A common misconception in the pet world is the claim that dogs scoot on their hind end because they have worms. While scooting dogs do sometimes have intestinal parasites, more commonly, a scooting dog is experiencing discomfort from full anal sacs. Rubbing her hind end on your carpet is her way of trying to express her anal sacs to relieve the pressure. 

What are anal sacs, and what do they do?

Anal sacs, which are also referred to as anal glands, are a pair of small sacs located near your dog’s anus. If you use the face of a clock as a reference, you can find the sacs located at about the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions. You can’t see your pet’s anal sacs because they are located in the muscle layers around the rectum. The lining contains sebaceous glands that secrete the liquid that is stored in the anal sacs, released into the rectum, and passed through the anus.

Many mammals have anal sacs, and most wild animals empty their anal sacs voluntarily as a way to mark their territory. Some wild animals, such as skunks, also voluntarily empty their anal sacs in self-defense. However, domestic animals, like your dog and cat, have largely lost the ability to empty the anal sacs on command and instead rely on normal defecation for emptying. As your pet’s feces passes through the rectum, the sacs are pressured to release their contents, which passes with the feces. 

The fact that skunks discharge their sacs in self-defense should give you a clue about the smell of the anal sac contents—the brownish liquid has a distinct, horrible fishy odor. 

Anal sacs sound gross, so do I need to read this?

If you’re lucky, the only experience you’ll have with anal sacs is reading this blog. But, unfortunately, most pet owners will personally experience their pet’s anal sacs at some point, and when that happens, we want you to know what to do.

The trouble with anal sacs occurs when the material produced by the sebaceous glands becomes impacted in the sac. Ideally, the material is liquidy enough to pass easily through the sac opening and into the rectum. Sometimes, however, the material is thick and pasty, and it can be difficult for pets to empty the sacs on their own. When the material builds up in the sacs, your pet is not only uncomfortable, but also at risk of infection. 

Infected anal sacs are painful, and as inflammation worsens, the risk of anal sac abscess and rupture increases. When the anal sac ruptures, a draining tract is produced from the sac through the skin around the anus. You’ll see—and smell—the anal sac contents and blood draining from the site, and you’ll likely see your pet licking the area profusely.

How do I know if my pet has a problem?

Many pets never have a problem with their anal sacs, and you do not need to look for trouble. Let your pet lead the way—if she is uncomfortable, scooting is typically the first sign, although sometimes you’ll smell the problem before you see any evidence like scooting. Because anal sacs can be accidentally expressed by an excited or nervous pet, you don’t need to call us over a one-off errant anal sac expression. But, if your pet is scooting or you’re smelling anal sac material, it’s best if you give us a call.

What are the treatment options for my scooting dog (or cat)?

The first thing we do when presented with a scooting patient is check her anal sacs. We typically use rectal palpation to examine the sacs, which should be small and soft, and should express their contents easily. Impacted anal sacs are enlarged and firm, and the thickness of the material inside can be difficult to express. In severe cases, the material can contain blood and pus. 

Inflammation of one or both anal sacs is called anal sacculitis, and the treatment will vary depending on the disease severity and chronicity. Most cases can be managed by consistently expressing the anal sacs during the problem period, and we may recommend topical or oral steroids. Patients with ruptured anal sac abscesses will need their wound cleaned, and we likely will prescribe antibiotics and pain medications. 

Some dogs and cats have chronic anal sac problems and no amount of expression will keep impaction at bay. In these pets, we may recommend an anal sacculectomy, where we will surgically remove the anal sacs, thereby curing the pet’s anal sacculitis permanently. 

This still sounds really gross. Can I prevent anal sac problems?

If you feel your pet is having trouble managing her anal sacs on her own, you may consider increasing the fiber in her diet. A small amount of canned pumpkin or psyllium can bulk up the stools enough to trigger anal sac expression. Keeping your pet at the proper weight can also help prevent anal sacculitis, because overweight and obese pets often have trouble getting into the proper stance for defecation, which can negatively impact anal sac expression. 

Many pets go through their entire lives without any anal sac issues—hopefully, this applies to your pet. But, if you see or smell the evidence of scooting, it’s best to give us a call right away. Treating anal sacculitis early will prevent a painful, messy anal sac abscess and rupture. We also will be happy to teach you how to express your pet’s anal sacs at home.