Authored by: Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH
If you’ve seen your pup posture very nearly like he’s about to poop, but instead of actually pooping, he squats his bottom on the floor and proceeds to drag it along the floor (as you watch horrified), then you’ve seen scooting.
It’s a very peculiar-looking behavior and usually means that something irritating is going on down there.
There are two main sources of irritation that makes a dog drag her bottom in such an awkward fashion. The first is related to the anal sacs or anal glands, and the other involves skin/tissues around the rectum and anus.
Every dog has two little olive-sized sacs to either side just inside the anus, at about the 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions. These sacs are lined with little glands that help produce a fishy smelling brown or tan liquid unique to each dog. The anal sacs store this fluid.
The anal sacs are typically expressed during bowel movements. Each sac is expressed through a tiny little duct that exits just about at the anal opening. The most common thought for their purpose is that they provide a unique scent to each dog’s bowel movement as a way of marking territory or just saying “I’ve been here”.
Sometimes, due to a few different factors, the fluid material in the sacs does not express normally. It may have simply built up too much since the last expression, may be too thick or the sac may be inflamed, swelling the duct shut.
Whatever the cause, if the sacs don’t express regularly, the fluid material builds up, which becomes uncomfortable at a certain point. A dog’s instinct then is to scoot her bottom along the ground to try to get the sacs to express.
In some cases this works and you might smell a fishy odor after seeing your pooch perform this odd behavior. But in other cases, especially if it continues, there may be a more serious problem. Anal sacs can get fully blocked or impacted and this often leads to bacterial infection where the whole sac turns into an abscess.
Separate from the anal sacs being an issue of irritation for a dog, there may be other inflammation or irritation present under the tail around the rectum and anus that could be causing your pup grief.
This could include anything from an abrasion or irritation to an insect bite, a skin infection, or a mass/growth present near the anus.
What Do I Do if My Dog is Scooting?
Scooting is an instinctual behavior that dogs engage in if their sacs are full or if there is some other irritation on their bottoms. If your dog manages to express his sacs after a brief period of scooting, and seems fine afterwards, this may just be something to monitor.
It’s okay to lift up your pup’s tail if he lets you, to take a peek back there. This can help you determine if there is more cause for concern if there is visible swelling, redness, or something that looks ouchy.
But even if there is nothing visible from what you can tell, and the scooting is persistent, especially if you’re also seeing behavior like licking and chewing of the anal/rectal area, the first thing you should do is make an appointment to see your veterinarian.
Your vet can first determine if the sacs are just full and need expressing, or if there is another problem like an infection present. While full glands may just need expressing, an infected or abscessed anal sac requires antibiotics to resolve and usually some anti-inflammatory or medication to make your pup’s hiney more comfortable while the infection clears up.
Treatment for other causes of rectal or anal irritation will simply depend on what your vet finds during an exam and what other process may be going on.
Are There Ways to Prevent Issues Like This?
Anal sac issues can have a few different causes. If a dog recently had a bout of soft stool or diarrhea or if stools are chronically soft, the sacs may not be expressing properly.
If this was a short term issue, you may not see a concern again. But if your pup has chronically soft stools, your vet may discuss some possible actions including diet change, adding soluble fiber to the diet to bulk up stool, starting a probiotic, or other therapies depending on the situation.
Issues with anal sacs have also been tied to environmental and food allergies. If your pup also has issues with her skin, including recurrent itching and scratching, or infections of the ears and skin that recur, you may also see anal sac issues too.
If your pup has a history of skin/ear/feet issues as well, a discussion with your vet is likely to center around how to get an overall seasonal allergy condition under control. This may include recommendations for supplements containing omega fatty acids, diet changes, and medications.
Lastly, some dogs may have a genetic predisposition to anal sac issues. This may occur more in small breed dogs, but is not exclusive to any particular breed. In these cases, having the sacs expressed regularly, usually every couple of weeks, may be discussed as a maintenance strategy.
While it is possible to learn where the anal sacs are and how to express them, you shouldn’t try to do this on your own. It takes some instruction and practice, since doing it improperly could cause more harm.
Expressing them fully and properly does involve sticking your finger up your pup’s butt and squeezing the sacs on both sides. Although the end result may be relief for your dog, the process can be uncomfortable, stressful, and messy. This is why many folks choose to have their dog’s anal sacs expressed at the vet when they need to be done regularly.
In rare cases where infection or impaction of the sacs occurs frequently, your vet may discuss having one or both of the sacs surgically removed. Most often, this is a job for a surgical specialist. The anal sacs serve no vital function other than scenting poop, so their removal does not have any long-term consequences.
Fortunately though, the need to have anal sac removal performed, which is called an anal sacculectomy, is very uncommonly needed for most average dogs with anal sac issues causing that scooting behavior.