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Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Scooting and Anal Glands

Anal Glands are gross, but every dog and cat has them.

Today, we’re going to get all up in your cat or dog’s business. I’m sorry, but it’s gotta be done.

Dogs and cats have scent glands, called anal glands, on either side of the anus, similar to skunks.

Here is a picture of about where they’re located, at about 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock on a clock face (the red circles indicate approximate location):

anal glands

The purpose of these glands, is to produce a foul-smelling brown fishy-smelling discharge that gets squeezed out every time your dog or cat strains to poop. We think it’s a marking mechanism, perhaps a way dogs and cats identify themselves to each other.

Each anal gland has a tiny little duct that empties it at the anal opening. These ducts can become obstructed, leaving the gland unable to empty itself, causing the pet discomfort. Your dog or cat may then plant her butt on the ground and “scoot” across the floor in an attempt to relieve the obstruction.

Any time the anal glands CAN’T empty themselves, is when you should call the vet (not the groomer!!!!).

If your dog (or cat!) is scooting and/or licking and/or scratching and/or suddenly turning around and looking at her butt all the time, to the vet she goes!

Your veterinarian can then slip on a rubber glove and stick a finger up their butt to squeeze out the anal glands.

Some dogs need to have this done monthly, some need it done never. Some groomers will do a “from the outside” version of emptying the anal glands as part of their routine groom, but this is not an appropriate treatment for problem glands, only good for maintenance.

Anal Gland Impaction – nearly ruptured

If the glands stay impacted for a long time, they can become infected and abscess out the back the end. This dog’s abscessed anal gland is about to rupture:

anal gland abscess glands sac sacs

Anal Gland Abscess – Ruptured

When the abscess ruptures, it can look like this:

ruptured anal gland abscess

Ouchy! To the vet you go!

Scooting doesn’t necessarily mean anal glands. Read on for more! 

There are five primary reasons why dogs and cats chew or scratch at their hind ends.

Scooting Might Mean: Worms!

Without dwelling on this much, suffice it to say that worms can cause hind end itchies. So if your dog or cat is scratching her butt, bring a poop sample with you to your vet appointment.

Scooting Might Mean: Allergies!

There are two primary kinds of allergies that can cause an itchy butt: food allergies, and atopy.

Food allergies are actually very uncommon in my patients, and if they do happen, it’s usually to protein (not grain!!!). 

Scooting Might Mean: Arthritis!

This one usually affects cats more than dogs, since dogs with hip arthritis usually show more clear-cut signs of pain like slowness to rise, reluctance to exercise, or reluctance to exercise or jump.

Cats with arthritis lick near the tail and sore hips, or scoot.

Scooting Might Mean: Fleas!

flea dirt

Fleas are insects, about the size of a small ant. After they suck your pet’s blood, they poop out little black specks that look like black pepper. This blood-rich poop is what feeds the larvae of the developing fleas.

Fleas like to live over your dog’s butt and between their back legs. Why? I don’t know, they just do.

SCOOTING IS WORSE IN FLEA ALLERGIC PETS

If your pet is allergic to fleas, they will itch even more profoundly after a flea bite than a normal pet. That is why in multiple-pet households, even if all the animals have fleas, only one may be itchy.


IN SUMMARY…

There are at least five different reasons your dog or cat might be scooting. Take her to the vet, bring poop, and let us figure it out!

This Post Has 14 Comments
  1. i have a question: my dog has always scooted, even with regular expression and visits to the vet-in the last two days, his bum has started stinking, however during a regular expression yesterday, the groomer said the anal glands looked normal and the anal gland fluid was normal in color. What is going on? His bum doesn’t look red, inflamed, he is not in pain, is eating well and drinking normally-his poop also looks normal. But, he stinks! Help!

      1. Very interesting. I will try to switch to a higher quality food–now that you have mentioned this, the odor started about 6 weeks after switching to a different food (I wanted to put him on a weight loss food). I will go out today and select something different! THANK YOU.

        1. VERY IMPORTANT: I didn’t say higher quality food, I said hypoallergenic food. I can’t tell you how many times people have wasted time and money on “grain free” diets recommended by pet store employees for this problem, failing to understand it’s an allergy, not a quality control issue. Do take the time to read the blog before shopping.

          1. If your pet’s primary issue were diarrhea, and you needed a short term bland diet, low-fat beef and rice would be a fine, very temporary, transitional option. Like, 2-3 days tops. We prefer Royal Canin Hypoallergenic HP diet for ruling out food allergies. What if beef is one of the things your dog is allergic to? Only a prescription hypoallergenic diet can rule out food allergies.

          2. I read the blog, and it says hypoallergenic food–and even some home cooked food is bad. I guess it is trial and error.

          3. To clarify, assuming there were some way to prepare “a single new animal or vegetable protein, such as rabbit or beans; and a single new carbohydrate, such as yams or green peas” without any of those ingredients coming in any contact with any other potential allergens, and assuming you could prepare such a diet to be complete and balanced nutrition for a dog (which is no small feat!), then it’s possible you could create your own hypoallergenic food. Normally, I recommend the Hypoallergenic HP first, then if that proves food allergy is a problem, you’re welcome to experiment with other diets to see what might work as well ongoing.

          4. Yes you are right. My husband just went out and bought the food your recommended. On the blog it says try for 2-3 weeks for the food switch. We just adopted this dog a year ago-he is a senior boy, so I pray this works. He has always scooted, licked his paws, etc., but the smelly bum is very recent. Poor guy doesn’t need any more issues! 🙂 We love him to bits though. We will keep you posted on how this works. We have instructed his walker not to offer treats, and his sister will be fed in another room so he isn’t snacking from her bowl. Again, many thanks.

          5. You rule!! I hope it works out! Clarifying the duration – when you’re switching a diet, any diet, slowly mix in an increasing proportion of the new diet with the old to allow intestinal bacteria time to adjust. Take at least a week, maybe two. As for the diet being “successful”, you’ll want to do a full eight weeks of diet trial before giving up on the food allergy. Regarding his walker and treats, think of an elimination diet trial like a little kid with peanut allergy. One peanut could seriously ruin that kid’s day, as could one teeny tiny little doggy bone for your food allergic pet, or one bite of your other dog’s food. Only allowable treats are carrot sticks.

  2. My dog scooted only once 2 days ago (that I saw). He’s shaking now and is fairly lethargic. I took him for a walk and his tail was wagging, but he was walking uncharacteristically slowly for him. He cried out in pain when I tried to pick him up. Are these symptoms of needing his anal glands expressed?

  3. I took my cat to the vet yesterday and they said her say exploded. She never showed any signs of pain at all. This is the second time it happened. She is now getting canned pumpkin for the fiber and is also on new food to determine any food allergies.

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