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Dog Scooting: Why It Happens and When to See a Vet

Why does dog scooting happen? Can you treat dog scooting at home or should you bring your dog to the vet?

Jackie Brown  |  Dec 19th 2017


The sight of a dog dragging his butt across the floor might make you laugh (or cringe, if it happens right in the middle of your elegant dinner party), but dog scooting can be a sign that something is wrong “back there.” So, why does dog scooting happen? Can you ever treat scooting at home or should you always see your vet? Let’s learn more.

Why Does Dog Scooting Happen?

A merle coated dog looking back, showing his butt.

Dog scooting happens for a few different reasons. Photography ©GlobalP | Thinkstock.

Dogs might scoot for a variety of reasons, but usually the issue is itching or pain. If your dog’s butt is bothering him, he might drag it on the carpet or grass in an attempt to alleviate that itch or discomfort. Many things cause an itchy bum in dogs, but impacted or infected anal glands are among the most common culprits.

Dog anal glands are two small internal sacs positioned on either side of a dog’s anus. In normal dogs, they contain a smelly liquid that’s excreted every time the dog poops (this is likely a mechanism for marking territory). In some dogs, inflammation prevents this liquid from being expelled when the dog poops. Instead, it builds up inside the two sacs, where it can become very thick, more like a paste than a liquid. Full anal glands can be very uncomfortable for the dog and can even become infected.

Other reasons for dog scooting include intestinal parasites (especially tapeworms), injuries or tumors in or around the anus, rectal prolapse and allergies. If your dog is scooting, you might also notice him licking his backend excessively.

What to Do About Dog Scooting

If your dog scoots just once or just here and there, you might not need to rush off to the vet. “It depends on how much it’s happening,” says Cynthia Karsten, DVM, outreach veterinarian for the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Companion Animal Health. “Sometimes, they might just have an itch. Like with most things, it depends on how often it’s happening and how much the pet seems to be affected by it.” You could try cleaning the area with a gentle shampoo and soft washcloth, making sure to rinse away all the soap completely and dry the area well with a clean towel.

When to See a Vet About Dog Scooting

If your dog is scooting more than once a day, or if the behavior goes on for more than a day or two, it’s time for a visit to the vet. “The first thing the vet will do is a rectal exam, just to see what’s going on with the anal glands and check for any signs of inflammation or infection,” Dr. Karsten says. Your vet will likely also want to do a fecal exam to look for any signs of intestinal parasites. If the fecal test comes back positive for any parasites, your vet will prescribe a deworming medication to eliminate the worms and put a stop to your dog’s scooting.

On the other hand, if the anal glands are full or look impacted, the vet will attempt to express the glands. “If they’re really impacted, they might not express, and then the vet might need to sedate the dog and put medication into the anal glands to get them cleared out so they stay that way,” Dr. Karsten says. “If it really becomes a chronic issue, some dogs need to have them removed.” Surgery to remove the anal glands can be complex, so your regular vet might refer you to a specialist.

Can You Stop Dog Anal Gland Issues and Scooting in the First Place?

Adding fiber to your dog’s diet can firm up the stool, making it more likely that the glands will be able to express on their own when your dog poops. One way to do this is to add a few tablespoons of plain canned pumpkin to your dog’s food. Commercial anal gland supplements containing fiber are also available. Your vet may suggest anal gland supplements before discussing surgical options.

What to do About Chronic Anal Gland Distress

Some dogs who frequently develop full or impacted anal glands might benefit from having them expressed manually on a regular basis. Your vet can do this (or teach you how if you’re not too squeamish). However, not all dogs need to have this done. Some groomers routinely express anal glands while bathing, but it’s probably not necessary to express them if your dog is not having any issues — and it could possibly even cause harm.

“I’ve heard lots of vets and dermatologists say that you shouldn’t mess with a dog’s anal glands unless there is a problem,” Dr. Karsten explains. “In my experience, you should leave them alone unless there’s a problem, because if they’re healthy, they should express on their own. You can actually cause a problem if you’re not careful.”

Thumbnail: Photography ©Fly_dragonfly | Thinkstock. 

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