess quickly.
The first thing to do when your pet is scooting is to make an appointment with your vet to rule out other potential causes. Some animals may get the anal sacs emptied by scooting, grooming themselves, etc., but left untreated, a simple irritation can lead to infection, impaction, and ultimately abscessation and rupture. Anal sac infections are very painful for the pet, and more difficult, uncomfortable, and expensive to treat in later stages.
There are two methods to clear blockages—external and internal anal sac expression. You can do the expression at home, but it is best to have your veterinarian to show you the proper technique for safe restraint and proper anal sac emptying.
External expression is accomplished by pushing gently on the skin over the sacs in an upward motion toward the anus, emptying the contents of the sacs. Make sure to have a tissue at the ready.
Internal expression requires a latex glove and inserting an index finger just inside the anal sphincter to aid in pushing out the contents of the sac with thumb pushing on the outside of the sac. The pet should be properly restrained to avoid injury to the pet and the person.
Ideally, you won't have to repeat the expression as anal sacs should take care of themselves, but some pets have recurrent problems with anal sacs not emptying properly. Do not express your pet's anal sacs if your pet isn't displaying any symptoms of blockage. The expression may disturb the normal balance, leading to inflammation or infection.
For some pets with recurring problems, surgery to remove the sacs is indicated. Your vet will also want to rule out possible underlying problems, such as anal sac cancer. Cancer is much less common than uncomplicated anal sac problems, but it's something to be aware of in persistent problem cases.
Some pets seem predisposed to having anal sac problems. If this is the case with your pet, speak to your vet about learning how to empty the anal sacs at home to prevent problems.
Keeping your pet at an optimal weight will help. Some pets are also helped by adding some fiber to the diet to help bulk up the stools. Your veterinarian will be able to help you with available options for diet.