Ever watch your furry friend “walk” by without the use of his paws? This exasperating little amble is often executed on some sort of textured surface — such as your new living room carpet or Aunt Emily’s heirloom Persian rug. But it can also be performed on hardwood, ceramic tile or the garage floor. To the uninitiated, it looks like some quirky canine-yoga move. The rest of us have a special name for it: dog scooting to relieve a dog’s itchy bum. And we know it’s just one sign of a dog’s anal sac woes.
Holistic veterinarian Dr. Jeffrey Feinman, V.M.D has noted that scooting dogs are often struggling with some sort of pesky posterior pain or discomfort. Sometimes, it’s just a freaky-yet-fleeting thing. Sometimes, it’s a parasite problem. But another key cause of derriere-related dog distress lies in an area commonly known as the “anal sacs” or “anal glands.” And yes, you can probably sense it’s officially time to put down whatever you were eating. Because as pet parents, we need to understand how a dog’s anal sac functions — and when it’ poised to cause serious (and expensive) health issues.
First, a quick anatomical overview of your dog’s rear end and a dog’s anal sac. Envision, for just a nanosecond, the point right beneath the tail where your pup poops. Good, that’s plenty; now take deep cleansing breaths while I explain that the anal glands are two tiny sacs situated within that opening, on either side.
This biological feature has existed in wild animals for thousands of years. The material secreted into them is profoundly unpleasant — thick, oily, kinda fishy-smelling. But it’s useful to wild animals like skunks, who can empty these glands at will in threatening situations. Our domesticated dogs have largely lost this ability — but the anal glands have hung around to fill up regardless.
Usually, everyday defecation helps empty a dog’s anal glands, but sometimes — as I’ve discovered with several of my own dogs — that’s not the case. When the glands remain full for too long, they can become impacted and extremely uncomfortable. And if the situation continues to worsen, an abscess can form and then rupture. This actually happened to Maizy, and it required expensive emergency surgery, antibiotics, the oh-so-cruel Cone of Shame, and eight days of stomach-upsetting pain medication.
So if your sweet pup simply won’t stop scooting around or chewing at his itchy, uncomfortable bum, consult your vet immediately. A rupture is an emergency situation. However, if the vet simply detects some (ahem) fullness in your dog’s anal sac, you’ve got options. The first is manual draining. Not to mince words, but this is a strong, solid 9.5 on the gross-out meter. Really, don’t try it yourself. Done improperly, it can cause severe injury. Done properly, your house could still reek for days. Having dealt with this dog-related issue for years, I’d suggest cheerfully doling out a few dollars and having it done at your vet’s office. It’s a non-surgical procedure that takes only a few minutes — and your canine returns to you clean, comfy and fresh as a daisy.
If you find that your dog’s anal sac needs to be emptied every few weeks or more, think long and hard before considering permanent removal of a dog’s anal sac. This is definitely a surgical procedure — and because it can disrupt delicate nerve pathways, it can occasionally lead to incontinence, infections and other chronic complications. Instead, consider trying these natural home remedies to ease your dog’s anal sac distress. In combination over time, they can often eliminate — or at least minimize — the angst and aversion caused by this unpleasant issue.
This has been a magic bullet for my dog’s anal sac distress. We add a teaspoon of Benefiber to her morning meal, and then give her a teaspoon of ground flax later in the day. Both dietary supplements have a stool-softening effect, which can help the glands empty on their own. We also let Maizy snack on high-fiber treats like baby carrots or dried sweet potato, and every so often, we treat her to a tablespoon of plain, fiber-rich pumpkin.
You may be thinking, “that’s a lot of fiber for one furry friend,” and it’s true. Every dog responds differently. That’s why it’s important to start small and increase very gradually. Begin with just a half-teaspoon of Benefiber daily, and work up until you notice slight stool softening.
Some dogs just aren’t wowed by their water bowl. One simple solution is to add more liquid directly to their food. You can also invest in a pet drinking fountain. Instinctively, many pets find moving water more palatable than a plain, tepid, motionless puddle.
According to Dr. Junia Borden Childs D.V.M, a dog’s anal sac issues are often a symptom of broader systemic issues. Perhaps this is one reason why pudgy pups are more likely to struggle. That certainly doesn’t mean skinny dogs like Maizy are off the hook, but if your pooch is packing a few extra pounds, switching foods or going on a diet might help alleviate pressure so the sacs can empty more easily.
Read labels carefully, and choose options with real meat as a top ingredient. Notice animal byproducts, cheap carbohydrate fillers or weird additives you can’t pronounce? Put the package down, and try an established whole-food brand.
Re-fortifying with canine-formulated probiotics can also help encourage your dog’s anal glands to empty on their own. Well-respected brands include Prozyme Digestive Enzyme Supplement and Digest-All Plus. Simply follow dosing instructions on the package.
Dr. Childs and other vets have noted that holding a warm washcloth against the under-tail region can sometimes encourage natural drainage. Try soaking a washcloth in warm water infused with 1 to 2 teaspoons of Epsom salt or Witch Hazel. Hold this in place for five to 10 minutes, twice per day, every day. Wear household gloves, and use a clean cloth each time.
Regular exercise encourages consistent elimination and elimination encourages anal sac emptying. Thinking back to high school math class, we might term this the transitive property of anal sac triumph.
Tell us: Have you encountered dog anal sac or dog anal gland issues? Share your insights about your dog’s anal sac distress.
Thumbnail: Photography by WilleeCole Photography / Shutterstock.
This piece was originally published in 2016.