Both dogs and cats have anal sacs that may become impacted or infected if not emptying properly. This causes itching, scooting, bad odor and sometimes pain, too. Severe cases may abscess and rupture. Learn the signs of anal sac problems and how to keep your pet comfortable and scoot-free.
A pet "scooting" — or dragging the hind end on the carpet, grass, or your favorite rug — is something many people have witnessed at one time or another. More common in mid- to smaller-sized dogs, but occasionally, it's seen in larger dogs or cats. Scooting is also common in overweight pets.
Why do pets scoot?
Most often is it 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.
There are other possible causes for scooting or anal discomfort: a perianal tumor that is infected or bothersome, irritation from diarrhea, parasites, matted hair. A scooting pet should be examined by your vet to rule out these potential problems. Most often, it is an inflammation, infection, or impaction of the anal sacs.
What are anal sacs, anyway?
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.
What purpose do they serve?
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.
What happens to the anal sacs to make a pet want to scoot?
There are several answers to this question. 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.
How are the sacs emptied?
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 to 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.
My animal is scooting — what should I do?
The first thing to do is to make an appointment with your vet. Ruling out other potential causes for scooting is the first step. 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! Better safe than sorry. Anal sac infections are very painful for the pet, and more difficult/uncomfortable/expensive to treat in later stages.
How are anal sacs emptied?
There are basically two methods -- external and internal anal sac expression.
External expression is accomplished pushing gently on the skin over the sacs in an upward motion toward the anus, to empty 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.
It is best to have your veterinarian to show you the proper technique for safe restraint and proper anal sac emptying.
How often do the sacs need to be emptied?
In the best case, never. They should take care of themselves. Your pet's mileage may vary, however, as some pets have recurrent problems with anal sacs not emptying properly. Routine emptying when not necessary is not recommended — the expression may disturb the normal balance, leading to inflammation or infection.
This is a recurring problem for my pet. I can't afford to go to the vet every time.
Some pets do 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.
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.
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, too.
Please note: This article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.