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Posted on 09-08-2017

A common problem encountered in some dogs and occasionally cats is scooting. The animal may scoot their rear end on the ground and lick incessantly to the point of creating dermal injury to the area.  There can be several causes for this behavior.  The first questioned I am often asked is, “Do they have worms?”  Although tapeworms can migrate outside the intestinal tract and cause some minor itching of the anus, scooting is actually rarely caused from intestinal parasites.  More often they are scooting from anal sac accumulation. 

Dogs and cats have glands around their anus with a sac on either side of the opening called anal sacs.  This is similar to what a skunk has but most domesticated pets do not “spray” with their anal sacs.  With each bowel movement pressure is applied to the sac which allows it to secrete its smelly musky liquid onto the feces.  This is a way for the animal to mark its territory by leaving its scent wherever it defecates.  When these sacs fill up to the point that they are uncomfortable, the pet may scoot or lick in an attempt to relieve the pressure.  Once you have smelled the juice of an anal sac, you will likely not forget it.

Anal sacs can also become infected when bacteria is able to ascend up the duct and take hold inside the warm area of the sac.  Infection or tumor may cause bleeding and or pus to be expressed and the area is usually quite painful.  A qualified veterinarian can feel around this area to determine if a tumor may exist and express the pus filled sac or even lance, drain, and flush it with antibiotics.   A short course of antibiotics and pain relievers often cure the problem but repeat offenders may even need to have these sacs surgically removed.

Another cause of anal irritation is a food allergy.  We often overlook this possibility and fail to recommend a food allergy trial to see if this will relieve the problem.  A food allergy trial is simply feeding a hypoallergenic diet for a minimum of six weeks with no other food or treats during this time.  Many hypoallergenic diets are available and it is best to discuss with your veterinarian which diet is best for your pet.  If it is found to be nothing more than a food allergy, then feeding a hypoallergenic diet alone may be all your pet needs to cure the scooting issue.

Fleas are often found around the rumps of dogs and cats.  These little boogers can cause intense itching wherever they bite and can lead to not only scooting but also hair loss and skin inflammation of the rear end of the pet.  Be sure to comb your pet thoroughly if they are scooting just to rule this possibility out.

Expression of anal sacs should be done very gently.  Being overly aggressive with expression can not only hurt your pet but may cause more inflammation.  Often times, a medication is given or prescribed secondarily to a difficult expression of the anal sacs even if infection is not noted.

Since anal sacs are normally expressed with each bowel movement, increasing the fiber content of the animal’s feed may help bulk up the stool and make each passage more likely to apply pressure and keep the sacs emptied naturally on their own.  Some natural fiber sources include adding a tablespoon of canned pumpkin to each meal or a small amount of green beans as a healthy and fiber filled snack.  If your pet has had diarrhea or loose stool, expression of the anal sacs may be needed as the stool has simply not been bulky enough to promote normal expression of the sacs. 

Although some scooting may be normal, excessive scooting, painful looking anus, constipation or diarrhea issues should always be brought to the attention of your veterinary team.

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